Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity

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Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity. By Philip Sheldrake. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 214 pp. $16.95 (paper).

It only takes 171 pages for the English theologian Philip Sheldrake to present a grand sweep of the Christian spiritual tradition by organizing his material into six chapters and weaving through them the theme of "place." The notes in the hack (twenty-four pages) with the bibliography (thirteen pages) provide helpful references in support of the authors handling of the subject.

The chapters entitled, "A Sense of Place," "Place in Christian Tradition," "The Eucharist and Practicing Catholic Space," "The Practice of Place: Monasteries and Utopias," "The Mystical Way: Transcending Places of Limit," and "Re-placing the City?" give the reader a broad picture of spirituality especially in its Western Christian manifestations. Two quotations from familiar sources draw the reader to an underlying theme found throughout the chapters: "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul" (Simone Weil) and "There are no meanings apart from roots" (Walter Brueggemann) (p. 9).

Contrasting "place" and "placelessness," Sheldrake guides the reader through a myriad of examples from the historic significance of cathedrals and the place of hospitality in the Christian tradition to the loss of a sense of place today-a loss that undermines "a message of liberation and transformation that the Christian gospel proclaims" (p. 166). Focusing on the loss of a sense of roots-of belonging-in the modern city sets the stage for a new appreciation of the tradition of spirituality the author espouses. In discussing the matter, he refers to a definition of reconciliation he particularly likes, found in the Oxford Dictionary, "the reconsecration of desecrated places" (p. 168).

For Sheldrake, the importance of reconciliation causes him to emphasize the Incarnation in the tradition of spirituality under consideration. From Duns Scotus and Augustine to David Tracy and Rowan Williams, he praises the mystical dimension of theology-the apophatic language in the great mystical writers, east and west-which he believes should inspire us who live in the postmodern era (p. 121). …


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