The concepts of “cyberspace” and “virtual reality” are as familiar for us now as “Morse code” and “radio waves” were in the past. We can “google” the geography of any place on the planet, launch rockets to outer space, plant our flag on the moon, and send exploratory missions to Mars.
The photographs of our solar system transmitted by the Hubble telescope depict the earth as if it were a blue dot no bigger than a postage stamp.
What is even more remarkable is that God, who made heaven and earth, chose mapped places like Bethlehem in Judea for Christ to be born, and small towns like Nazareth where he would grow up. He spent forty days in the desert, changed water into wine at Cana, walked by the Sea of Galilee, chose Mount Tabor as the site of his Transfiguration, and spent his last agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Radical events in the history of salvation happen in places whose names may be obscure but whose meaning remains as striking now as in ages past when Jacob wrestled with an angel at Peniel (see Genesis 32: 22-32). His response may come to our lips when we enter spaces evocative of wonder and say, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17).
These illustrations of the space of grace echo the words of the psalmist, who says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).
Particularly poignant in the New Testament is the account of the Savior of the world being born in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. Shortly thereafter, to escape the wrath of Herod, the Holy Family flees to Egypt. At the age of twelve, Mary and Joseph find him teaching in the Temple. Since his time has not yet come, he lives the hidden life for thirty years in Nazareth. Later, with his disciples, he travels the countryside, working miracles and teaching the people. He makes good friends like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany and ministers to those in need in towns like Capernaum. He enters Jerusalem despite the protest of the apostles and, before his crucifixion on Golgotha, institutes the eucharist in the Upper Room. Following his death and resurrection, he walks with seekers of truth on the road to Emmaus, cooks breakfast by the shore, and tests Peter to see if he is ready to be the rock on which he will build his church.
Before his ascension, he promises the community of faith that he is going to his Father’s house in which there are many dwelling places. He says that he will prepare a place for them there (see John 14:2-3).
These familiar references reveal that the Word became flesh and dwells among us in space and time. We find him in quiet places like deserts, and on mountain tops, and most of all in the hermitage of our heart. With unshakeable conviction we way, “You are a hiding place for me…you surround me with glad cries of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
We also remember Christ’s presence in our own “nazareths of everydayness.” There we see Mary preparing hundreds of meals, so unimportant no one would think of recording them.
We watch Joseph doing his daily work with the boy Jesus at his side. When we feel tired, we imagine sitting down with Jesus at the well in the Samaritan city of Sychar “near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (John 4:5).
There by Jacob’s well we can remember Jesus’ gentle direction of the Samaritan woman, how he showed her the way to eternal life and revealed himself as her Messiah. Because of her testimony, many Samaritans from that city came to believe in him.
We see anew that our faith is not remote and out of reach but wholly temporal and spatial. We know as Jacob did that “surely the Lord is in this place” (Genesis 28:16). No matter where we are, no matter how busy we may be, we can say with confidence, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.”
In sports stadiums, convention centers, and shopping malls, as well as in chapels, cathedrals, and retreat centers, we praise the Lord and proclaim the harmony that exists between time and eternity.
When we least expect it, the Holy Spirit may awaken in us the grace to become a “little word” in the Eternal Word. No greater truth can be told than this:
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it, for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).