Sonata in Dm D. Scarlatti (1685-1757)

“How Firm a Foundation”


One of the tropes of the 60’s was that a good drug trip depends on “set and setting” — one’s mindset and physical setting. If you think about it, that means goodness in one’s interior world, and goodness in one’s exterior world, which covers just about everything, does it not? So I’d suggest that not just a good drug trip, but a good LIFE in general depends on “set and setting”.

Set and setting seem very interdependent to me. My environment plays an enormous role in my mental well-being: when my environment is neat and orderly it helps my mind follow suit. By the same token, mindset makes a profound difference in how folks respond to the same setting: Frankl was a concentration camp survivor who noted that those who survived had an implacable mindset of survival, and those that didn’t – well, didn’t.

So we can use that interdependence to our advantage. In AA they admonish you not to visit bars, for example. If you want to change some habit more generally, it can be very helpful to change your external routine — changing externals can facilitate internal changes.

I think that’s one of the main purposes of church: it’s a place that is unlike any other in our day to day world, what with stain glass windows, high ceiling, altar, the music (maybe music that you normally wouldn’t hear in the course of your day), etc. It’s a unique ‘setting’. And what is this setting for? Why, to work on improving our ‘mindset’.

In Christianity the words ‘holy’ and ‘sacred’ are translations of Greek and Hebrew words which mean ‘set apart’. And so church is a ‘sacred space’ — a space set apart for spiritual purposes. The mythology of Asian martial arts holds that the discipline was originally founded as exercises in mindfulness for Buddhist monks – the self-defense aspects were very secondary. And so they have ‘dojos’ – which means ‘a place of the Way’ – a place where you go to make progress on your spiritual path. So one goes to a physical place (setting) set aside (sacred) to work on one’s inner growth (mindset) – whether that be a dojo, a church sanctuary, or any other sacred space. (The Latin word for ‘holy’, ‘sacred’ is ‘sanctus’ – hence the ‘sanct-’ in ‘sanctuary’).

So to me that is the whole point of Sunday morning church. It’s a sacred space set aside for that purpose, and we go to the trouble of leaving our homes and gathering together in a sacred setting with like-minded folks to work on inner growth. It’s a sacred setting — both time and place — to make progress in following the Christ.