Sacred Space and Sacred Places
We hear people talk about sacred space. Actors and directors tell us the theatre becomes a sacred place for them. Some people describe places where boundaries between physical life and spiritual life become thin.
Spiritual life helps us recognize and appreciate sacred space and sacred places.
Some of us have visited places with a reputation for sacredness.
We arrive in a place where we sense the presence of spiritual life. It may be somewhere people have come together to worship or pray for hundreds of years. Some of us expect sacred places to have some history.
Others of us find sacred space waiting for us in unexpected places.
We may find a sacred place in a building or somewhere outdoors. I know people who draw closer to spiritual life when they are among trees, or in the mountains, or at the beach.
Each of us has our own ideas about what sacred places are like, how they feel and where we can find them.
Some of us discover our sacred space is within us.
Like sacred places, we experience moments of awareness when time seems to stand still for us. The ways we usually sense it seem to melt away. Time appears not to follow the rules we try to impose on it in our everyday lives. It overflows its banks, or evaporates, or freezes.
Time escapes our expectations and is infused with spiritual life.
There are people who help us find and experience sacred places, help us recognize spiritual life. We share our stories, listening and asking questions, laughing and crying together.
We find spiritual life swirling around us and filling us, and we decide we are in a sacred place.
What is the difference between spaces which is sacred and other, less sacred, places?
Everyday Sacred Space
Some of us have particularly clear rules for ourselves about what makes a place sacred. We believe certain buildings, or kinds of buildings, are sacred spaces. Some of us have been taught certain ways we spend our time are sacred while others are not.
I am learning sacred space does not work like that. It is more and more difficult for me to find the line between what is sacred and what is not.
Yes, there are places we can go and ways we can act which are not helpful, but harmful. The challenge for me is when people go to places they believe are sacred and act in ways which hurt people.
Do they believe doing things in a space they believe is sacred makes their behavior healthy?
As far as I can tell, what makes space sacred is how we experience it, how we behave in it. We recognize spiritual life is everywhere, all around us and within us, and we open ourselves to it. Some of us try to develop specific habits to help us be more open to spiritual life.
Being sacred is not a matter of our conviction or our zeal in how we enter a particular space. Contemplative practices can help us remember and appreciate how spiritual life is alive in the world.
We practice being open to spiritual life and begin to recognize how it surrounds and fills us.
It can take us a long time to begin to understand spiritual life is not about arbitrary rules and limitations. We start discovering a relationship to spiritual life different from the one we thought we had.
Sacred space is not what we expected it to be, not what we thought it was.
Spiritual Life Creates Sacred Space
Spiritual life transforms us. As we practice being open to spiritual life we recognize more clearly how it works within us.
Spiritual life is not a system of rules to follow, not a list of concepts to believe, not minimum standards we need to meet. We are in a relationship with spiritual life and it recreates us from the inside out.
Ordinary, familiar places are revealed to us as sacred places. We realize our routines and schedules are full of sacred space.
The challenge for us is not finding sacred space, but paying attention and noticing what is already here. Spiritual life constantly surprises us in new ways. Places and experiences we thought were familiar reveal themselves to be sacred in ways we never recognized before.
We do not need to seek new ways of discovering sacred space. Spiritual life is not hidden in distant places or particular experiences. We are living in sacred places wherever and whenever we are.
Spiritual life is creating sacred space in our lives. As our relationship with spiritual life grows more intimate we appreciate how full our lives are of sacred places.
Living in Sacred Space
Spiritual life will not force us into a relationship.
It is easy for us not to pay attention. We get distracted by whatever shiny object attracts our attention for a moment and we forget the sacred reality of spiritual life.
Part of living in sacred space is developing our capacity to pay attention. We practice remembering there is more to life than our own immediate experiences.
Learning to pay attention is why many traditional spiritual practices are built around going without something. Each one is a way to practice intentionally paying attention to our relationship with spiritual life.
We choose to let go of things which demand our attention. Going without food we pay attention to how spiritual life lives in our bodies. Listening to sacred stillness we pay attention to truths deeper than words. Each contemplative practice gives us opportunities to live in sacred space and time.
The things we practice giving up are not necessarily wrong or harmful in themselves. They get in the way of recognizing sacred places.
Some of us recognize we do not find what is sacred in a particular place. We carry our sacred space within us.
When and where will we experience sacred space today?
How will we live in sacred space this week?
[Image by smallcurio]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.