Make Sacred Space

Earlier this month, I spoke on the subject of Making Sacred Space.  The transcript is below….

We’re going on a journey this morning to explore the concept of making sacred space, as far as the outer edges of the universe & as close as your own soul.  To me, making sacred space is the ability to create a holy connection between our highest selves, other beings, & all that is.  I’m offering the suggestion that this holiest of ideas begins & ends with you.  This is a deeply meaningful concept for me & by the end of this contemplative, participatory service- where you’ll have opportunities to meditate- I hope it will be for you, too.

Energy is all around us, going in all directions, but it’s the energy that you put out that you’ll receive back.  If you set the intention & make authentic connections, any space can be sacred.  Both intention & connection are equally important & completely in your power to manifest.  Sacredness is a choice.

We’re going to start with our intention & open our arms for a holy hug, embracing all that is.  Then, we’ll slowly close our arms to embrace the greater community… closer still to embrace our loved ones…. & closer still until we are embracing our Selves, with a capital “S”, creating the ultimate sacred space within.

I.  UNIVERSAL/GLOBAL/COLLECTIVE/ARCHETYPAL

On a grand scale, there are collective sacred spaces made such by the intention of those who created them AND their spiritual significance to others who experience them.  These places are highly charged for generations of people feel this concentration of energy.  It’s not just the physical aspect of place but the power felt there.  These places include burial mounds, temples, mosques, & cathedrals.

I grew up in the Catholic tradition so for my earliest years, churches, places that housed the relics of saints, & the Vatican were considered sacred.  I distinctly remember when I was 9 or 10, sitting in the pew with my family… physically present but mentally, spiritually, & emotionally cut off.  The space was no longer sacred to me for although the intention of those who designed it was there, my spiritual connection to it was not.  I could appreciate the stained glass, statuary, & intricate carvings… but they held no sacredness, no significance for me any longer.  I learned fairly early that it’s not the space alone.  It’s our emotional engagement… our relationship with it that makes it sacred.

An open mind & an open heart don’t allow for narrow views & soon, my view of the sacred expanded to include much, much more.  I’ve been very privileged to travel the world for most of my life, getting familiar with other cultures & opening myself to other points of view.  I’ve walked on paths around Walden pond, immersing myself in the spirituality of the transcendentalists.  I’ve descended into the tombs of the pharaohs, put my hands into the cool water of the Sea of Galilee, stood in the remains of a temple to Diana on Crete, & removed my shoes before entering Al-Aqsa mosque where beautifully ornate prayer rugs covered the floor.  “This mosque is sacred.  That temple is sacred.  And this pond is sacred, too.”  How can that be?  I believe it was my intention to be fully present & feel the holiness as well as my connection to each of these places-  no boundaries & no limiting labels.

At this level, sacred is archetypal & collective… we agree that this building or that burial mound, even this canyon or that mountain are sacred.  We join a “sacred” already established… Dome of the Rock, Stonehenge, Notre Dame.  There is magic in these places & I find it nourishes my soul to visit them whenever possible for the collective energy of so many people throughout the ages sanctifies the space…relationship building… place to person, person to place, & person to person.

Navarre Scott Momaday, a Southwest American Indian writer wrote, “To encounter the sacred is to be alive at the deepest center of human existence.  Sacred places are the truest definitions of the earth; they stand for the earth immediately and forever; they are its flags & shields.  If you would know the earth for what it really is, learn it through its sacred places.  At Devils’ Tower or Canyon de Chelly or the Cahokia Mounds, you touch the pulse of the living planet; you feel its breath upon you.  You become one with a spirit that pervades geologic time & space.”

I’ve opened my heart to the Universe & see all things natural as profoundly sacred.   Almost 30 years ago, I sat on a grassy mound near a field in central Pennsylvania, in silence & stillness, in that moment, learning (although it’s a lesson I need repeated periodically) that stillness & silence are a direct line to the holy.  Bucks & does emerged from the woods on the far side of the field & cautiously ate… pausing to sniff the air periodically…. Could they sense my presence?  Over a couple of hours, I was joined by butterflies, bees, rabbits, & birds.  I laughed inwardly with joy.  Eventually as the sky grew inky blue just before darkness covered us all… the bucks came leaping & playfully scuffling ever close, within just a few yards of me… We made eye contact.  Then my quiet laughter gave way to enormous teardrops streaming down my cheeks & splashing on my knees as I sat motionless, part of this sacred moment.  I was connected to the divine & for me, this place was… and is… divine. Each animal from deer to ant was divine, the ancient oak in the middle of that field was divine, & I felt my own Divinity in that moment.

Cathedrals, burial mounds, & temples can be agreed upon as sacred sites but how are places like Aushewitz, the 9/11 Flight 93 plane crash site in Shanksville, PA, & Pearl Harbor sacred?  Are they sacred?  The original intention without a doubt, was NOT sacred but have been made so…by collectively honoring those who suffered & died in these places, creating hallowed ground.  I see it as a reclaiming of sorts… empowerment.  There is a new 9/11 museum opening in NYC on Ground Zero.  The reporter on the Today show referred to it as sacred space.  Is it? Last summer, returning from a trip to Vermont, we stopped in a small town for lunch.  As soon as I parked the car & got out, my breath left my body for I saw a sign hanging on a storefront that read, “Welcome to Sandy Hook.  We choose love.”  After losing 20 children & 6 adults to a killer with a gun in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, the townspeople reclaimed their power, set the intention to choose love, & made their town sacred.  Sacredness is a choice.

So yes, the city of Jerusalem is holy but so are the olive groves outside the old city walls.  And yes, Stonehenge is sacred but so are the rolling fields dotted with grazing sheep in the surrounding countryside.  And we’d probably agree that Notre Dame is sacred but I propose that sacredness can be found in a nearby café sharing a warm baguette & espresso with someone you love.  It doesn’t have to be grandiose.  The ordinary can be sacred if you let it be so.

Daniel Taylor wrote in In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands,“If you have been in the vicinity of the sacred—even brushed against the holy- you retain it more in your bones than in your head; & if you haven’t, no description of the experience will ever be satisfactory.”

I’ll pause for 1 minute to give you the opportunity to visualize some of your most sacred spaces-take this time to travel the world.  

II.  COMMUNITY

Let’s return to this place, this time & bring our embrace in a bit closer to consider the sacredness of community. Intention + connection = sacred space.  Creating sacred space for others in our community comes easily to some, not so easily to others, sporadic for others still.  It looks different for different people.  A drum circle, a book discussion group, men gathering to stain bookcases, families working together in a community garden, congregants on their knees laying pavers or mosaic stones in our labyrinth nestled in the sacred space between the memorial wall & the breathtakingly beautiful beech tree.  At this level, the sacredness is in our connections to those around us & in the relationships we build.  We honor what we need spiritually & consider what we can bring to others to create a sacred space that is inclusive.

A lifetime ago, I was led to facilitate Bible study groups in CA & when I first arrived here, I held sacred space for gardeners & our beautiful grounds when I chaired the Garden Committee.  I’ve also held space for little ones in RE over the years.  Now, I’m called to focus on creativity & women’s spirituality with those who want to study dreamwork, intuition, earth-based belief systems, & goddess-worshipping cultures… go figure!  I’ve taught Cakes for the Queen of Heaven & Rise Up & Call Her Name workshops, holding space for dozens of congregants & members of the community.  Years later, it’s transformed into the Women’s Spirit Circle, made up of amazing, intelligent women who share the intention & make the conscious effort to hold sacred space for one another through their presence, support, & shared experiences.

And this year, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone by holding sacred space in the form of Red Tent Events.  The intent is that this will be a welcoming, safe nurturing place for women to connect with other women & reconnect with their authentic Selves in significant ways.  With lots of love & support from dear friends, we created a magical space for 23 participants last March & I’m hoping we have an equally positive response to the Red Tent being held on June 21st, when we’ll explore Refilling the Well- Ways We Nourish & Nurture Our Selves.  Just a little plug for an event that I hope will be deeply moving for each woman.

Charles W. Chestnutt wrote “The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe.  One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next we see in them the reflection of the divine image.”

I know from experience how hard it is sometimes to recognize the sacredness in others, especially the ones we are closest to.  I use the term “spiritual practice” to identify my spirituality because it has to be practice… practically every day.  I’m both a spiritual being having a human experience & a very flawed human being having a spiritual experience.  For some reason, we tolerate a lot from “them”- politicians, big business, our bosses, but we tend to take it out on the ones we are closest to- friends, family, & one another in a congregation.  Why is sacredness so hard to see in others sometimes?  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.”  Maybe that explains it.

I admit I cannot make the experience sacred for my Red Tent participants any more than the ministers, choir members, or greeters can make this sanctuary sacred for each of us on Sunday.  Remember what I said earlier, it’s intention AND CONNECTION that makes sacred space.  It’s not their responsibility, it’s just as much ours.  It’s our choice to set the intention or not… it’s our choice to connect or not… it’s our choice to make this space sacred… or not.  We each have to come with hearts wide open & participate fully in the making of sacred space.  It’s not a one way street, it’s an exchange of energy.  As someone reminded me a couple of nights ago, right when I needed a loving reminder, showing up physically is only the first step.  Before I blame someone else for what I may feel is a spiritual “lack”, I need to reflect on what I’m bringing to the experience.

“Without love & compassion, nothing is sacred”, Bryant McGill wrote in Voice of Reason.

Consider your connections to the greater York community, this UU community, & your friends.  Where are the sacred spaces for you?  What are you doing to make sacred spaces for your Self & others?  Let’s take one minute to reflect on this.

So let’s tighten that embrace, bringing the circle ever closer… holding onto those we love the most.

III. LOVED ONES Around 1998-1999, all hell broke loose in my life when I lost the extremes, the anchors of my existence, the person I could never please & the person I could never disappoint.  In the eulogy to the latter, I talked about losing my home with the loss of him… my roots seemed to wither & die with my grandfather’s passing.  It wasn’t about the land or the house where I spent the best days of my childhood with him & my grandmother, it was the loss of sacred space created by their unconditional love & our connection to one another.

Truth be told, I find sacred space just about anywhere & everywhere now… at a cookout laughing with a group of friends, watching the clouds from the hammock where I gently rock with napping dogs, & in the garden where my boyfriend & I pick fresh basil & tomatoes for homemade pesto before sitting at the picnic table, watching the sun blanket the barley field in a rosy glow.

When our friends silently step off the deck & walk barefoot among the gardens, I believe they have a sense of the holy & join me in feeling the sacredness of my back yard.  When my niece takes a little bag & fills it with silky soft lamb’s ear, fragrant rosemary, & refreshing mint so she can smell these things hours later when she goes home… she may not articulate it but she is connecting to the sacredness of that space, where sunflower seeds are offertories to the birds & a homemade blueberry cobbler sanctifies friendships.

Sacred space is where you make it.  Heart open… receive it… give it.  It’s all sacred when we choose to see the Divinity all around us.

How do you make your space sacred for your Self & those you love?  What makes it so?  What can you do to make it more sacred?  Thomas Moore wrote in Care of the Soul, “Care for our actual houses, then, however humble, is also care of the soul… Every home is a microcosm, the archetypal “world” embodied in a house or a plot of land or an apartment.”  Let’s meditate on this for one minute, envisioning your intimate space & considering the sacredness there.

IV.  SACRED WITHIN

So we started by radiating our holy intention to manifest the sacred out to the universe & now slowly return, back to our Selves.  The most sacred space of all is within each of us, the Divine Spark… the Light of Love… soul, whatever name you give that which identifies your highest self.

Do you feel that you are sacred?  This can be most difficult for some of us.  Yes, we believe the earth is sacred.  Yes, we see the divine in those around us.  But do we see the divine within ourselves?  Do you?  We are each sacred… despite ourselves… because of our Selves.

How do we make the sacred space within ourselves?  The good news is that you only have to recognize it– for it’s already there.  There is a divine spark in you, a life force energy, kundalini… we each have it.  It’s not about creating sacred space; it’s about acknowledging the divine spark & turning it into a flame.

How do we nurture that sacred space within & deepen our connection to it?  I’ve thought of 5 practices that I can consider when I need to nourish my own sense of sacredness.

  1. Connect to nature.  Find your sense of belonging by hiking in the woods, listening to the roar of the ocean, or lying flat in the grass, imagining roots securing your physical body to Mother Earth.

 

  1. Make energetic connections to rejuvenate your sense of the sacred.  Try reflexology, yoga, tai chi, or Reiki.

In my Reiki practice, for example, I hold sacred space for my client, myself, & the life force energy that connects us both.  If the client remains open to it & is fully invested in the experience, it goes beyond physical, and even the energetic, entering the realm of the spiritual.

  1. Pray and/or meditate.  For me, praying is more like talking & meditating is more like listening… both important aspects of effective communication & both equally important for connecting to a higher source & experiencing the sacredness of the moment.

 

  1. Creative expression, for me, is a great way to make sacred space & nourish the soul… both making art & appreciating art.

 

  1. Lastly, sacred space is best made when we simply remain still & silent.  Set the intention to be reverent for all life, respectful, & even celebratory about the beauty around & within you.  The divine in the everyday.  By setting the intention to focus on the positive, recognizing that all is holy, & connecting to it in a meaningful way, you can make sacred space anywhere.

Donna Davis wrote,  “Open your eyes to the beauty around you; open your mind to the wonders of life; open your heart to those who love you, & always be true to yourself.”

May it be so & blessed be.

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Boundaries & Priorities

The other evening, I had a few moments to sit in a lawn chair in my back yard, soaking up the scenery & listening to the birds.  At one point, I looked down at the arm of my chair & saw a delicate little insect with an iridescent green body & transparent wings.  It stayed only a second & was gone.  If I hadn’t looked down at just that moment, I would have missed it entirely.

That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that it’s been a while since I just stopped & participated in nature fully.  I don’t mean glancing up at the sky as I run between my car & the grocery store nor do I mean staring out at the trees as I walk down the hall at work.  I mean sitting in stillness & silence IN nature…. feet on the earth, breeze on the face, & sun on the skin.

Participating.  Being present.

When the realization hit me that I’ve been too busy to connect, I took a cue from people who keep track of expenses so they can see where their money goes, and kept track of where my time goes.  I listed every group, committee, class, & work obligation.  I even listed my boyfriend, dogs, & housework.  I wanted to see it all in black & white.  Am I focusing on what I love or have I gotten distracted by other things?  The answer, I’m ashamed to say, is that I got distracted by other things.  And what’s worse, I make the little things the priority & pushed what mattered to the back burner.  Can anyone out there relate?  It was quite a wake-up call for me.

I admit it; I’m an overachiever.  I’m a woman who says “Yes” and “Sure, I’d love to” without thinking about the time commitment because I like to be helpful & do things I know I’m skilled to do.  We all want to make a difference & feel important.  Right?

But here’s the reality check– I can’t do anything well when I’m doing too much.  The amount of time I need to fulfill all my obligations is greater than the time I have in a given week.  And what’s worse, there is zero time for things like “fun” and “relaxation”.  I cannot do it all.  So it’s time to do 2 things…

Set priorities & establish boundaries.

I put the items on my list in order from most important to least important.  Then, I considered how to scale back.  For some things, it’s easy.  An on-line class ends at the end of the month & an art class ends in early June.  I just won’t take any more classes for a while.  For other things, it’s a little more difficult.  I have to resign from a couple of committees.  I hate to do that but I know that I cannot give my best when I’ve stretched myself so thinly.  Instead, I’ll give the few things that truly matter more of my energy & thereby, make a greater contribution than I am now.  I’m going to keep scaling back until I can take a deep breath & not feel like I’m wearing a corset!

Establishing boundaries may prove to be a bit more challenging for it means I have to look someone in the eye and say “No.  I’d love to help you but no.  I can’t fit anything else in my schedule at this time.”

Some people are masters at multi-tasking.  I’m not one of them.  I prefer focusing on one thing at a time & giving it my best.

Some people can run from one task to another, eating their dinner on their lap while they are driving.  I don’t want that to be my experience.  It’s too stressful.  Plus, I can only eat so many french fries & still fit into my jeans!

I want to have a quality life- balancing the giving & the receiving.  I want to support the causes I care about but I also want to support my own health & well-being.  I need time to watch the insects crawling on my lawn chair.

If it feels like you’re doing too much, YOU ARE.  

List your priorities.  

Start saying no.

There are countless takes on the phrase “Keep Calm & Carry On” but there is an alternative that I saw on a magnet… “Let go or be dragged.”   If it no longer serves your highest good, stop doing it.  Make space for what matters most.  Give as much as you want but remember you have to give to your Self, too.  It’s not selfish… it’s self-preservation.