We talk about sacred space, sharing sacred space and creating sacred space often. It’s not a common term in our circles but it’s not a foreign concept either. Understanding there is nothing new under the sun, we take the idea of going to church, in its limited construct, and usher the sacred into any space that we are in, nature, buildings, buses, etc… so that the space around us becomes “sacred space,” paying sole attention to the Creator of the universe, with hearts of thanksgiving and humility. We do this by leading and participating purposefully in acts of worship, song, reading sacred texts, meditation, reflections, sharing woes and joys, prayers, seeking wisdom and encouragement.
As we travel we are often invited into others expressions of sharing sacred space and it’s always a joy to partner with these folks committed to moving beyond religion and dogma, to the deeper act of worship and sharing in community. Sharing sacred space for us is a necessary part of our journey, it’s like going to the well to refill our water jugs. It’s life-giving and we don’t take it for granted.
Sometimes we meet folks along the way who have grown up in a particular religion and have had what we call “an allergic reaction” to that religion. The result is an on going struggle with guilt, shame, anger and resentment. The conversation tends to revolve around someone or some ideal that they felt betrayed by, leading to disillusionment as well as apathy. Yet, they long for more, but fear and potential lack of desire to push through the pain keeps them from finding the deep connection that comes when we share in the sacred. Our bus rider, Chris, was one of those souls. Our first stop after picking him up from the Mega Bus depot in Washington DC was Frostburg Maryland, where we parked and lived community life with the good folks at Savage River Farm. It was a jam-packed first 24 hours getting to know Chris, digging in the fields, getting to know our hosts and on our second night we made a huge dinner for the everyone, along with about 15 other kinfolk who came to share sacred space. After dinner, we all gathered on blankets and chairs, Ben read a reading from the book of Common Prayer, we spent five minutes in silence, taking in the sounds around us, listening past those sounds in hopes of hearing that still small voice and then we spent the rest of the night sharing our story, bearing witness of our Makers faithfulness in our lives, encouraging those there in their pursuit of God and community and closing with a song. Afterwards, we made our way back to our bus where Chris let us know that maybe he wasn’t on the same page as we were regarding our faith. We answered, that’s OK. It was late and we suggested a sit down in the morning where he could share his spiritual story with us.
The next morning he took us on his journey through childhood including a mama and grandmother, a pastor and a teacher all with a strong but simple faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a faith that included a beautiful beginning, then a disconnect from God, then reconciliation and restoration through God’s son, Jesus. Chris said he was wrapped in this story as a child but that as he got older he met others with different beliefs about God and some with no belief in God at all and began question this simple story of redemption. He felt a swaying towards apathy and eventually claimed to be agnostic, throwing himself into a sexually and status driven mindset. He said that he found some success and happiness during those years but there was always something missing. He expressed a longing to be in union with the God of all gods and a longing for the sacred. And, that lead him to this conversation with us, sitting on our bus. He expressed an acute awareness of this longing and an openness to seeing where the journey on our bus would lead and we continued forward. We knew God was orchestrating the ride of Chris’s life and we were excited to see it unfold.
Through out the course of the month on board, Chris met people all along the way, who without knowing it, answered questions, spoke wisdom and truth and lived out the simplicity of their love for God. We spent loads of time engaged in sacred text with the lens on inquiry, spending time working out some of those pending questions from years prior, finding that somethings were evident and some were mysteries yet to be unfolded. We read and prayed, asking what the text was trying to communicate about Gods character as well as our identity in the story. At one point, Chris began to understand the preciousness of his mother’s simple faith and that was when the invitation came from Chris’s childhood pastor, also named Chris, whom he hadn’t seen in five years, to come and share his faith journey with his church, Grace and Truth Chapel, just outside of Boston, MA.
We were also invited by Pastor Chris to bring an offering of worship, incorporating a time for Chris to share and to deliver a word of encouragement regarding God’s faithfulness. We love to share in any setting, with any group of kinfolk but it’s especially wonderful when we get to meet those we are preparing a spiritual meal for and learn from them first. So, we were pleased to be able to meet Pastor Chris and his beautiful wife, Rose the evening before and share a meal. We found out that they originated from Ghana and were delighted to also find out that their community consisted of folks from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo and other parts of West Africa. Having never met someone from Ghana we spent most of our night asking questions about their lives, cultural traditions and faith. We listened intently as they shared the dramatic story of their recent trip home to deal with the death of a loved one. They shared that their cultural traditions are wrapped up in “spiritism” and much of the story consisted of their constant redefinition of the local gods (spirits) who were always needing appeasement and would anger easily to the living God who is loving, patient, relational and kind. Rose and Pastor Chris respected their elders by showing a consistent love, embracing the relationally healthy traditions and rejecting those traditions that were relationally destructive. And, although their time there was tremendously wearing, they were fearless in their dealings with the local spirits, setting a new tone of faith that celebrated life but was free from the bondage of fear and ritualist slavery.
This conversation was very helpful in understanding how we would share in sacred space with the kinfolk at Grace and Truth. We knew that our time with them would focus on God’s faithfulness and we began to look into sacred text for ways to communicate this truth. We found Psalm 145:8-21 which paints a picture of a king who is faithful and compassionate, specially to those who fall. Also, we sourced Paul Penley’s book, Reenacting the Way, and found many stories of Jesus declaring his Godship and setting a new tone. For instance at one point Jesus sits down to share a meal with his friends and takes a cup, holding it up and declares it the blood of the new covenant. Why would he say that? Culturally, this statement correlates with the first covenant meal ever (you can read about it in Exodus 24:3-11), where there was a meal that took place in the Sinai wilderness a few weeks after the first passover. At this meal God made covenant with the Israelites and they respond that all that the Lord had spoken they would do. Fast forward to Jesus at this passover meal and he announces that his body would be broken and his blood poured out to inaugurate a new “covenant” which frees people to love and serve the living God. God promises faithfulness by stepping towards us, so that we may fall in step with him. This covenant is pure and relational and requires a two-sided commitment. And, even when we fail in our commitment God is still faithful, slow to anger, quick to love and like the prodigal father, welcomes us back, no matter tribe, tongue or creed.
We love because God loved us first. This is our story, this is Chris’s story, and best of all Chris got to share how this awesome covenant had new meaning for him with people who cared deeply for him. And, this really is the beauty of sharing sacred space.
On a fun side note; for those who have never shared sacred space with West Africans, the gathering lasts about three or four hours and includes loads of “amens,” rollicking songs, clapping, dancing, speaking out prayers, praying over others, words of encouragement, hugs and more words of encouragement and finishes with a hardy and delicious meal!