Sacred Space

IMG_3435We 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.

IMG_3436We 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!

 

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs has become a place we find ourselves coming back to time and again. It’s no surprise though, with hosts like the Penely’s who wouldn’t want to come back. The Penely'sWith a heart as big as the ocean, the Penely’s open their home often, to youth, community gatherings, travelers, fostering and caring for others. Not only that, but they are engaging. Conversations of faith and community are often the focus. This time around we were able to pick up a copy of Paul’s book, Reenacting the Way and had some great pre-read conversations around the fire. We cherish these moments with kinfolk and are especially grateful that they happen to live in such a fantastically beautiful part of the country.

We spent five days in the Springs, exploring the Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, Helen Hunt Falls and local shops. It’s not only a place of beauty but a place that offers us restoration.

hummingbirdAt the Falls we discovered a hummingbird exhibit. The humming-bird is one of my favorites. If you’ve never seen one, they are quite fantastic as they hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings 12–80 times per second (depending on the species). They are known as hummingbirds because of the humming sound created by their beating wings, which sometimes sounds like bees or other insects. We also learned that they are the only bird that can fly forwards and backwards. What a fascinating creature!

But of all the places in Colorado Springs to visit, Garden of the Gods is one of our favorites. It is a registered National Natural Landmark and it is a free. The park has a fantastic Nature Center where you can learn about the history of the native people from that area, the plant life, animals that inhabit this area, and the geology of the amazing red rock formations. We highly recommend making this park of your stops along the way!

Around the Table in Colorado

We’ve spent the last three weeks in Colorado including Denver, Winter Park, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. We had a handful of legit folkie shows and the rest of our time was spent around the table.

Our first stop was in snowy Denver with the Stephan family. We were referred to them by a dear friend in Green Bay, WI. We parked street side in the new Stapleton Estates. Easy going, the Stephan’s made us feel right at home. We rested after a long trek across the plains states, enjoyed encouraging conversation and on our final night I had the opportunity to make a dinner for us all in their kitchen. Stocked with full amenities, all the bells and whistles, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking in my bus kitchen, but this was a delight. We had organic Shepard’s pie, leafy greens and flourless chocolate cake for dessert, all from my ‘The Apron Strings‘ Cookbook.

   

The Stephan’s also connected us with a local charity, The Urban Farm and we were able to connect for a benefit show. That lead to us meeting a first grade teacher at Fletcher Primary, who invited us to come and share our Australian Folklore workshop with eighty 1st graders. They loved Craig’s mustache, and sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with all their might.

Next we stored our rig with our dear friends at Radiant Church and drove our mini-van up to Winter Park/Fraser to serve at Timberline School. The drive is terrifying coming up that pass but once we were there the beautiful sunshine and snowy mountain tops erased all the fear.  Our friends, Dan and Sarah Thomas are the directors at Timberline and we have always wanted to offer some sort of service to their efforts. So when we were planning our fall tour, we blocked out a week to pour in. We shared in song with the students, we joined them for most of the morning and lunch meals, we helped with child care, building projects and enjoyed making a meal or two for the Thomas’s. And, just a small family affair, we celebrated Graciana’s sixteenth birthday with a home-made pizza party. We had a french themed party for her in September with all of our friends in Chicago, but it’s special to celebrate on the day as well.

Back to Denver for a gig at Swallow Hill and short but sweet say with some of our old friends; Randy, Beki and Diego. Through out our travels we have met amazing kinfolk but there is something about a visit with an old friend. There is an ease to laugh, cry and share deep moments. This was just what we needed. We meet Beki and Randy at Lifest in 2007 and have performed with them and enjoyed community with them. Plus we were able to share a meal in celebration for Craig’s birthday, which falls right after Graciana’s.

On to Colorado Springs to spend a few days with the Penley family. We met them through the Thomas’s and have connected with them over the years. The Penley’s are generous and kind kinfolk. Younger than us but wise beyond their years. Their house was full to the brim with family and the laughter of children. With three children and fostering one, Christy is a super mom in the best sense. She is strong, organized and gentle all at the same time. And, Paul, he’s about the smartest person we’ve ever meet. We enjoyed conversations over delightful meals, a bon fire, quiet time of reading, baking with the kids and shared in song at their church, 1st Presbyterian. While there, Graciana connected with a new friend, discovering a similar taste in books, music and in the journey of being homeschooled.

 

We also had an opportunity to do a little sight-seeing, visiting the Olympic Training Center. Highlight was seeing the wide open arm span of Michael Phelps. That boy is big!

  

And our final Colorado stop was in Fort Collins with the Borden family. Dear friends from Chicago, Diane was my boss at Grrr Records and, the most encouraging person you’ll ever meet. We dove right in at the Borden house, cleaning and getting the garage space ready for about 28 folk to enjoy a Thanksgiving fest. It was a joy to sort through and organize (I’ll admit, I love organizing, I have been known to spend a good amount of time at the thrift store organizing the dresses by size, then color. Ha!) It was also a great visit for our kids, as the Borden clan is five strong. They watched movies, played a building video game called mine craft, helped prepare Thanksgiving decorations, put on plays with dress ups, and made funny movies on their I-Pad. We connect with kinfolk and got our worship on at ECC. Craig got his craftsman fix in by laying down a deck for the Borden’s. And, on our last night I made Asparagus/Mushroom/Leek with a wine cream sauce and Crepes for dinner.

 

We are thankful for our time in Colorado, for the community and encouragement that keeps us on our way and for the many meals shared with kinfolk, new and old.