Space. The final… hold it! Back up. Not that kind of space. Though it might well be somewhere you’ve never gone, and most of us never go. Today I want to talk about sacred space and how we can create it in our lives. When we think of sacred space most of us probably think of a place of worship, a church or temple or other place people gather to pray and commune with the Divine.
These were my first introductions to sacred space. There was the big oak table that was the altar in the church where I grew up. It was so old, it had seen so many prayers, so many people born, and wed, and buried. There were adults who would hush their voices in that space, slow their walk, add the sort of physical gestures (like bowing) that are otherwise totally foreign to modern American life.
That sacred space, and the way we behaved in it left an impression on me. I made my own sacred space pretty darn young. I built a church out of bricks, and bits of wood, acorn caps, leaves, and anything else I could find on the back patio of our house. It was for the ants you know, they needed sacred space! I laugh about it now but looking back my childhood self was entirely serious.
Sacred space is space we have set aside as special. It has it’s own purpose, it’s own reason for being. And we humans make rules and rituals around our sacred spaces. We do this for lots of reasons but I think chiefly we do it because these are places we have encountered something more than ourselves. Our sacred spaces are sacred because in them we brush up against the Divine, we catch glimpses of Love and Beauty so huge and indescribable that we’re left gaping in wonder.
We set aside space for things we value. And I will never stop loving collective sacred spaces, those places we human beings gather to encounter the Divine together. But one of the things that has become more and more clear to me is that the whole of our lives are sacred. Encountering God(dess) is not something outside our regular life that we devote a set amount of time for each week and then go back to “normal.” At least it shouldn’t be.
Personal Sacred Space
Setting aside sacred space somewhere in your everyday life is an important daily reminder of what you value. Your life is more than your computer, phone, chores, but we devote a great amount of space in our lives to those things. Our cars take up more space than anything else, we inhabit our work places for most of our waking day, we have whole rooms set aside for sleeping. But most of us don’t have a dedicated space for the sacred in our home or work lives, which I think has contributed to the compartmentalization of our lives into “sacred” (worship on our tradition’s holy day) and profane (everything else).
Busting the myths
So let’s bust down some sacred space myths, shall we?
The first one is a biggie: there are rules as to what counts as sacred and what doesn’t. Wrong. Take a look around the religious world and you’ll very quickly notice that the sheer range of what counts as sacred space, and what should fill that space is immense. From gilded statues and glorious artwork, to giant standing stones and nothing else human sacred space is as diverse as we are. Even within a single religious tradition like Christianity you’ll find groups who shun any decoration in their sacred spaces at all, and those who cover every square inch of space with elaborate and beautiful artwork dedicated to the Divine.
There also seems to be a persistent idea that you need some sort of special person involved to create sacred space. Many of you know (and you all do now) that in addition to running Crazy Whole Life I am an ordained priest to a traditional (OK we’re not really traditional) offline community. And it surprises me every time someone thinks that they must follow the rules around things like sacred space. I don’t have to be present, for example, to bless their new house. They don’t even have to use the “official” prayers (yup, we have those). Trust me, God(dess) shows up for everyone, no matter how fumbling your efforts seem. That’s why She’s God(dess).
And finally, there’s that whole idea that setting aside space for yourself might, just maybe, be selfish. I mean, what if your roommate, spouse, or kids don’t care about sacred space? What if they value different things? What if they wanted to put a TV there? Tough cookies. If sacred space matters to you, claim it. Your space doesn’t have to be huge, or elaborate, you don’t need a whole room set aside, just a little nook will do nicely. You wouldn’t feel guilty about needing a place to sleep, eat, or work safely so why feel guilty for setting aside space for your spiritual life, which is (really) just as important?
Building Sacred Space
Your sacred space will be as unique as you are. No one but you can create it for you, and there really aren’t any rules (other than perhaps be safe). But I’ve outlined some helpful suggestions and tools that can help you along the way.
- There is no need for special furniture, a room, etc. Look at the space you have available and choose something that will fit into your current space with minor disruption. (There’s nothing wrong with disrupting what currently exists, clear off a shelf in your book case, claim the mantle. There’s simply no need to go into major remodel for this.)
- Set boundaries around your sacred space. If you live with others explain what you are doing and ask them to honor your space. If this will be a family space involve others in creating it and let them have a say. But be firm (but reasonable) about setting boundaries around your space.
- Remember that it takes centuries to build a cathedral (and they are never really done). Your sacred space will change and evolve over your lifetime and that is OK.
- Add only things to your space that you find beautiful, inspiring, or a reminder of the Divine (or your practice, etc). The glow in the dark plastic cross that Aunt Mable brought you from the Vatican only goes in your sacred space if you honestly love it.
- The opposite is true as well. If you want a picture of your dog in your sacred space well go right ahead and don’t bother about whether it’s “right” or not! (Remember, this is your space.)
- Do try to choose a space you will see frequently, ideally multiple times a day, so that it can help to remind you to come back to your spiritual practices and renew your connection to the sacred in your everyday life.
- Do make your space “you.” I love twinkle lights and candles so you can bet my space has both.
My journey from a Sunday school kid to someone who seeks to incorporate the sacred into every part of my life has led me to write a book (well first I wrote about 10 books worth of articles here). And I am so excited to say that it launches on August 1st. It’s All Sacred chronicles my “2×4 moment” when I realized I couldn’t fail at spirituality because spirituality was my whole life. And it offers concrete help for those who want to live whole, integrated, and awe filled lives themselves.
Check out It’s All Sacred and if you find Crazy Whole Life helpful I hope you’ll grab a copy for yourself or a friend!