26 October 2018

Sacred Space

When I was teaching high school in California, I attended a workshop on the Get Lit program as part of the regular training that teachers undergo to keep their educational skills fresh and relevant. Get Lit exposes high schoolers, especially those considered “at risk,” to poetry in an attempt to get them to respond and connect to the world around them. One of the things we talked about was creating a “sacred space” for writing. The thought had never occurred to me that we artists, writers included, create these spaces for ourselves to work.

When I think about the term “sacred space,” I immediately think of a church sanctuary, being the traditional form of the sacred space—that is, it is a space reserved for the sacred. It is infused with spirituality in some way; reverence hangs in its air. We go there to worship. It stands to reason that we might designate more than one place for the sacred; and, as the act of creation might be thought of inherently as divinely inspired, it's no wonder we should seek a sacred space in which to do our own creation.

The act of writing, like other arts, is a release. It's a means for us to deal with our days, our lives, through more than just talking about it. If we write poetry, we may just write it for ourselves, but the effect is still there. (The effect amplifies when you share your work and someone else says, “I understand.”) When we write, we become our own creators, using these tools called words to make sense of our world, or create new worlds entirely. As we might know, the Abrahamic God was fairly judicious with a certain spark of creation. Here are some lessons we might glean about creation and sacred space from the Big Guy Upstairs.

God creates in God's own time. As creators, we need to find our own time to create. If you write or create art better in the morning, then make that your time. Block it out on your calendar.

When God creates a sacred space, God starts with light. But you might start with furniture, or simply location. Find a place that feeds you. A sacred space should feel spiritual, calming, connected. When I was living in Los Angeles, my sacred space is usually outdoors; if I didn't want to go far, I'd sit out on my balcony, in the chair I bought at a church yard sale on Long Island. In the Bronx, where I live now, my office area has plenty of windows to let in the light, and I use incense to create a pleasing spiritual atmosphere. You might designate another part of your home, a corner of a room, perhaps, near a window. Put furniture and objects there that feed your soul. Play with the light and art on the walls. Find your spirit and your quiet center. Maybe music or ambient sound, like a waterfall, will help. Maybe some candles can set the mood. Once you have the perfect combination, hold onto it. This is your sacred space.

Attached to your sacred space is the idea of ritual. For some, the fact that they write in their sacred space daily is ritual enough. That doesn't do it for me, and the Bible is filled with references to God's love of the ritual. So, come up with a ritual for your sacred space. It might be a prayer, or yoga, or some other meditation. It might be something tactile like doing a quick puzzle or washing your hands. As for me, my ritual is making coffee or tea. Find a ritual that speaks to you and your space.

Finally, God saw his creation was good. We don't always produce the best work. Not everything we write is the next Great Gatsby, and not everything we paint is Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte. (Sunday in the Park with George, anyone?) But, as creators, we have to affirm our work positively. We did it. There's no reason to put down our own work. The act of creation is in itself good, so why downplay it?

And for us, in our sacred spaces, we must hold onto hope that, whatever we do, we can make the world a better place, one stroke of creation at a time.

Adapted from an article originally published in The Good News, the newsletter of Faith Presbyterian Church of Valley Village, Sept. 2015.