March 14, 2005

Finding Sacred Space : Outdoors.

After A Storm on Good Friday

When the sun, squinting
through the billows on the western horizon,
catches the last tired drops that fall
belatedly from the branches
with the pear tree petals,
and I walk through it
as if behind stained glass,
my dress accentuating
the cold breeze that wraps my body,
I feel beautiful again.

I composed the above poem several years ago while on a walk through my neighborhood "after a storm on Good Friday." I'd forgotten about it until now. It speaks to the interesting interaction between nature and that which is "man-made." It is my body and my dress that accentuates the wind, rather than the reverse. And although I walked through a residential neighborhood, the storm that had only just passed seemed to have united the whole world in the single natural phenomenon of rain and light. There was no difference between the sidewalk, the houses, the trees and the clouds--all were beautiful, natural, and sacred.

Sometimes it is this easy to find a sacred space out of doors. Places call out to you, invite you in. Before I began looking for a place to dedicate as my own sacred space, I already found myself drawn to certain spots. Sometimes we need to practice listening for that call, noticing that pull of familiarity and quiet joy. We're used to paying attention to a sunset as a romantic experience; we recognize a storm as a frightening experience that highlights nature's raw power, and a bright meadow as the perfect backdrop for a family picnic and some afternoon play. Allowing nature to touch us requires that we let go of our distractions and take some time to relax, sit quietly and listen. When we do this regularly, we learn things from nature we never expected. Experiences and events become more than just another cliché of romance and reveal whole new levels of meaning and connection. The ideal outdoor sacred space is one in which we can meditate for a few minutes each day, where we can walk gently and attentively, knowing we are walking with and through the Divine. These moments of communion with and revelation of God through nature are the foundation of a magical spiritual life. Sometimes it takes the discipline of many years of quieting ourselves enough to listen. And sometimes it overwhelms us and we just can't ignore it.

Unfortunately, it's often very hard to find the right place for this type of practice, especially if you hope to perform rituals or ceremonies outside beneath the sky. Public parks may not provide the privacy or security. Ideally, you should feel comfortable being entirely open whenever you are in your sacred space, free to sing or shout or just sit quietly with some candles without interruption, stares or awkward explanations. Obviously, despite that moment of intimacy during my walk, I couldn't set up an altar and buckle down to chanting right there in front of a stranger's house! So, when looking for a sacred space outside, some compromise is often necessary. Keep in mind that personal safety may be your highest priority, along with privacy and concerns about what "feels right." You won't be able to give yourself over to your spiritual work of listening to the lessons of space and nature if you're too worried about being mugged, or defamed by gossiping neighbors. Weigh these considerations carefully, and don't rush yourself into anything. Have confidence that the Divine will make space for you as long as you make space within your heart, mind and life for the Divine. Invite God in, and She will find room enough to make Herself comfortable!

I myself am in a situation that calls on me to compromise. For now, I have sacred spaces both inside my bedroom (I'll talk about this later), and outside in a local wooded park. I visit the park often, exploring all its paths, nooks and crannies. I have come to know the places where others rarely visit, and so I often feel comfortable sitting in quiet contemplation there without worry. I also find that simple walks are themselves wonderful ways of talking with and listening to the Divine--I let God guide my feet and lead my gaze in a kind of moving meditation. Meanwhile, however, I do not do any overt ritual work in this public park, and I rarely go there after dark for safety reasons (especially since the park officially closes at sunset). I look forward to one day owning a house with a backyard, where I can garden and practice more freely out among the trees or under the stars, the way I used to play in my backyard as a child. Until then, I enjoy the sacredness of the outdoors, and I do my ritual work within a sacred space in my own home.

1 Comments:

At 18.4.05, Blogger Athanasios said...

Love it, this is very good. Fortunately, I have a sacred space outdoors myself. You will too one day. http://orthodoxlaycontemplative.blogspot.com/2004_08_01_orthodoxlaycontemplative_archive.html See shelter in the wilderness.

 

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