In Matters of the Spirit, Does One Size Fit All?

Next week, in honor of February’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll begin a month of posts about love. Until then, I leave you with one last thought about sacred spaces.

I’ve never believed that we have to go through anyone (like a saint) or use a particular path or ritual (like incense or chanting or altars) in order to gain access to God. Not that there’s anything wrong with those practices – on the contrary, they can be a valuable ways to focus our wandering spirits and jittery minds. I use a few rituals myself, some more successfully than others. But that’s the point. Our personal connection with the divine is . . . well, personal. You can nurture this connection in a variety of ways, but only in ways that work for you. One size does not fit all.

But no matter what rituals or methods we find helpful, they are one-way paths. They open us to receiving God, but they don’t work the other way around. They don’t open God to receiving us. That path was never closed to begin with. We don’t have to cross a gap to reach God, because there is no gap. God is all around us, all the time. We are enveloped in a larger whole. As the ancients said, “In God we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

God is the constant; we are the variable. What nourished the sacred space within me ten years ago may not inspire me today. And who’s to say that what nourishes me today will nourish me ten years down the road? That’s the way a thriving faith works. It lives. It breathes. It grows. According to Henry Nelson Wieman, a theologian in the early 1900’s, faith is an act of giving ourselves to what will creatively transform us. Transformation is not a one-and-done event. It’s the whole journey.

Sacred spaces remind us that God is our home. They remind us that we ourselves are a sacred space, so wherever we are on the journey, we’re at home. We can shelter in place. We can settle into the calm that faith offers us. That doesn’t mean that fear, worry, anger and dozens of other negatives won’t intrude and gain the upper hand at times. Nor does it mean we won’t occasionally shut out the peace available to us. What it does mean is that if we nurture the sacred space within us, we can carry the calm wherever we go. We can rely on our inner peace, our link to God, to see us through uncharted territory.

But why calm myself when I should be fighting the wrongs in the world? Aren’t injustice and poverty and war and abuse supposed to upset me? Yes, of course. But operating from a base of calm does not mean we don’t grieve or get frustrated or angry. It does not mean that we don’t see injustice or work to right wrongs. It does not mean we’ll never struggle with whatever issues we face personally. Nurturing a sacred space does not mean an absence of deep feelings; it does not require drowning the fire of passion. This is not about a lethargic calm but an energetic calm.

A fire in my living room fireplace can stir in me a strong sense of peace, but that same fire out of control can be a disaster. Inner peace and calm ensures that the fire in our souls is powerful and productive, not destructive. To say it another way: when we operate from a home base of calm, we go to bat, run the bases, and always return to home plate, where we reset to peace, to a settled spirit. Calm becomes our norm, our default position.

In sacred spaces we experience a sense of calm, an at-homeness with God that, to me, is a form of prayer. Silence and stillness, common hallmarks of prayer, are often also entryways to sacred spaces. Mother Teresa once said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence . . . we need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Silence and stillness, of course, are time-honored ways to settle our own souls as well. I find God in silence. But also in certain types of music. Candles. Windows. Pillows. A soft rain. Birdsong. These all call my spirit to bow in reverence. But one size doesn’t fit all. That’s because each of us is a sacred space, so each of us reaches out and receives in ways that are meaningful to us. What opens your spirit to the Mystery of God?

Next week, in honor of February as Valentine’s month, I’ll begin a month of posts about love. I hope you’ll join me.


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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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