Every day after school, the son of a well-known Rabbi would enter his house, place his backpack on the dining room table, leave the house through the back door and head into the woods behind the house.
At first, the Rabbi gave little thought to his son’s ritual. Until it continued, for days, and then for weeks. Every day, out into the woods for almost a half hour. The Rabbi grew concerned.
“My son,” he asked one day. “I notice that every day you leave our home to spend time in the woods. What is it you are doing there?”
“Oh papa,” the son replied. “There is no need to worry. I go into the woods to pray. It is in the woods that I can talk to God.”
“Oh,” the Rabbi said, clearly relieved. “But you should know, as the son of a Rabbi, that God is the same everywhere.”
“Yes, papa. I know that God is the same everywhere. But, I am not.”
This little boy knew, instinctively, that there are two spaces in our lives. And both are important. In the first space, we generate activity, productivity, accomplishment and achievement (and yes, busyness, worry and a wee bit of stress). In this space we carry our calendars, our smart phones, our iPads, and our to-do lists.
But there is a second space. In this space we find sanctuary, quiet, reflection, contemplation, and meditation. In this space is born prayer, music, poetry, friendship, amazement, awe, wonder, renewal, and if we are lucky, unrepentant napping.
“God is the same everywhere. But, I am not.” Today, I am grateful for the wisdom of a Rabbi’s young son. Because there are times when I lose my way. When I am untethered and not at home in my own skin. I am easily riled, disconnected and wearied. And when that happens, I crave affirmation that I assume will be found solely from that first space. In other words, I measure my identity in output and proficiency. It’s just that affirmation is not likely in a “we-want-it-now,” “are-you-keeping-busy,” “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately,” “are-you-somebody,” “super-size-that-please” world.
It’s not just about being drained. It’s almost like a paralysis. I am not present. I can’t absorb beauty. I go through the motions, as if I have lost touch with all the good stuff: gladness, wonder, grace, compassion, hope and passion.
The boy’s wisdom reminds us that sanctuary or Sabbath space is an invitation to recover what has been lost in the bustle. An invitation to hit the reset button. An invitation to come home. Joseph Campbell’s reminder that we must “have a room, or a certain hour (or so) a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be… if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
Here’s the deal: I believe that every one of us has such a space. We just didn’t know what to call it. So, it’s easy to disregard, or pay little attention to it. Your sanctuary space doesn’t have to be the woods, like the Rabbi’s son. It can be in your garden, your car (while commuting), coffee on a porch swing, walking your dog, lounging in an Adirondack on your back deck, strolling a park, parked in your favorite chair at Starbucks, counting clouds, weeding your garden, savoring poetry…
No matter, there is power in sanctuary space.
Last week’s Sabbath Moment, Married to Amazement, honoring Mary Oliver, touched on the power of poetry as sanctuary space. In Mary’s words, “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”
As GK Chesterton reminded us, “I don’t deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.”
But wait a minute Terry. Productivity—the capability to create and build and produce—is hardly negative. We need to produce, don’t we? Yes indeed. And I can tell you that I love my work. And I love being creative. However, my identity and wellbeing can’t depend upon it. It’s all in the paradigm we carry. If I attach my value and worth to productivity, I will be wedded to restlessness and anxiety. My identity becomes a consumer sport and my endeavors are easily fueled by scarcity. No matter how much I do, there is never enough. And I wonder why I feel untethered?
Without sanctuary, the productivity space provokes a compulsion to fill. And our emotional life looks like our garage. Floor to ceiling with boxes that we are convinced are indispensable, though we have no memory why we warehoused them. Maybe we just enjoy the time spent shuffling them around.
When we honor sanctuary space, we say yes to sufficiency. We say yes to enough. In other words, our value is not predicated on what we achieve in the first space. Take to heart William Sloane Coffin’s reminder that “God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement.”
I am whole, filled with grace and sufficiency. And from that wholeness spills tenderness, tenacity and compassion.
Tell me about your second space. Tell me where you are refueled.
This week I’m in the Languedoc-Roussillon, the region of southern France stretching from Provence to the Pyrenees. I can assure you that “C’est le pays du vent”, is true, as the locals will tell you, “It’s the land of wind”. In the north, not so much sun, and the wind-chill is below freezing.
I’m on my annual wine trip, with friends Rev. Bill McNabb and Rev. Dick Wing. In addition to wineries, we are surrounded by history, and we visit reminders of the Cathar people, including the fortified city of Carcassonne. Catholic theologians debated (with themselves) for centuries whether Cathars were Christian heretics, or whether they were Christians at all. They were slaughtered, at Cistercian abbot Arnaud Amaury’s command, “Kill them all. God will know his own”. We need history, to remember our capacity for mercilessness, in God’s name. Lord help us.
Today I’m in Port-Vendres, on the Mediterranean, not far from the Spanish border. This morning, I walk the village, drinking from a fountain of rest and delight.
Quote for your week…
Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center. Wayne Muller
POEMS AND PRAYERS
slipping on my shoes,
buttering the sky,
That should be enough contact
With God in one day
To make everyone “crazy.”
A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
Help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being
so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of yours.
John Henry Newman (1801-1890)