Recently I have been giving thought to the idea of “the sacred.” Not long ago we had a visitor who led us into thinking about nature as sacred space. I find that intriguing. Since the majority of Americans are now urban or suburbanites, I don’t think we give nearly as much consideration to nature and our natural world as in the old agrarian days. Having grown up on a farm, I know I am much less aware of and observant of my natural world.
Most of us probably don’t live very close to nature. Of course, we are all in nature, but it often is not “natural.” If I am honest, I leave my house and jump in the car. If it is cold outside, the windows are up and the heater is on full blast. Most of the time the radio is playing some kind of music. If it is hot, the windows are up and the air-conditioner is on full blast and the radio is playing some kind of music.
I arrive at the building where I have a pleasant study and where I teach my classes. Most of my day is spent there. Seldom are the windows open. It can be sunny or cloudy and normally I am not very aware. A good thunderstorm might catch my attention. And then I go home in that same car with the windows up and the radio playing some kind of music. And days repeat days.
The opposite of sacred is profane. Think about the role of profanity in our vocabulary. It contradicts the language of the sacred and holy. How often have you heard someone lately “bless” you? More often, there is just the opposite. We are “cursed!” My interaction with nature is not profane. It is “secular.” Secular is the land between the sacred and the profane. Being unaware is the most normal way we deal secularly with nature.
Obviously you and I exist in nature. We occupy space. But again most, if not all, of my space is not sacred. I have a house, a car and that’s about it. I don’t own any land. So actually my physical space is pretty limited. And I am not unusual. Think about the ten million (or more) inhabitants of New York City. They may have less than I do!
But let’s think about space in a different way than physically. We can deal with it psychologically. I have heard people ask to be “given space.” If I am feeling pressured, I ask for some space. Space is different from place. Actually, my house is a place. It has an address. But is also contains space.
So it is with me as a human being. I occupy a place. Right now, I am sitting in a chair while I type this. But I also contain space. And it is in this vein of thinking that I begin to ponder the relationship of space and spirituality. I am convinced there are a connection and a relationship.
To help develop that connection, listen to the words of Gerald May, the late psychiatrist who was associated with a center for spirituality. May says, “When you think about it, it makes sense that space would be intimately associated with salvation.” With this quotation May is even more specific than my idea of connecting space with spirituality. May boldly says space is associated with salvation---intimately associated. Let’s follow his lead.
May elaborates by noting, “Space is freedom: freedom from confinement, from pre-occupation, from oppression, from drivenness, and from all the other interior and exterior forces that bind and restrict our spirits.” Space is freedom. I am sure this is also true for salvation. I like how May defines freedom. He uses terms that make sense for modern men and women who may be less free than we think. No wonder we long to be saved---to be free.
At first glance, I assume I am free. But when I use May’s terms, I may be more confined than I realize. Have I ever been pre-occupied? Of course I have. And I might live much of my life pre-occupied by various things. Pre-occupation is not freedom and I need to be saved! Have I ever been oppressed? I have not been oppressed by people with knives and guns. But I have been oppressed by a variety of other factors. I need to be saved.
I know all-too-well the bondage of drivenness. It is not a universal axiom, but I would guess most people who are relatively successful are driven in some way. And too often, those who are not relatively successful are driven to be successful. Again I need to be saved.
Save me: I need some space. To be saved spiritually means I need space, not confinement. I need space, not to be pre-occupied. I need space, not oppression. I need space, especially when it comes to my drivenness.
Ah, the grace of space…thank God!