A while ago, I was volunteering as a Spiritual Director with incarcerated women. As it so happens, working with the incarcerated us not always straight forward. Some of the things that impact the incarcerated are less education, unstable family systems, increased drug & alcohol use, and untreated mental illness.

One woman I worked with came to me for Spiritual Direction, but she was schizophrenic. The things we worked at were finding a concrete symbol of something that she could name as Love but that did not have her “hearing voices” or “listening for divine within” or anything at all like that! After all, coming from a time in life when she actively did hear voices, that was not something she trusted!

We hit upon the image of her teddy bear. That teddy bear encapsulated pure love for her. It was concrete and it helped her feel loved. That symbolized the spot where she could find sacred space.

What about you? Is there something ordinary that represents sacred space? A teddy bear? Book? Chair? What provides sacred, healing space that nobody else would suspect?

For me, that sacred space is often represented in words. Maybe my computer holds the sacred space. It is a window to a world of great wisdom and the receiver of my angst and wonderings as I process feelings through writing. Hmmm.

for an incarcerated mentally ill client

ghost town

small, still voice of wind,
tossing my tumbleweed-thoughts
that roll through a ghost town.

here, my safety has been
abandoned to the rats and mice
that hide from revelation,
distrusting that light
so much that they will not stay
and visit. the locks and guns
have been jammed by mud-caked
memories of injustice,
in the sheriff’s office.

the hollow-hallow notes of the
player-piano silent
except for the collapsing
frame that drops pieces of itself
crashing onto the discordant keys,
creating a nightmare sound of
happiness twisted into grief,
twisted into a mockery of joy,
in the saloon.

the telegraph does not speak
into the future, the wires
have frayed and disconnected
from the source of consolation,
reality has dissolved letters of love
or news of the war and the
beloved sears & roebuck catalog,
in the post-office.

the ghost town disgusts me.
especially when the wind is
blowing and changing all that
i know into something unknown
ripping the roof apart and causing
the cacophony of noises to come
in from all directions telling
me, what?  untrustworthy voice!

so small and still or
so big and booming

telling me to tear the walls apart
bare-handed until my fingers
become bloody stubs and
yet you insist that i see you,
listen to you, the wind destroying
the small community of barn owls
and bats that i have built in my
ghost town.  i do not want to hear
you.  the owls and bats are my
saving grace.

by "miracle design" at flickr.com CC (BY-ND)
by “miracle design”
at flickr.com
CC (BY-ND)

Post, Terri Stewart (c) 2014

Poem, Terri Stewart (c) 2010

terriTerri Stewart ~ a member of our Core Team,  comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “CloakedMonk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com,www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.

10 thoughts on “Sacred Space Wherever You Can Name It

  1. Your poem does a wonderful job of placing us in the center of an off-kilter universe, and I love the metaphor of the ghost town. I have known some mentally ill people, some of them very close to me. The battles they fight, daily, are vastly underestimated by ‘normal’ people, in my experience.

    How interesting to think of the computer as being a “Sacred Space”! I had not considered that, but I can see some truth to it. I guess I wonder if it can still be considered “Sacred Space” if it is used for other things besides healing and spirituality? Do you think that a “Sacred Space” can ever be tainted? Or is it something that is ‘beyond’ any kind of outside stimuli?

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  2. My sacred space has always been outside. As a girl, I played across the street in a forest preserve. As a woman, I went to the prairie park. Alone, and safe. I surmise that much of my neuroses is made of doubting that I’m safe alone or in the wide world. When I return myself to nature, I begin to heal and remember that I belong here, as I am.

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  3. God … and yes, I mean God … that owl photo is beautiful. Sacred space, space of one’s own … I never, ever thought about it in terms of one who is serving prison time. It is the most important thing in the world to me. David, my husband and I both knew when we decided to marry that “lone time” or my room was the most important thing that we could give to each other. Still is.

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  4. I have worked with mentally ill and you have so beautifully expressed how difficult it is to translate our sources of strength and comfort into their world. I worked with a man who had a history of severe substance abuse (probably trying to self-medicate). He was currently clean and scared to death of using medications that would have quieted his voices. I admired his reason but also felt very sorry for him. I didn’t do anything to try to change his decision, only told him what was available and helped him learn to live with the voices. I guess I was trying to help him find his place of quiet within the world he had to live. Thanks for a great post.

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