Have you had that day? Ever? When your last nerve has been strung and compassion, justice and mercy have fled your body? I have that day sometimes. Usually, on those kind of days I like to retreat to sacred space. Space that can be my family, my friends, my books, my camera…some place where I can be filled up with the qualities that have leeched out.
But sometimes that is not possible!
I could be at the detention center where I work. Conflict and craziness do sometimes abound among the incarcerated and sometimes among the staff and volunteers. One night I was working and a fight broke out right in front of me. Other nights, down the hall. As staff rush towards the chaos, I sit frozen (as I am instructed to do) and then proceed in the opposite direction. I often retreat to the library where the clanging is at least muted.
Or I could be at my home and expectations meet reality and voices rise in anger or disappointment threads the air. Then my retreat is not a retreat. Mostly, we are loving. But there are times when love seems miles away.
During those times, I need to create sacred space where it seems that there is no room for it. Hopefully, I am not alone in feeling this way! I would like to offer you one simple practice that can be done anywhere at any time. You can create your own sacred space with a piece of paper and a pen. No! This is not a writing assignment. It is a wholeness assignment.
Temenos (Greek) is sacred space. Or land that is set aside for royalty or the priesthood. In Ancient Greece, it would be the place reserved for worshiping the gods. Jung further expands on the concept of temenos as a place where you can encounter your unconsciousness, bringing the shadow into the light. A place of healing, acceptance, worship, encounter, and sacredness.
I am connecting these ideas to the ancient labyrinth where, at the very center, is the temenos.
I have a portable labyrinth that is used in my work with incarcerated youth. Teens can be so funny when they first encounter the labyrinth! They look at it as a maze, at first. But then as they slowly progress through the turns of the labyrinth, focusing on their chosen word or phrase, something happens. Softness overtakes them. They slow down. The rhythm of the room deepens. Their shields begin to drop. Sometimes, they arrive at the center and just sit for a long time. It is also a place of safety, even in the midst of incarceration, a place of danger.
However, we are not all blessed to have a labyrinth stored in our garage! Luckily, we do not need the full meal deal to create a labyrinth. Just pen and paper (or crayon and paper!).
As you set about creating your own labyrinth, set your intentions. When I am in the detention center and do this, I am often focused on peacefulness. Then, when you are done, walk the labyrinth with your finger. Focus on your intention. It is said that there are three stages to walking a labyrinth.
- Purgation: purging yourself of your thoughts that are attached to the world.
- Illumination: opening yourself to enlightenment, inspiration, reception of the other
- Union: becoming one with ______________ . I will let you fill in the blank with your understanding of what we are in union with. This could be anything from unity with self, others, the cosmos, the divine. This is where we sit and hold the space.
It only takes a minute to draw a labyrinth and to create an opportunity for your own sacred space no matter where you are or what your are doing. It could be as simple as a doodle on a napkin at lunch!
Shalom & Amen,
© 2013, post and photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved
REV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She 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. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)
Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts 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 firstname.lastname@example.org