The womb + the willow
It started with a blanket over my head. I’m not sure where it went from there. I remember it being hot and hard to breath; my breath created humidity akin to Baton Rouge in July (having once lived in Baton Rouge the analogy is authentic). Quotes from the book of Matthew had been stitched onto patches, which were stitched onto one side of the blanket giving the appearance of a sort of quilt from the Salvation Army. The other other side was blue leopard print.
I was in a basement, I’m not sure whose basement, but someone’s cold, grey underbelly brought up my worst fears while the book of Matthew was out facing the cold basement air, and the soft leopard print pressed against my head and skin as if being held by something primal. At some point, not whilst the blanket was over my head, but at some point I wondered who made that blanket. I wondered about their story long before I re-appropriated it from my place of work. I wondered if they imagined it keeping a loved one warm, or a stranger on the street, or simply a method of offering teachings from the good book. I wondered if they would find joy in its service as a womb. A surrogate, of course.
I remember when I first considered sacred space sacred. But first, I grew up hating church. I was a Jesus lover, but I hated church. ‘Loathe’ might be more accurate diction, in fact. Dad would dress up in corduroy. Mom had a perm. Dad would yell and scream at fellow drivers along the way. Upon arrival, the pews were rock hard. The music was painful. The minister had a moustache like a used car salesman, and the whole place stunk like stale crackers and cheap perfume. I still marvel that I chose to be educated as a pastor with these lingering memories still dancing around in my brain. So, sacred space, no - not here - not for me, anyhow. But when I stepped onto the Camino de Santiago in southern France in January 2005 as a young and vibrant man suddenly I knew what sacred space felt like. Thousands of churches I passed along the way to Santiago and later Finisterre, but none of them held the weight that path held. Like God’s spine I walked vertebrae by vertebrae towards what people told me was sacred space. But when I got there I wasn’t impressed. But this time it wasn’t stale crackers and cheap perfume; the swinging incense took care of that. Rather, all the fuss was about a dead guy in the basement. A saint I’m sure, but still. I walked for a thousand kilometres in pain and joy to find life, not death. So, I kept going until I saw that sacred space is within. Yes, we are the temple the path leads us to. And within us, the Great Light. I wish I could end the post here, but the reality is that I came home. Life kept going. Without a sacred path to walk on how was I go on remembering and practicing this new reality?
In Pilgrimage, sacred space made sense. But in a life where roots grow, what does sacred space look like? Does it connect us to people, community - does it help connect us to the creator, or to ourselves, or to the earth? These are questions I continued to ask myself (and others) for many years both before and after my nights in the basement.
What I learned was that creating my sacred space is about creating a space that helps me recognize that the Great Light is within me. I am a womb for the Spirit, so creating a physical space that parallels this spiritual relationship makes meaning for me.
Building the womb began with good bones. We cut young willow from the neighbourhood and began bending the bones to create a shape, pinning the stalks into the ground. Then, the first blanket was placed. Then the second, third, fourth and so on, until a pitch black cocoon with a door became our spiritual home. Now, our pilgrimage is from the house to the ‘womb’. We throw open the blanket door crossing the threshold as we enter. A slice of moonlight flashes blue leopard print, our centre piece. We step into a new world, a primal world. While soft, semi-porous walls and earthen floor avails all the elements to our touch, our offering to the world is born out of the warmth rediscovered and remembered inside.
Many of us live without ‘church’, without that axis or totem in our community helping us make meaning and orienting us to the world. Yet, many of us want it. We want that deep meaning and shared story connection with others, and/or we want to have spiritual practice that grounds us.
All this to say, my offering here is not just to detail the building of our ‘womb’, but to encourage you to explore what it would look like to have your sacred space. Maybe you already have it, I’d love to know what it looks like, or what it might look like if you imagined it, and how it helps you find meaning and connection to yourself, to others, to the elements, to Spirit. Perhaps if we don’t have big halls and temples to share our stories we can at least talk about the stories of our own spaces, private though they may be. If we aren’t sharing space let’s share the stories of our space in which we honour our loved ones, practice meaning making, offer ceremonies of gratitude, let ourselves go, find forgiveness, ask for help, explore our inner selves. I don’t think we must have ‘space’ to do any of this, but space, perhaps, helps us prioritize spiritual practice in our lives. So, in a world where the mundane does not encounter totems or temples to give meaning and story, where is your blue leopard print blanket?