Empty Spaces, Sacred Spaces

Another Education for Ministry (EfM) training is in the books.  As an EFM mentor, I am required to attend a yearly training session to learn new things and sharpen my skills. I obtain my training online since my group is online only (many groups meet face-to-face). Online is nice because I get to stay home, near the refrigerator and the loo, if you understand the British-ism. I enjoy the training every year, but it can be intense. 

Training includes Theological Reflections (TR), an integral part of the EfM program. We start with what we call an artifact: a picture, an object, a movie, a scripture story or verse, a book, an advertisement, or something we have seen on Facebook that pricks our ears and makes us think of the possibilities that a TR might bring forth. From there, we find a focus – a place where we can all agree we want to explore in the next step of the reflection. Here we look at options. We practice with metaphors that frame the artifact or express feelings and where our core values lie in reference to the metaphor we are focusing on. We use four sources to explore (Tradition, Culture, Position, Action) and use those to look at the metaphor from the perspectives of what our Christian tradition tells us, what our culture says about it, what our position (belief, where we stand on an issue) is, and finally what action God might be calling us to in light of what we have discovered through our personal and group exploration and experience. The whole TR process can be exhausting, but it also provides insight, enlightenment, and energization.

One of the TRs we did this year was to explore an image of a concrete and brick floor, metal window, door, wall frames, and roof trusses. Each item was individual; the only pieces connected were where the trusses meet metal columns. The rest was all open space set in a woody glen near Richmond, VA.* We first had to establish what we were looking at. Some of us saw an area, perhaps pre-construction, but not suitable for anything since it had no people or identifiable furnishings. At least one person saw it as a sacred space, consecrated by what was there to memorialize and an invitation to worship with nothing between themselves and God.  Statements we came up with about the image ranged: “It is not complete.” “It is not good for anything.” “It appears to be something it is not.” We asked ourselves and each other if the object in the picture was complete as it was. After some discussion, we ultimately came to a question we wanted to examine further: “Am I complete as I am?”  

The empty space in that building made me consider whether I am a complete human being or perhaps I have gaps, spaces, holes, and voids inside me. Why are the gaps there? What have I learned that is incorrect, or what have I yet to discover? How do I feel about all of that? Where have I made mistakes that have taken me in the wrong direction, what choices have I made that have proved to be errors, and what and where are my core values? What needs changing, and how might be the best way to do that?

There was more to the TR, but right now, I have stopped at the image of the empty building with its invisible elements and the self I cannot see in the mirror, the interior self. I know there are plenty of empty spaces, and some of them are old wounds that have never healed. I also know there are sacred spaces, perhaps not big ones, but big enough to let me sense when one is nearby. Now, I also know there are sacred, thin spaces at times that I can sense and rejoice in them. These do not need to be consecrated spaces: my cluttered living room or  the National Cathedral, my river back home and the historical paths that crisscrossed the woods around it. Remembering how these sacred spaces feel is enough to keep me looking for more, whether empty or teeming with humanity. 

The quest and the usually organized method of sitting and contemplating (or even walking with it) are essential. If I ever get back home, I am sure the space I find will resonate with all the prayers, joys, tragedies, and experiences of those who have been in that space before. I want to feel that fullness in that place, and feel again the familiar sacred, even if empty, space. Meanwhile, I have some internal completion to do on myself. 

*Historic Polegreen Church, Hanover County, VA.  A monument to a historic church built in the 17th century as one of the first non-Anglican churches. It was destroyed in a battle during the Civil War and has now been made an official historic monument. It is often used as a wedding venue. Please read the entire history on the website. 

Image: Empty Space, a hilly green field with trees. Author: Nasrulhaqim (2020), own work.  Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives near Phoenix, Arizona.

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