What makes a space sacred?

I'm writing this in a coffee shop where I am working across the table from a good friend. We were talking about sacred space and she said, "this is a sacred space."  And it is, in the sense, that when we are together we hold space for each other to show up truthfully, openly and without judgment. There is both safety (security) and support (belonging) and those things are important in creating a sacred space.

Is it a sacred space? It may be.

When I leave this meeting I am heading to another meeting. This one is at a place called ThinkSpot. It is at a meeting place, a gathering place, that has been created to help people connect with each other through the intentional design of the physical space as well as the attention that is given to how people interact there. 

Is it a sacred space? It may be. 

We need to define the word sacred as our starting point. According to the Cambridge Dictionary the word sacred means: something that is holy and deserving of respect. It may be connected to religion and it can be something that we value too much to change (as in my routine is sacred to me).  I think we can find clues to what we mean when we describe something as sacred in that definition.

When I define sacred space I like to use the word 'encounter'. A sacred space is a place of encounter. In it you are able to encounter that which is sacred to you in a way that is meaningful to you. It may be connected to religion. It will definitely be something that is deserving of respect. It is why people often encounter sacred spaces in nature. 

Author Margaret Silf writes, "For the Celts there was never any shadow of doubt that these two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, were one. . . . The invisible was separated from our sense perceptions only by the permeable membrane of consciousness. Sometimes that membrance could seem as solid as a brick wall. Sometimes it could seem very thin. Indeed, we speak, even today, of some places as being thin places, meaning that the presence of the invisible and the spiritual in those places is almost palpable." (p.13, Sacred Spaces)

There are times when we recognize after the fact that we were in a sacred space. There are times when we can be in what at one point had felt like a sacred space and not have any sense of encounter there. It is like what was once available to us in that space is no longer there. We can feel disappointed and sad when that happens.

There are times when we unexpectedly find ourselves in a thin place. We are aware that there is a connection to something bigger than what we see on the surface. It may be a coffee shop. It may be a gathering place. It may be a forest. But we have that sense that there is something more, a connection has been made and in this moment we feel held, connected and seen. We have encountered ourselves and the Other. 

Your Truth:

  • When have you experienced 'sacred spaces' in your life?
  • What was different about the experience that made it feel like a sacred space?
  • Do you think you can replicate that experience?
  • Would you want to replicate it or do you prefer to just let these things unfold?

Spaces are not neutral - some are sacred.

This weekend I was visiting a website and one of those annoying-but-effective pop-ups opened. It read, "Your inbox is a sacred space."  Of course, the intent was that they would honour my inbox, my sacred space, by only sending me valuable content. My reaction was:

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I guess I could be grateful that the idea of sacred space has become so mainstream that websites that have nothing to do with the sacred or spiritual are now using the phrase. I didn't. I felt that the sacred was cheapened when I saw that pop-up.  I am grateful that it prompted me to spend some time this week writing about sacred spaces - what they are, what they are not, where to find them and why they are important!

Spaces are not neutral

Have you ever had the experience in a space where you felt like there was something deeper at work in that physical environment? Maybe you've experienced it when you have been out in the woods or sat by the ocean. Or maybe you've experienced it when you entered someone's home or a place of worship. Maybe you've experienced it in a cemetery or perhaps it was in the middle of a very loud and busy coffee shop. I'm guessing you haven't experienced it when you look at your inbox.  

Whenever and wherever you've experienced it - I'm sure you know what I am talking about. Spaces are not neutral. Space and place have a big impact on us. Take some today with the questions below to pull on your own insight. I'll give you my perspective the rest of the week!

Your Truth

Think about the idea of a sacred space - don't read anything or get anyone else's thoughts right now. I want you to approach this topic intuitively. Listening to your own experience and deep wisdom.  Sit with the phrase sacred space.

Consider these questions: 

  • How do you define 'sacred'?
  • What is the difference (is there one?) between space and place?
  • What makes a space feel sacred?
  • Have you ever felt a place was sacred?
  • What were some of the qualities or characteristics of that space and experience? 

I wish I could hear your answers! If you feel like emailing them to me I would love to read them. Tomorrow we will continue on this topic. Pay attention today and see what comes up for you in the spaces and places you inhabit.