Sacred Spaces

 
Sacred Spaces
 

Sacred Spaces

        All religious traditions emphasize the importance of sacred spaces, places set aside as holy and used for worship, prayer, meditation, and rituals. Christians have churches, Jews have synagogues, Muslims have mosques, and Buddhists and Hindus have temples, and other religions have theirs as well.  

    Sacred spaces are not, however, limited to the places set aside by those who participate in organized religion. Most of us can probably identify several places that are sacred for us, places where we like to return to connect with the spiritual world, and that which means the most to us in life. 

    What makes a place sacred? Some of the common characteristics of such places are natural beauty, peacefulness, places made holy by the sacrifices people have made there (did you notice how often articles about D-Day this week referred to the “hallowed grounds” of the beaches of Normandy?), and places where special memories have been made—often having shared them with friends or loved ones.

   When I recently did an internet search of places people commonly hold to be sacred, I found a variety of responses. The list included theaters, art museums, libraries, colleges and universities, concert and sports venues, childhood homes and vacation spots, gardens, mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, cottages, national parks, hiking trails, and forests. The places were as varied as the people sharing their responses.

  Sacred spaces are on my mind because I am writing this week’s column in what, for me, is such a place—Door County, Wisconsin, a peninsula found between the western shore of Lake Michigan and the eastern shore of Green Bay. The combination of water, farms, parks, nature, biking, good friends, a beautiful historic church, and the overall slower pace of life have drawn me back here year after year. My cup is filled and my soul restored each year that I am able to spend a few weeks here in the beauty it offers. Every aspect of my wellness is watered here—spiritual, relational, physical, emotional, and vocational. 

What places help you to be in touch with that which is most sacred for you?

What places water your soul and restore your well-being? 

How will you be sure to make time to visit those places this summer?  

PS: If you have never been to Door County, you can get a small glimpse of its beauty in the photo above that I took this week. It is of a sunset we enjoyed just this week, while out for an evening bike ride. 


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Honor the Space Between No Longer and Not Yet

 
Honor the Space Between No Longer and Not Yet
 

Honor the Space Between No Longer and Not Yet

     This is the time of year when it is common for me to get phone calls from parents of graduating high school seniors.  While the details are different with each of these calls, there is one common theme to them all. The parents want to know why when graduation should be such a happy occasion, they are seeing such high levels of stress in their high school senior. "One moment, my son/daughter is on top of the world, and the next they are in the depths of worry and despair. Are these mood swings normal?" I explain that what their son or daughter is experiencing is indeed normal and to be expected, and that the reason it is so is because their son or daughter is currently in a liminal space. The word liminal comes from the Latin word limens, which means "limit or threshold." Author and theologian Richard Rohr defines the liminal space that is experienced when we go through a significant transition this way, "It is when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run...anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing." Ancient cultures referred to liminal space as a "crazy time," which seems to be exactly what the parents I spoke to on the phone this week were witnessing.

   All cultures have rites of passage ceremonies to mark liminal transitions. For example, in addition to graduations, there are rites of passages throughout our lives for weddings, funerals, quinceañeras, and baby naming or baptism ceremonies. Liminal transitions also occur in many other ways that are not always marked by official ceremonies. Starting or leaving a job, moving, retirement, beginning or ending a relationship, or a significant change in one's health are all examples of liminal transitions.

   There are two essential factors all people need when they find themselves in a liminal space: spirituality and community. These two factors will provide direction and support in the midst of this vulnerable, "crazy" time. Spirituality is what defines "true north" for us all the time, but especially in times of transition. It is what defines and grounds our core values and beliefs, and may or may not be connected to a religious faith. Community is our network of friends and family, the people we can turn to when we need support.

   This is why all rites of passage ceremonies, including graduations, involve both a time for reflection and inspiration (spirituality) and a way for the community to jointly celebrate the important life transition that is being marked. The community gathers to both celebrate and support and show commitment to the person who is crossing the critical threshold, as they move from some kind of previous "normal" to a  new and yet undefined "normal." So if you receive an invitation to a graduation party this year  know that it is actually a gathering to acknowledge a young person's passage through a liminal space, and you now know the importance of showing up and offering your encouragement and support.

   We are all wise to remember the words that are written in the photograph above, no matter what type of transition we, or someone we love, are going through: "Honor the space between no longer and not yet.”


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Our Need to Remember

 
Our Need to Remember
 

Our Need to Remember

  This past weekend my wife and I were in Washington DC leading a training for people who will be using our Living Compass wellness resources in their communities. We had limited free time, but were determined to get to one particular memorial, one that had opened since our last visit to the DC area, the World War II Memorial.  

   My father served in the Navy during World War II and at the age of twenty-one was on one of the first landing craft vehicles to land on Utah Beach on D-Day. In his later years (he died in 2011 at the age of eighty-eight) he often talked of his friends who died around him that fateful day, wondering why he had survived and had lived a long life while their lives had been cut short.

   Visiting the World War II was, not surprisingly, an emotional experience for me, as it clearly was for the others who were there. Each state has a memorial column and wreath (see the photo of the World War II Memorial with the quote above), and so we made our way to the Pennsylvania column, as my Dad had entered World War II just after graduating from high school in Pittsburgh. We had a moment of silence and prayer and gave thanks for his service, and especially remembered all of those whom he knew, along with hundreds of thousands of others who gave their lives in the service of our country during that war, and in others.  

  The same evening we visited the World War II Memorial, we also visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The word “memorial”  comes from the same root at the word “remember,” and the presence of these various memorials in Washington, DC speaks of our collective need as a nation to remember the formative events in our history. 

   The act of remembering is as important in each of our personal lives as it is in the history of our nation. Memory is the foundation of culture and identity, and our enhanced capacity for memory is what separates us from all other living creatures. Identity is rooted in knowing and remembering our origin and history, whether it be that of an individual, a family, an institution, a country, or a religion.  And identity and meaning are strengthened when we gather and share our stories.

   This connection between memory, identity, and meaning is the reason we as a nation will once again celebrate Memorial Day this Monday. On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to our country, and we honor the fact that our collective identity today is rooted in their sacrifice. As Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, said, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

    While I affirm the wisdom of “living in the present moment” and not getting “stuck in the past,” I also know that we can become “stuck in the present’ when we fail to remember how much our present, our identity, and our culture are all shaped by our history. Memorial Day weekend provides us with the perfect chance to balance both the present and the past. And so as we gather for fun with friends and family, let’s also make time to remember and give thanks for those who have gone before us, shaping our lives today.


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Wow!

 
Wow
 

Wow!

     If you have ever been to a live orchestra performance, you know that there is always a profound pause when a performance of a musical piece concludes, just before the audience begins to applaud. The pause seems to be a collective opportunity for everyone to fully absorb the beauty they have just experienced before expressing their appreciation.

   Last week a nine-year-old boy created a magical moment at Boston Symphony Hall at the conclusion of the Handel and Haydn Society's performance of Mozart's "Masonic Funeral Music." He filled the pause at the end of the performance with a spontaneous "Wow!" that was loud enough for the 2,500 people in attendance to hear. The audience laughed in recognition of his expressing precisely what they were all feeling, and then broke out in applause.  

   This boy's "Wow!" became a viral sensation as a recording of the moment spread across social media. If you haven't heard the recording, and to get the full effect of this moment, I highly recommend you listen to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMTx2UX6YbY --it will just take a minute.

   This inspirational moment would have been beautiful in and of itself if that was the whole story. But it turns out there was more to the story that makes the moment even more moving.  

   The orchestra so loved the spontaneous expression of appreciation that they put requests out on social media in hopes of finding who had expressed such enthusiasm for their performance.  It was soon learned that a boy named Ronan Mattin, who had attended the concert with his grandfather, was the one who had made the exclamation of "Wow!" They also learned that what had occurred was all the more remarkable, because as the grandfather shared, Ronan is on the autism spectrum and rarely speaks. 

   My response to this story is, well....., "Wow!"  It has served as a reminder that there are moments of astonishment all around us at all times if we are willing to pay attention.

   Inspired by young Ronan Mattin, I'd like to share a few of my recent "Wow!" moments. 


   Watching my grandson learn to read. 

   Listening to a woman courageously talk about her struggles with addiction, as she seeks to recover and restart her life. 

   Awakening to the songbirds, present for just a few weeks as they migrate through our area this time of year, as they salute the early dawn. 

   Listening to a story of Vietnam Vets sharing their memories in anticipation of a traveling version of the Vietnam Wall that is coming to our community soon.

   Watching Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo as he effortlessly glides down the lane to make another seemingly impossible shot.


   How about you? What "Wow!" moments have you noticed recently? If you are like me, you may find that they are easy to miss or take for granted.

   And this is precisely why I am grateful for a nine-year-old boy's reminder not just to notice them, but to celebrate them out loud whenever and wherever possible. 



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Momisms

 
Momisms 2019
 

Momisms

  The last two weeks I have asked readers of this column to share their favorite "Momisms," particular words and phrases of advice and life guidance that they remember hearing from their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other women. I have been moved by both the volume and the meaningfulness of what many of you have shared.  

  Several of you said that you didn't have a particular Momism to share, but wrote about how your mother or grandmother dealt with challenges in their lives. You explained how the way they lived taught you so much about what matters most in life, and how they taught these lessons through their actions, as much as through their words. Your stories truly moved me.

   Some of you wrote about your grief as you miss your mothers, or because your mothers died before you really had a chance to know them. Others spoke of their grieving for a relationship they wished for but never had. Mother's Day can be a hard day for people, for many different reasons, and so my heart goes out to any of you who are grieving this Mother's Day.

 As we stop to reflect on these Momisms, it is also an opportunity for all of us to pause and remember just how much power there is in the words we speak to one another. Our words have the ability to bless and inspire, not only in the moment but as I heard from many of you, for years, and sometimes decades, after the words have been spoken.  

 As we give thanks this weekend for mothers, and all the other wise women we are blessed to have known, may we also reflect on the words we speak to one another, remembering that their effect continues to ripple outward long after they have been uttered.

Here, without editing, is the list of Momisms that you shared.


It's later than you think.

You don't have to like the cards you are dealt, but you do have to play them. 

Spend a little, save a little.

Don't make me come up there!     

If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you follow?

Let go and let God.

Work like it all depends on you, and pray like it all depends on God.

It may not be ok, but it will all work out.

Try to understand who they are, and you might better understand why they do what they do and say what they say.

Why dahlin', I get my best exercise jumpin' to conclusions! (said in her beautiful southern drawl)

To thine own self be true.

Neither a lender nor a borrower be. 

Handsome is as handsome does or pretty is as pretty does.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child…

Rise above it.

It's what you do when you don't have to, that makes you what you are when you can't help yourself.

It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Waste not, want not.

Because I said so.

What if your face froze like that?"

Think about all the children starving around the world.

If you lie, people won't believe you when you're telling the truth.

To have a friend, be a friend.

Don't lower yourself. Rise above - and in the end, you will be defined by those actions.

Every time you point your finger, look at the three still pointed at you.

You will always have some dirt in your house, but you will not always have kids in the house.

Let your conscience be your guide.

Don't rush the brush and spill the paint!

If you can't say something, nice don't say anything at all.

It only bugs you once if you fix it.

I have eyes in the back of my head.

Common sense is not common.

What other people think of you is none of your business.

We have time for what we want to have time for.

Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today because you never know what will come up tomorrow.

Make a plan, then be willing to 'work' your plan.

Kill them with kindness.

You make a better door than a window.

Don't look too far down the road. Be where you are. 

People are important, not things.

Always remember to take your vitamins!

I don't know. I'm just telling you.

I don't care what everyone is doing, I care what you are doing.

If you sleep under a fan, it will give you a cold.

Take care of a goldfish, and then you can get a dog.

If you choose an action, you choose the reaction also; choose carefully!

Ten years from now it won't make a bit of difference.

There is always room for dessert; it will fill in all the cracks in our bellies!

If you kids are going to fight, take it outside.

Don't worry about it; it will all come out in the wash.

I am sure you will do well, but no matter what happens I still love you and am proud of you.

Come here...I just wanted to say, "I love you."

As mom was dying, "I said, I am going to miss you so much." She responded. "I love you so much. But I no longer belong to this time - I now belong to eternity."


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