December 16th, 2022

Creating Space for the Sacred

The other day we had an intense little snowstorm here in Milwaukee. A couple of inches, nothing major, but it was heavy snow with fat flakes coming down fast. I would call it a movie snow, like the kind of heavy, consistent snowfall you always see in movies but is rarely what snow looks like. Anyways, it was great. Not ideal for driving, but beautiful to look at. I saw it outside of my office window, and knew I had to get outside to experience it. There’s a little wooded path and a small lake/large pond behind the office, and I went out there just to watch the snow come down. The snow was heavy enough to make a sound when it hit the trees, and despite being in the city, it was so quiet and peaceful. When I got home, my wife and youngest son were all bundled up making snowmen, it was such good packing snow, and having a good time romping around in the snow. Winter isn’t for everyone, but I think it would be hard to not appreciate the beauty of the falling snow. I’m glad I took a couple of intentional moments to enjoy it outside, and seeing our little boy all lit up with joy playing in the snow got me thinking about creating space for something sacred.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially at this time of year, and while I often hear about how people don’t have time, I wanted to talk today about space. Much more thorough dissertations have been done on this topic, but I don’t think you need to read de Certeau (though you should!) to have a concept of practices within your daily routine that require space to work well. I think about the difference between someone who is starting out a yoga practice at home versus someone who joins a class. Both have pros and cons, but a different setting produces a different outcome for most people. The introvert who struggles to relax around strangers will not benefit from a formal class the way that an extrovert who values being a part of a whole and enjoys the social validation. One way of doing yoga is not superior, but rather more likely there is a particular person who does well in each. Same behavior, different space, different outcomes for various people. Pick any activity, and the space matters. When I was a kid I really wanted a basketball hoop I could hang on the back of a door so I could play basketball in my room. It was awesome, but if I could play outside on my real hoop I would pick that every time. The hoop in my room made my room better, but the space for playing outdoors was much preferred. Eating a quick bite in your car after going through a drive through is different than eating in a banquet hall is different than grilling out on the back patio. Eating doesn’t change, but the space creates different outcomes by changing the atmosphere. You get the point, though I could go all day with examples.

So when we want to commune with what we feel is sacred in our life, the space matters. It’s a basic premise in architecture, the soaring ceilings in cathedrals aren’t about celestial entities being up there, it’s that our brains trigger an emotional response when we look upwards. Walk through some redwoods with your gaze to the sky and you feel it. Try it, just look up. It has to do with blood flow to the brain, not about the spirit in the sky. Do some deep breaths, look up and turn your palms up as well, it’s like magic except it’s actually just science. Our brain’s elicit strong responses to spatial stimuli. New arenas are a great example now too; they are these crazy architectural marvels that are designed to keep our brains activated so we cheer louder (and spend more money, let’s not lie). We feel more involved because our brain is staying in a state of arousal. There’s a ton of ritual involved in sports and religion for the same reason, to keep the brain in a state of arousal. Go to a concert where everyone is dancing to the beat and you get goosebumps. Ritual is a whole separate, worthwhile topic, but the space in these settings is important as well. 

My coffee drinkers get it, there’s a place they like to drink their coffee. Next to the window, at the kitchen bar, out on the deck, they definitely have a preferred spot. So, some of us have some version of this, but finding a way to cultivate more and be intentional in using our space is key. Having space that is sacred for your couple, a path you like to walk, or a snuggle spot on the couch, increases connection. If you don’t have these spaces, find them, create them. I think nature is sacred, so it’s obvious to connect in nature. I live near a park and a nature center, and work in an office space that has nature space included. Fire and water stimulate my ADHD brain, so those are easy ways for me to connect to the sacred as well. It is calming, makes us feel connected to meaning and purpose, and increases our brain’s capacity for joy and creativity. Find your space, and set aside the time to enjoy your sacred spaces.