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Opening sacred space


Faith has capacity to open us to sacred space.  Story, ceremony, parable, prayer, silence and praise can guide us towards our innermost heart-centre, open us to God’s Spirit, and enable us to listen and see anew.  “Heart” is where we are not divided into intellect, will, emotions, or into mind and body.  It represents ‘that centre of integrated consciousness’ where all the ways of our knowing are focussed, where we are most truly brought together and we are, paradoxically, most intimately ourselves and most intimately united with all, together with God, indwelt and enlivened by His Spirit.  This is where the source of life, the life of our lives wells up in our hearts.[1] [2]  This might be referred to as our heart, our still point, our soul space or soul rest,[3] or as our sacred space. 
     Heart-centred experiences cannot be designed or manufactured at will.  Opening of such space, ‘where sense becomes spiritual, where imagination may become insight’[4] to us comes as gift; a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Such heart-centred gifts are difficult to bring into words.  Occasionally they might occur in our practice when accompanying others through painful depths of their stories.  For a moment a deeper vantage point opens from which things are encountered differently; a far more holistic or unitive perspective emerges.  They can happen in the most unlikely circumstance and when least expected, as in a crowded London shop for William Butler Yeats, or on the road to a small village called Emmaus for Cleopas and his friend.  Yeats’ record is in his poem, Vacillation.5]

My fiftieth year had come and gone.
I sat a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop.
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table top.

While on the shop and street I gazed,
My body of a sudden blazed.
And twenty minutes, more or less,
It seemed so great my happiness
That I was blessed and could bless.

     The opening of Yeats’ heart-centre in this unlikely context is pure gift.  His body sensations, experienced in 20th century London, seem shared with two men of ancient times walking away from Jerusalem in the direction of small village of Emmaus: “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”[6]  And in saying “yes” to what happened, all three might agree that the only response can be gratitude:  ‘That I was blessed and could bless.’ 
     
The circumstances for Cleopas and his friend are totally different but they share with Yeats the unexpected, the surprise, as well as the transformative potential of such an experience.  They talk through recent traumatic and tragic events as they journey away from the scene.  Their prophetic leader dead and their company disbanded.  Dreams have been dashed and hopes lost.  They are joined by an apparent stranger who holds back his identity, walks with them in their low-spirited state, listens to their experiences, reunites them with the “greater story”, draws them out of mass consciousness,[7] accepts their hospitality, and performs a highly symbolic ceremony, and then leaves them (at least in a bodily form), trusting them to make their own particular responses.  Little by little sacred space is opened to them.  Their eyes are opened and their hearts burn within them.  Their “yes” to this heart-centred experience of integrated consciousness, involving intellect, will, emotions, mind and body, and acknowledgement of the presence of the Divine, brings new resolve and the deeper knowing of a truth which will transform them: ‘It is true![8] 
     Easter stories and experiences, such as this, overflow with capacity to guide us to, and to open us to sacred space.  The Emmaus road forms a vital part of the Easter stories in that it intersects with the particulars of everyday human experience. The Paschal Mystery itself holds enormous potency to open this heart-centre through touching into our deepest experience and most unitive knowing, though only if we bring our “yes” to it.  At a place deeper than thought or word, often in a place of silence and stillness, we become intimately united with the suffering, prayerful anguish, death, and then the resurrection of Christ.  In our “yes” our heart-centre knows that suffering, prayerful anguish, death and resurrection are part of our own growth from being made in the image of God to becoming the likeness of God; ‘being remade from the inside out.’[9]  Alternatively, our “no” can close our heart-centre to such growth. 
     History’s greatest story, along with the experiences of Cleopas and his friend which forms a vital human response to this great epic, along with our own “yes”, can bring us into sacred space where the resurrection truth can remake us from the inside out.   Then we will know that: That we are blessed and can bless.

Notes

[1] Freeman, Laurence (2002). Jesus the Teacher Within. New York: Continuum, p. 32.
[2] Steindl-Rast, David (1994).  A Listening Heart.  New York: Crossroad, pp. 9-10.
[3] Matthew 11:29.
[4] Freeman (2002), op cit.
[5] Public Domain
[6] Luke 24:32 (NKJV).
[7] The particular relational knowing formed through these men’s direct association with Jesus and all he represented can, in the face of this crisis and loss, be temporary eclipsed by popular or mass responses to such events.  There can be a loss of grounding.
[8] Luke 24:13-35.
[9] Benner, David (2002) Authentic Transformation: Key Questions. Conversations, 1, p. 12.