July 14, 2012

On Sacred Spaces

SOF and I just returned from her family reunion.  This was one of our better ones in that we seemed to get along better and enjoy the interactions.  We avoided political and religious fights--all which left a few silent spaces at the dinner table, but contributed to a much more positive experience.

Part of the time was devoted to assessing family business and planning--part of which regards a family cabin.  And we mean "cabin" here, not "house in mountains."  No running water or indoor plumbing.  But for this family, that cabin represents more than shelter.  It has taken on a sacred dimension.

The recent spate of fires and beetle-kill has spurred a lot of discussion about this particular cabin--to say nothing about generational change.  Who knows what will happen, but the beetles have already changed the surrounding environment.  And that, I think, is the issue regarding sacred space:  change.  For many in the family, this cabin represents a sacred space, and one that should be protected, maintained and held.  As a quasi-outsider, it is clear to me that the building is more symbolic than real.  It has become a holder of family memories and is locked in a sepia-tinged photo of all-younger family members smiling on the porch.  No matter that during that time, many were deeply unhappy, of course, because in the cabin those memories are all positive.  

As that outsider, I remember my few visits there, and could not quite makes sense of my own discomfort.   In a sacred space, there are rules for your experience.  And in the case of this cabin, those rules were mostly unwritten and unspoken.  My discomfort was not understanding that I was in a place filled with ghosts and memories and connections to the past.  That back room was built by so and so.  That stove came from that other person.  "We don't do that here."  It is only in retrospect that I can see I could not experience that area or space as my own.  The experience was tightly scripted--even though I doubt anyone there thought of it that way.  And built into that script was the idea (contradicted by the narrative, of course) that the cabin never changes.  It always is.  

That isn't meant as criticism, because I am thinking of my own sacred spaces.  One of them will be for sale soon, and that news hit me like a brick.  That is because I had my own sense of what that space meant--even though it was not mine to define.  And, to be sure, we have had some amazing experiences there.  But more than once, in that same space, I have looked at others and wondered why they did what they did.  How dare they experience "my" sacred space that way?  "We don't do that here."  

Anglican often reminds me that "everything changes" and "nothing stays the same."  Those words have served me well over the past few weeks.  I am also reminded of SOF's great advice when addressing items or tokens that held great personal significance.  She gently pointed out that the item itself was not the memory.  

My sacred space will soon be in some other hands.  Likewise, that family cabin is just a building.  While it can function as a place to both connect to nature and family and enjoy the tradition and past, it does not have to be the holder.  Those memories and connections exist whether the cabin does or not.  But when we insist that the sacred space be the one holder of those memories and connections, we risk losing them all.

And we do not have to do that.  


ANewAnglican@gmail.com said...

I said that?

steves said...

My family has a summer place that is much the same. While my grandparents were alive, there were not many changes, but it seems that the current generation in charge is more willing to let some changes occur.