What do you think of when you read or hear those words? Is it a specific external location - the place you steal away to for solitude, thought, or prayer? Your favorite lake or stretch of woods? A stunning natural landmark like the Grand Canyon, the ocean, Denali, or Niagara Falls? The place your family most often gathers to celebrate? A particular worship space? The first things that come to my mind are the beaches of Sanibel, our kitchen table, and the sanctuaries at Indian Point and Knox Pres. What may not have been on your list (and wasn’t on mine) is the all stuff that goes in in the interior landscape of your life.
A lot of what goes on inside of me seems too ordinary, too raw, too human, too politically incorrect, too (insert negative reference of choice here) to be included in the same sentence with the word “sacred”. When that other driver makes a left turn in front of me from the right lane at the four-way stop at the mall, my thoughts are, shall we say, less than charitable. (I might as well be honest. What I’m thinking at that moment can’t be repeated in polite company or in front of small children.)
I have an inner critic (at times it feels like an entire committee!) who is more than ready to tell me just how far from perfect (or even minimally acceptable) I truly am, who never misses a chance to throw that snarky comment from second grade back in my face, for whom the closest thing to a compliment is “well, that wasn’t completely horrible!”. And without my best friend, my staunchest ally, my loudest cheerleader here to remind me daily that I was and am valued and loved, I struggle to counterbalance the inner critic.
But my friend Jen’s work* reminds me that I am loved as I am, and that all of me – including the inner workings of my spirit, soul, heart, mind, and even my gut, however off-kilter I may perceive them – belongs to the Holy One every bit as much as those external places I claim as sacred space. My condemning and compartmentalizing, my squirreling away of all those things I don’t want to talk about and deal with – sad things; difficult things; painful things; things that frighten me; things that make me feel shamed, confused, powerless, angry, less than – into an “emotional junk drawer” (as she puts it), rather than facing them, just serves to diminish me. The Holy is in all of life, and wants no less than to be in relationship with all of me.
*(Check out Jen’s amazing stories and artwork here or find her on Instagram. @cobbleworks).
And a reflection from Jan Richardson’s devotional Sacred Journeys reminded me that there is “…power in naming…”. Naming all of those things in that emotional junk drawer (and the rest of my life) only in negative terms and identifying them exclusively as evidence of where I’ve fallen short or done things “wrong” was sabotaging me; setting me up for failure. Viewing them as opportunities, growing edges, learning curves – a chance to discover more about myself, my relationship with the world and with the Holy - allows me to reclaim the inner workings of my mind and heart and spirit as sacred space. (I’m not blowing off repentance and the need for it; sometimes we do screw up and need to ask for forgiveness. I’m talking about all the time and emotional energy we waste telling ourselves we’re pond scum when nothing is further from the truth.)
It isn’t easy to shut the inner critic up. I forget. I revert. I have to remember and refocus. So can you.
If you don’t remember anything else I’ve written today, remember this: you are valued and you are loved. All of you: the outside and the inside. You are Holy Ground and sacred space.
“…O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely…” Psalm 139:1-4
“…Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will never forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” Isaiah 49:15-16a