The Interfaith Contact Group
The Brighton & Hove Interfaith Contact Group

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Connecting with Sacred Spaces and Sacred Places

January 20, 2021

The effects of lockdown are so very challenging, and yet challenge in itself can be rewarding. We find ourselves locked up in our own four walls, and yet within this confinement we may discover moments when we can be imaginative and adventurous, and explore our faith and the faith of others in new ways. The idea of recognising one’s surroundings as sacred space is a reminder that we too are sacred, as is the space we occupy.

Sacred Space is a well explored subject – just go into Google and you find no less than 165 million references to sacred space, from how to create it in your own home to blessed places, sanctuaries and more. And yet despite all this advice on the subject, there is only one deity to sacred space – the pagan goddess Nemetona.  Nemetona is a deity held in high regard by many Druids to this very day, and is the source of fascination to many. She is a powerful force in the pagan tradition, as explained by Joanna van der Hoevern in her intriguing book Dancing with Nemetona. With sacred space in mind, we open with two very different poems. The first was written at least 70 years ago by the great E.E. Cummings, the other written less than seven weeks ago by local poet – Erica Sharne.

This is followed by a selection of prayers, for all of us in lockdown. We then move on to two poems about two very different sacred places – Palestine described by Mahmoud Darwish in On This Place, and Sunday Morning, King’s Cambridge by John Betjeman. We close with a selection of quotations from all over the world about home, sacred spaces and places.

May your spiritual inspiration serve you lovingly at this tricky time. It feels like a good moment to connect with the spiritual side of ourselves.

Thank you for your attention…Stay well and stay safe,

Best wishes to you and those close to your heart,

Anthea
Chair IFCG

 

LOVE IS A PLACE
E.E. Cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

 

SACRED SPACE IN LOCKDOWN
Erica Sharne

 

She knows it well,
A winter’s small dark room
Candles, cat, coffee
Lights low, illuminated
Breathing, resting, praying

Thoughts made sacrosanct
Honed by pleasure and pain –
Prison walls shared by many

Cross legged on a cushion
Still, so still amidst
Curling, spirals of fragrant incense
Near and far, the sounds of life
The same oxygen sucked by souls in prayer

A monastery, on a high mountain
Circled by great birds
A green luminous hospital ward
The bus station in Paris
Brixton market
An English country church
A single perfect flower
Her spirit wanders

There are good cells
And bad cells

Her prison is sanctity
As the viral storm passes

She recalls and meets herself:
A princess in a tower…
A tiny prisoner in a playpen…
A graceful dancer above the chaos

Greater than the universe
Smaller than a post card

In sacred space
Walls dissolve
Candles glimmer
We may be far away
But here we are

She prays for us
She loves us
We are together
Held… and remembered

 

FIVE PRAYERS OF SACRED SPACE

 

Blessed is the spot, and the house,
and the place, and the city,
and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave,
and the valley, and the land,
and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention of God hath been made,
and His praise glorified.
Bahá’i prayer by Baháʼu’lláh

 

Oh lord, bless this household;
grant us health and peacefulness,
fun and friendship
a warm and welcoming spirit,
and the gentleness that quickly forgives,
now and always.
Anon

 

The beauty of the trees
The softness of the air
The fragrance of grass
Speaks to me

The summit of the mountain
The thunder in the sky
The rhythm of the sea
Speaks to me

The faintness of the stars
The freshness of the morning
The dewdrop on the flower
Speaks to me

The strength of fire
The coolness of fresh water
The trail of the song
And the life that never goes away
They speak to me

And my heart soars
Chief Dan George

 

Wherever you are is home
And the Earth is paradise
Wherever you set your feet is holy land…
You don’t live off it like a parasite.
You live in it, and it in you,
Or you don’t survive.
And that is the only worship of God there is.
Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole

 

Gentle God,
grant that at home
where we are most truly ourselves,
where we are known at our best and worst,
we may learn to forgive and be forgiven.
A New Zealand Prayer Book

 

ON THIS LAND
Mahmoud Darwish (translated from Arabic)

On this land,
There is what makes life worth living,
April’s hesitation,
the aroma of bread at dawn,
A woman’s prayer for men,
Aeschylus’s writings,
the beginning of love,
Grass on a stone,
mothers standing on the thread of a flute,
and the invaders’ fear of memories.

On this land,
There is what makes life worth living,
September’s end,
A woman leaving forty
in full bloom
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
A people’s applause for those who face their own erasure with a smile
And the tyrant’s fear of songs.

On this land,
There is what makes life worth living
On this land
The lady of our land
The mother of all beginnings
And the mother of all ends
She was called Palestine
Her name later became Palestine
My lady….
Because you are my lady
I deserve life.

 

SUNDAY MORNING, KING’S CAMBRIDGE

John Betjeman

File into yellow candle light, fair choristers of King’s
Lost in the shadowy silence of canopied Renaissance stalls
In blazing glass above the dark glow skies and thrones and wings
Blue, ruby, gold and green between the whiteness of the walls
And with what rich precision the stonework soars and springs
To fountain out a spreading vault – a shower that never falls.

The white of windy Cambridge courts, the cobbles brown and dry,
The gold of plaster Gothic with ivy overgrown,
The apple-red, the silver fronts, the wide green flats and high,
The yellowing elm-trees circled out on islands of their own –
Oh, here behold all colours change that catch the flying sky
To waves of pearly light that heave along the shafted stone.

In far East Anglian churches, the clasped hands lying long
Recumbent on sepulchral slabs or effigied in brass
Buttress with prayer this vaulted roof so white and light and strong
And countless congregations as the generations pass
Join choir and great crowned organ case, in centuries of song
To praise Eternity contained in Time and coloured glass.

 

SACRED SPACE QUOTATIONS

 

Each place is the right place–the place where I now am can be a sacred space.
Ravi Ravindra

The forest is not merely an expression or representation of sacredness, nor a place to invoke the sacred; the forest is sacredness itself. Nature is not merely created by God; nature is God. Whoever moves within the forest can partake directly of sacredness, experience sacredness with his entire body, breathe sacredness and contain it within himself, drink the sacred water as a living communion, bury his feet in sacredness, touch the living branch and feel the sacredness, open his eyes and witness the burning beauty of sacredness…
Richard Nelson

If you have been in the vicinity of the sacred – ever brushed against the holy – you retain it more in your bones than in your head; and if you haven’t, no description of the experience will ever be satisfactory.
Daniel Taylor

“Sacred space” is another way of saying “with intention.”
S. Kelley Harrell

Hospitality is a form of worship.
The Talmud    

Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest.
Henry W. Longfellow

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
Maya Angelou

I do not understand how anyone can live without one small place of enchantment to turn to.”
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings   

I have always felt that the best security for civilization is the dwelling, and that upon properly appointed and becoming dwellings depends more than anything else the improvement of mankind. Such dwellings are the nursery of all domestic virtues, and without a becoming home the exercise of those virtues is impossible.
Benjamin Disraeli 

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than a magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.
Charles Dickens