What’s the Secret Sauce to Making Sacred Space?

I have been interested in prayer and worship experiences since I was 17, when I had the opportunity to create them each evening at URJ Eisner Camp. I loved the deep well of liturgy to explore, the journey I created in partnership with other leaders, and most importantly, the music, and how these elements in tandem helped all of us mark that transition point in our day. I wondered for a while how I might recreate some of the feeling I had at camp, and that’s when I began to develop “Sacred Space.” In the beginning, all I did was ask the question: “What does sacred space mean to you?” But it has developed into an approach that has been the thrust of what I believe is my life’s work of holding sacred space for individuals and communities.

Here are a few of my ongoing reflections:

Sacred space is what we make when we are together. It’s a mutual construct — something that develops between us as we spend time listening to each other. It’s hanging loosely on the thread of each word you say, and if I’m listening closely enough, I may just catch a glimmer of light.

The wonderful thing about light is its ability to reflect. When I see your light, it reminds me of that holy spark that I share in return. So when I say sacred space is what WE make when we are together, I mean it. The blue of the sky is a reflection of the light, but that doesn’t make it any less gorgeous as it smooths the shades from evening to morning and back again. Listening: an intense experience of intent and accident.

Oops, there was something I didn’t expect. Maybe it came from me or elsewhere, but gosh, it was funny, interesting, serendipitous. You see, we were headed in one direction, and then a happy accident took us somewhere else. I marvel at our ability to arrive at a new moment, to get from here to there emotionally if we allow ourselves that kindness. The sort of kindness of sacred space that we create when we are together. I kindly ask of myself these holy traits of compassion and understanding. Whether or not I meant it, I got here accidentally. Is that the secret sauce?

I thought we needed ingredients, a recipe. Otherwise, how are we going to get there every time? We’ll get there; we just may not reach the landing strip at the time we intended, but we will land. Or is the there of sacred space really the chance to achieve lift? Maybe both-and. Lift and landing, gift and receiving. Did I promise the answer to life, the universe and everything, and now I’m intentionally obfuscating? Well, it is a secret sauce after all. Who ever said sacred space had to be linear? It just has to be what we MAKE when we are together. So, the operative question is, are you with me? Have you been hanging on by that loose thread?

You have my full, undivided, attention, and I am here with my heart in my hand, ready to bear the range and depth of emotions that I’ve been feeling and holding back, protecting myself and others, but now I’m ready to bear those feelings. Why? Because you are here, and Sacred Space is what we make when we are together. I believe it with every fiber of my being. If we listen to one another very carefully and give each other our time and our gifts, it can be the most precious moment.

Gems, when you hear someone speak from their heart; gems, the rarest moments we express, the kinds that make you want to seal them in a bottle and remember them forever because in that moment, you are loved, you are you, and you are enough. Sacred space is that enoughness we feel when we are together, when we allow ourselves to reach in. And then to create. It can’t just live in the world of the theoretical. I could pontificate all day about the nature of sacred space (which would be enough) but to achieve it, we need to create. To use that newly felt feeling and express it in its honesty.

Honestly, if I could boil this sauce down to its elements, I’d ask somewhat simply: “Are you out to make sacred space? Are you really out to make a moment that is received and perceived as sacred? Are you drawing from the wisdom that comes before you? Are you thoughtful about what kind of moment you’d like to create? Are you ready for that moment to be exactly what it is? In that case, you’ll likely get there.

Do you want to be in it, too? Then arrive to that same kind of listening. For gifts, accidents, arrival, for quiet — yes, all the feelings and lived experiences, for gems, cut and uncut. Remember, sacred space is what we make when we are together. It just is, and it always is and will be. How filled with awe is this “is,” and I did not know it? Don’t pretend that the moment is “out there,” and you have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of this moment for others to experience it on your behalf? The moment is felt and experienced between us. We are angels facing one another. Remember: Sacred space is what we make when we are together.

So walk with me, meditate with me on the immense potential in our steps, in our heart, in our minds, and the potential beauty arriving right now. It is our potential that propels us towards sacredness — a bud in each thought, a flower in each word. That’s the kind of listening I’m talking about.

Going forward

So what is it I do exactly? I spend time in one on one conversation with rabbis, cantors, shelikhei tzibbur (service leaders), listening to what they have to say, discovering gems of words and phrases, and using those phrases as intentions to create unique moments with and for their communities. These moments have existed online during the pandemic, and if you’d like to watch one, you are welcome to explore this document with links to videos of all of them: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10wMLbi_nDm4rfshrQx06zLQDtsmx3gm_Vuo3woYOym4/edit

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