Category Religion

What Is Sacred Space?

At this time of year when much of the world is observing events steeped in ancient lore and enchantments, what can we say about the settings and places where we perceive something as sacred? What do we even mean by “sacred space?” What qualities must any space reflect to be deemed “sacred?” Who decides what those qualities are?

Years ago, “U.S. News & World Report” ran a lengthy cover story headlined, “Sacred Places.” Its rather exhaustive list of such places contained all the usual suspects, though it was dominated by buildings and monuments.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The Golden Temple in India.

Stonehenge, Karnak in Egypt, the temple of Confucius, the entire city of Mecca.

Interestingly, there was little said about awe-inspiring natural settings—the Grand Canyon, Mt...

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Spiritual or Religious? Walking the Language Tightrope

When I served as president of the board at my Unitarian Universalist (UU) church years ago, I commenced one board meeting with the check-in question, “Spiritual or religious? Church or congregation? Worship or service?” These were actually one question, the dual poles of which are reflective, I think, of a (mostly) healthy and perhaps eternal tension among and between people who profess to practice a religion and others who have fled organized, overtly theistic religion but who retain an avowed “spiritual” orientation to serve as a North Star in their lives.

In the case of UUs, I had to include the “church or congregation?” snippet because some members resisted calling what we did there every Sunday and most all the days in between “church,” despite the entire setting and context and rituals being pretty much indistinguishable from what that word has always meant to people across the religious firmamen...

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And in the End, Love: Matthew Richardson’s Gay “Hallelujah” Dance

One of the great temptations in this Age of Vitriol is to grow so weary and exasperated that we seek release, turning willfully away from the darkness, covering our eyes and ears to all that we fear is gaining an upper hand every time we dare tune into the State of the World.

“Can we talk about…politics for just a minute?” is a common refrain across dinner tables and Happy Hours, rendered tenuously, though with an underlying urgency, as we seek to balance the competing needs for engagement and retreat from the ever-present, often oppressive affairs of the day.

The dilemma: We can’t bear to look, and we can’t afford to look away.

What should be, what could be, what might still be, what is.

Along that continuum, we seek our daily comfort, our solace, our need for joy and play, balanced against our responsibility to do what we can to help lighten the wearying weight of the world.

“Beauty is truth, and truth b...

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Engineeered Apocalypse: Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God”

The end of the world has weighed heavily on the mind of humankind since we emerged onto the 4.5-billion-year-old planet we call home some 200,000 years ago. Variations on the apocalypse have coursed through every form of expression since we started painting on cave walls, blinking into each dawn, cowering from storms and eclipses, imagining all-powerful gods to whom we might appeal for benevolence and mercy.

A kind of existential angst and sometimes outright terror underlies much of the literature and other arts that have emerged over the eons to grapple with the specter of not only our own lives ending, but the final destruction of the world.

Indeed, our powerful, sometimes outright narcissistic sense of Self should probably be forgiven for wondering whether the world should even go on without us—how dare it?!

These ‘prophets’ tend to have one hand pointing to an exact date of doom and their other in th...

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Ecstasy Fast & Slow

A modern wedding scene on the dance floor, amidst the mostly late ’20s-early ’30s crowd that are peers of the newly betrothed. It’s been a couple hours since the vows and dinner and multiple, somewhat long-winded toasts that seem to have become an obligatory feature of weddings today. (“I first met Sam in third grade when…”)

Then comes the new hubby-wifey dance to their own special song, its dying notes prompting the DJ to finally crank up the music and the pace as all the waiting young’uns and no small number of old’uns stream onto the dance floor. (It’s early yet, and everyone feels young and renewed at a wedding—at least for a while.)

Their single-minded goal: to commence the dead-serious ritual of celebrating the young couple and expressing all the good mojo they feel in bearing witness and immersing fully in such a joyous occasion.

And “immersing fully” is what the dancers most definitely do.

As the...

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