In the summer of 1970, my then best male friend, J. Brian McDonnell, fasted for 37 days (water only) in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, to protest President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. On a Sunday morning during the second or third week of the fast, a local Episcopal priest led his congregation to Lafayette Square to take communion with Brian. As they approached him in the park, I was moved beyond words as the priest told his congregants: “Remove your shoes because you are walking on hallowed ground.”
In 1890, freed slaves from nearby plantations and their children placed the cornerstone of a church they built by hand in the relatively successful freedman’s community then known as Gleedsville in Virginia. The workmanship inside is stunning. The building continued to house African-American worshipers even as the Jim Crow era decimated the community. After the congregation that owned it moved to a larger, more modern church building, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun bought it. That’s my current UU home, where on January 18, 2009, I made this call to worship:
Forty-eight hours from now, an African-American man will stand on the steps of the nation’s capitol. He’ll stand on bricks baked and put in place by African-American slaves, who had the legal and social status of property. He’ll look out at the national mall, which was once a slave market. And then he and his family will go to live in the White House, which was also built by slaves.
This structure we gather in today is perhaps less imposing than those structures, but it also has a history. It was built by freed slaves and their children in the years after the Civil War, and then it was worshiped in from 1890 to the 1980s by generations of African-Americans. They celebrated their life passages here then, as we do now. And they experienced the pain of this nation’s and this region’s tragic racial history. We dedicate this service to them and to all the martyrs of the civil rights movement who gave their lives for the dream that their children would one day live in a nation where they are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I am sometimes overwhelmed by the sacred space I worship in most Sunday mornings.I have never been prouder of it than I was during the multi-faith vigil for peace we hosted in 2003, shortly before the United States invaded Iraq, when the local imam said: “The moment I entered this sanctuary, I felt welcome.”
My wife and I had an especially troubling day when we were in Nashville two months ago on a driving vacation. We wanted to find a space that felt sacred to meditate in, so I Googled “Buddhist temple” and found a small Laotian temple in a modest neighborhood. I’d had enough experience in ethnic Theravadan temples to know that the door would be open and a monk would be somewhere. He spoke no English, but using a little English (like “sit”), a little Sanskrit, and gestures, I conveyed that we just wanted to meditate in front of the beautiful altar. He turned on the lights and left, I lit candles, and we meditated. Later, I asked him where to find the dana (contributions) box, left a donation, and we drove on from another sacred space.
When I lived in New York City, I sometimes attended the experiences (more fitting word than “concerts”) put on by saxophonist Paul Winter in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, an immense sacred space.
These thoughts came to me after listening to the music below from Tim Higgins, a minimalist musician and blogger from Durham, England. The piece is Sacred Spaces, and is best listened to with headphones.
Listen and, if so moved, leave a comment below about one or more of your sacred spaces and what makes it sacred.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine