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Sacred Space and Beloved Community

by Matilda Cantwell

The Yoga aphorisms of Patanjali from the third century state "what we truly worship we make sacred." This philosophy rings very true for me. I believe it applies to "worship" in the broadest sense: quiet, alert walks in the woods; moments of meditation or revelation; meaningful conversation and engagement in reading, study, dance, or art; deep and reverent engagement either inside or outside a traditional place of worship.

When we have done these activities in a place repeatedly, the space becomes imbued for us with a deep sense of connection, and this is a sort of sacredness. For years I have walked the path that begins just beyond the boat house and travels along the Mill River. Its contours, and the various features of the landscape, like the two boulders abutting the water at just about the half way point, have a sacredness that for me has arisen from a sense of connection that has been cultivated over time.

However, a space that is sacred is so only in proportion to how much of our authentic selves we bring to it. Our times outdoors or in places that are sacred to us may not always feel peaceful or immediately rejuvenating; sometimes we seek a sacred space because we feel broken and alone. Sometimes a sacred space can even elicit sadness because in it we are struck by our own longing or need.

By the same token, a house or worship or sanctuary, designated as such by a group of people or in accordance with a religious tradition, is only sacred in proportion to how it is able to hold what Reverend Dr Martin Luther King called the beloved community:

A vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth in which poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated, in which racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of siblinghood...

In these times of increased violence and oppression, places of sacredness are under threat of destruction, like the Standing Rock Land in North Dakota. People are being targeted based on religious and racial identity, and people are being both exiled from and refused welcome in their own homes.

One small way we can be in protest to all of this is to try to create a beloved community here at Smith wherever we are, by seeking deep engagement with others, even and especially, across difference. At the Helen Hills Hills Chapel, we strive for radically inclusive hospitality so as to make our space, in the words of Patanjali, "truly sacred." Our sanctuary this semester so far has been host to weekly meditations, a vigil with the Disability Alliance to mark the Disability Day of Mourning, and a weekly Muslim Jummah Prayer and lunch, to name a few things. In coming months we will offer a Passover Seder; and host activities to mark the Christian Holy Week.

Most importantly, we invite you to bring your authentic selves here—to our programs as well as our physical space, for that is what will renew our ongoing contract with the sacred, so to speak. A place maintains sacredness through those whose hearts expand within it, and we welcome you here to do just that, and to hold us accountable to the ongoing vision of creating the beloved community.