March 15, 2006

Sacred Space

Y DAUGHTER LIKES TO CAMP OUT. We take broomsticks (or any long sticks we find in the garage), those office “pincher” clips, string, and the largest bedsheet we can “borrow” from the linen closet. With some masterful daddy-daughter engineering we create a tent in Alexa’s bedroom.
Under the canopy of this king-size shelter, we bring all the camping necessities: flashlights, all our favorite pillows and blankets, and the stuffed friends we wish to invite. The evening may start with flashlight races, or finger shadow shows, but it always winds down with stories fresh from our imaginations and slumber, sweet slumber.
“Daddy, pull out the trundle.”
Alexa’s childhood twin bed isn’t quite ready to accommodate her, her mom, and me, but she’s eager to have me close by under the tent. So we pull out the trundle, and I rest with those I love. I love to listen to the giggles, and the breaths, and then, the sleep.
It’s almost magical to me how an ordinary flat sheet, anchored to the ceiling fan, taped to a mop stick, and draped over my daughter’s bed, can create such a different space from the space “out there,” where chores, homework, and cell phones dominate.
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It’s a wonderful, mysterious place . . . a sacred space.

It reminds me of a thought from author Terry Hershey: “We live in a world of two spaces. In one space is born productivity, activity and busyness. In the other, a sanctuary for renewal, reflection and Sabbath.”1
If I could only take that magical bedsheet and somehow drape it over my dizzy-paced life. There are too many things to do, and time is so limited. Rushing through the hours, I find myself often lacking the efficiency to squeeze any more productivity out of the minutes. I’m driven to succeed, and the necessary pace has little space for storytelling or silly finger rabbits etched by flashlights on the fabric sky. Most of my life is spent in one space, in which there is much work and little time.
I find a deceptive promise in the back of my head, seducing me to work harder and longer. When I get it all done, then I can “kick back and take it easy.” So I go faster and faster, like a stereotypical male driver who knows in his heart he’s lost, but refuses to stop and ask for directions. As if going faster will somehow resolve the lostness.
The speed of life refuses to slow. Even though I know that important life stuff is starting to blur, I find it difficult to let off the gas. Overnight deliveries, instant messaging, and global walkie-talkies have left their mark. I live life feeling tardy, always catching up to where I think I ought to be. “Gotta run” has become more of a lifestyle than a catchphrase.
In my heart I resonate with John Jerome’s words: “I was running past the high: hurrying past the very transcendent moments I was seeking.”2
Is there any relief from the tiring pace, this insane treadmill of demands and deadlines? Before I lose any more important moments, where can I stop and ask for directions?
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of a Scripture passage offers a GPS to sacred space:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30, Message).

Get Away With Me

Am I tired? Yes. Worn out? Yes. Burned out on religion? Yes. The words of the passage sound like an invitation from Jesus to join Him in a different place, a different pace, a sacred space.
Jesus beckons me to a quiet time, a hammock for my heart, where I can “recover my life.” Weary of swimming in circles, I am drawn to His offer to experience real rest. But every fiber in my responsible, industrious, overachieving human body resists the notion of quiet time.
“Quiet time?”
“There’s no such thing,” says my calendar. “The reality of your 9:00, 10:00, and 11:30 is right here.”
My laptop pipes in, “Have you seen how many e-mails demand your immediate attention?”
“Rest?” scoffs my cell phone. “That’s what happens when you collapse on your bed after I’m done with you.”
Theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson interrupts my conversation with my gadgets: “Many people simply cannot believe that there can be a large, leisurely center to life where God can be pondered. They doubt they can enter realms of spirit where wonder and adoration have a place to develop, and where play and delight have time to flourish. Is all this possible in our fast-paced lives? . . . The name for it is Sabbath.”3
In nautical terms “slack tide” is a time of relatively still water at the turn of the tides. The sacred space of Sabbath offers me a slack tide, a space of quiet and stillness, where I can jump into the hammock with Jesus and simply revel in spending time with Him. The constant, frenetic motion of my life is put on pause as I enjoy a time-out to develop delight and wonder.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t suggesting that Jesus is absent from the rest of my life. It’s just that at slack tide, I am afforded the leisure of resting in Him, pondering the curious and creative aspects of His character. In this sacred space I can enjoy His love for me, and He can receive my worship as a heartfelt gift. There is a centering that happens in this center of life, a recovery of what’s most important, what is priceless.
A different place. A different pace. A sacred space.
Unforced Rhythms of Grace
I admit it: When it comes to the gift of rhythm, I was standing in the wrong line. My daughter, a pianist, has the gift. My wife can transform Kidz Praise into a holy round of movement. But I’m slow to discern the rhythms others sense almost instinctively, walking out of cadence while others march in time.
That’s how my life feels sometimes--an awkward stumble between action and reaction. Not in step with life’s real heartbeat, it’s easy to trip. Injury is inevitable. Mechanical and rushed, there’s a lot of dissonance and very little gracefulness.
Jesus says, “Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
I am one of those guys who doesn’t like to read the instructions when I get a new gadget. It’s an unusual day if I even scan the “quick-start steps” card. I have the “I can figure it out” gene, and with some trial and error (and quadruple the time it would take to read and follow instructions), I can get almost any gadget running.
So when Jesus asks me to walk, work, and watch with Him, it’s a little frustrating. I’ve been doing the religion thing for some time now. I have the mechanics down pat and have memorized enough Scriptures to win some award. Why does He want me to walk with Him? What’s the value of working with Him and watching how He does it? The journey of life seems pretty self-evident, so what’s the value in learning from Him?
First, Jesus knows all the paths. He doesn’t come at the journey of life without having experienced it to the very fullest. He knows where the peaks and valleys are; where the pace quickens and why it sometimes comes to a dramatic halt. Jesus is not only able to lead me through the rough places I am unaware of, but He anticipates what’s next. He knows the path from start to finish.
Second, Jesus is grace-filled. Although Jesus could simply walk me through life and work with me, He’s not satisfied with just teaching me the mechanics. Jesus wants me to experience graceful living. By watching Him, I see how even in the complicated stretches of life’s hard trek Jesus exhibited grace, unexpected and lovely. He helps me learn His rhythm.
Third, Jesus wants to lead me. It’s not up to me to figure out the pace, to force the tempo, to rush the final mile. I’m far more peaceful and in step with real life when I allow Jesus to lead the walk. His pacing is impeccable. His walking rhythm brings beauty and gracefulness to my life, allowing me to see the terrain I’m walking through, rather than solely concentrating on the steps. I am caught off guard by the grace that comes through following. No longer stumbling and injuring myself, I find that, like the 10 lepers, I am healed “on the way.”
Wayne Muller, author of  Sabbath, suggests, “Sabbath implies a willingness to be surprised by unexpected grace, to partake of those potent moments when creation renews itself, when what is finished inevitably recedes, and the sacred forces of healing astonish us with the unending promise of love and life.”
A different place. A different pace. A sacred space.
Living Freely and Lightly
As I cultivate the sacred space of Sabbath in my life, I find it very different from the dread of yesteryear. To be honest, there had been times before in my life when Sabbath was a nuisance at best, drudgery at worst. My religious compulsion was to keep time--scrambling to get all my stuff done before sunset, then relying on my precise sunset calendar to let me know when I would be released from the penitentiary of peaceful stillness. Time out felt like a punishment. I had places to go.
It felt as if Sabbath were designed to entrap me, to demand my attention for a split second. In my former opinion, it was devised to dictate motionlessness for proving a point. I couldn’t compete in tennis tournaments; I didn’t get to go to pep rallies or football games. Like a hand-me-down from a cousin whose polyester leisure suits don’t take into account Florida humidity and the reality that one-size-does-not-fit-all, I put up with Sabbath; it didn’t fit me. I had people to see.
As I got older I felt guilty for wanting to get it over with. I felt lazy if I took a nap. I felt bridled by the inconvenience of observing this antiquated religious ritual. After all, this Sabbath thing was stunting my productivity. I had things to do.
New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg shares, “This is not how it’s supposed to be, I know. I keep an endless mental list of the things that need to be done. But when a grey day comes, when the horses stand over their hay as though there were all the time in the world to eat it, one of the things that needs to be done is to sit still.”
Could it be that this “grey day,” this sacred space, was made for me? Could it be that in the stillness, God was tailoring a garment of grace that would allow my soul to breathe? Could it be that God was designing His wardrobe for human beings, not human “doings”?
Jesus says, “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Contrary to my previous perceptions and practices, the sacred space of Sabbath offers freedom. I need the “grey day” to recapture all the time in the world; to savor a meal, to love deeply, to be still and know God. There is liberation in the permission to live life in Jesus’ presence, enjoying the custom-fit of His acceptance and salvation, the play clothes of paradise.
A different place. A different pace. A sacred space.
Come to Me for Sacred Space
I hope my daughter never outgrows her love of “camping out.” I love being able to design a shelter for her, even in her own room, where she feels safe and connected with us, where she enjoys our company, our stories, and wants her parents close.
I love those big hammocks! I’m looking forward to lazy afternoons with my daughter and some unrepentant napping.
I know it will take time--much time--to find a rhythm in this journey. I want to walk and work and watch so I can learn.
I love the part in the film The Sound of Music where the Von Trapp children don their custom-made play clothes from Maria. There’s nothing better than comfortable clothes that give us freedom to play.
With these ideas I follow after Jesus through each week, moving toward the special sacred space we share on Sabbath.
Like my daughter, I yearn for a little getaway, a place in my world where my Creator is especially close. I desire a hammock for my heart, a place where stories can be told and imagination is fostered. A space in which I can recover my life and find real rest.
I wish for a place and pace to really learn from Jesus, to watch how He does it. I want to be in a space where He is leading and I experience the rhythm of His life.
Like the Von Trapp family, I’m into Designer play clothes. I’m in favor of a perfect fit, a place where I live freely and lightly. I want to be in His company, and live at a pace that allows me to enjoy the moments.
Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
He has it all figured out, custom-designed, and ready for me. A different place. A different pace. A sacred space. He’s inviting you, too.
Don’t forget to bring your flashlight.

1 Taken from A Few Things That Matter electronic newsletter, vol. 11, June 24, 2005, idShow=191
2 Taken from A Few Things That Matter electronic newsletter, vol. 7, Feb. 28, 2005,
3 Taken from A Few Things That Matter electronic newsletter, vol. 11, June 24, 2005,
A. Allan Martin, Ph.D., is an ordained minister and clinical psychologist. He and his wife, Deirdre, are cofounders of VISION ministries, a parachurch agency dedicated to empowering new generations in Christian leadership and lifestyle. The Martins live in Celebration, Florida.