There was a single tear, and I knew we were on sacred ground, but there was a decision to be made. I chose to linger and listen.
I was talking with a man in his eighties the other day when I noticed a tear forming in his eye. I knew that this was one of those moments.
One of those times where you mustn’t rush past. There was an invitation to a stop and be quiet.
It was a tender moment. A time of standing on what I call ‘sacred ground’ where the other drifts, ponders and reflects on the storied waves of life.
I dare not interrupt where Spirit was dancing him into.
It was only for about 10 seconds, maybe not even that, but then he spoke about loss—the loss of deep friendships and relationships. Opportunity lost to connect with at least one other man. To have a friend.
He talked about his observation that women seem to have more friends and deeper relationships. There was grief and that he had not had this.
And then we moved on. Perhaps we will come back to it one day.
The sacred ground of us
I have been to many places that might have the term ‘Sacred Ground’ attached to them.
It might be a place where some act of religious significance occurred. It could be a place of pilgrimage. Maybe even be a sports arena or stadium where someone achieved some great sporting feat.
We connect ‘Sacred ground’ with the words of ‘This is where … happened.’
But I also believe that there can be ‘sacred ground’ moments within our conversations. A moment in a conversation where we could say ‘This is where … happened.’
Moments where a space opens up for silence and listening. An invite to intimacy (In-to-me-see) is quietly given.
Have you noticed these?
People are scared of sacred ground.
But people often are scared when they touch the outskirts of a sacred space. ‘Shields up’ and alarm sirens wail.
They back off, divert to other topics.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.
The brain, in all its hardwired self-protective goodness, shouts ‘This sacred ground feels like quicksand that could swallow me up.’
But sacred places are the places where the pivot of change happens.
The warmth of a burning bush
There is a story in the bible about a sacred space conversation.
It happened around a fire.
A desert bush was ablaze, but the strangest thing was that the bush wasn’t turning to ash.
It was fully alive with fire, and this drew some attention from a wandering shepherd called Moses.
Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away, but it didn’t burn up.
Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”
God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He said, “Yes? I’m right here!”
God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.” Exodus 3:1-6
I think of my conversation, and the desire in me to come closer, dig deeper, ask questions and push the story on. Yet the best choice was not to come closer but actually to remove my sandals and be silent.
You need to take your sandals off.
Many people have conjectured as to why Moses had to remove his sandals. Sure he was instructed to because this was ‘Holy Ground,’ but why?
I want to offer a suggestion.
I wear footwear all the time in the garden. Boots, shoes, sandals are all worn to protect my feet from connection to the earth. Without that layer of material my feet would get dirty, and possibly harmed by thorns and stones.
I wear shoes to protect myself, to keep something between myself and potential harm.
I wonder if God was saying …
I don’t want anything to come between yourself and the dirt and dustiness of this place. I want you to connect fully with the earth of this experience. Have no crafted, man-made structure that acts as a barrier.
The sacred ground has an invite to dig your toes into it.
There is a vulnerability to this moment, and you need to be part of it.
What’s it like to walk barefooted on soil?
In that sacred moment
We so often rush to fill the void when someone exposes pain. It makes us uncomfortable.
Let’s fix their problem.
Here is some good advice that they need to take
I can save them from that
They need to be straightened out
You might also swing to your favorite space-filling therapeutic technique. Perhaps, if you’re a counselor, therapist, spiritual director, pastor, you’ve been taught what to do in these moments. To follow such and such practice.
In these moments of sacred ground, you need to walk carefully, tenderly, quietly.
Take your sandals off, as such, and feel your own vulnerability and what rises in you.
This is a moment to wait and watch.
Watch for where they go. Are they running away from the sacred ground, or are they wanting to dig their toes in with you.
If they run, perhaps a gentle question that asks about their sacred ground is needed.
A reassurance that running and avoidance are normal, but that the sacred ground has an invite to depth.
The sacred ground has answers that our heart needs to hear.
Of course, God is in the business of bringing us to burning bushes. Moments of grabbing our attention and pulling us aside to commune.
One Emmaus many Damascus
I’ve recently been reading Job and the Mystery of Suffering by Richard Rohr.
A quote that grabbed my attention was this.
Conversion, which is forever refining the most intimate nature of our experience, is a long, long process. More a long road to Emmaus than a one-time road to Damascus.
I immediately thought of those two roads.
The Emmaus road, where two followers of Jesus walked and talked out the mystery of what had just happened in Jerusalem. Then someone (Jesus) joined them and answered their questions.
The Damascus road where Saul traveled with a hatred and murderous intent to kill people much like our pilgrims on the Emmaus road. Jesus joined him too, with an explosion of light. So much light that it threw him to the soil beneath his feet.
Perhaps on our Emmaus road journey of conversion- ‘which is forever refining the most intimate nature of our experience’ – we also have Damascus rd experiences.
They may not always be as dramatic as Saul experienced but might be classified as little Damascus rd moments. Micro burning bush, sacred ground, sandal shedding, times.
Those millimeter moments that invite us to pause and pivot. Times, like I experienced in the conversation, where my friend was invited to sacred ground.
Those early followers of Jesus walking home to Emmaus had many small little Damascus rd events where they had their thinking gently challenged and redirected.
They were walking on sacred ground and didn’t even know it until the end of their journey. Then they realized how their ‘hearts had burned within them.’
That’s what happens when you encounter a burning bush that doesn’t turn to ash.
Praying for the sacred ground
I am praying that I might see more of those conversational sacred ground moments.
Those little instants where you know Spirit is dancing and weaving into the conversation.
Perhaps there might be more tears—times where I notice the movement in conversation to a place of it being sacred.
I hope I don’t rush it or invade it.
Instead, the invite is to linger and listen. Love does that.
Quotes to consider
- God’s healing has more to do with learning to worship than it does with getting life fixed. Craig Barnes
- The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. Richard Rohr When Things Fall Apart
- When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. Henri J.M. Nouwen
- Real encouragement occurs when words are spoken from a heart of love to another’s recognized fear. Larry Crabb
- A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else. Richard Rohr
- Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel or corrections. With such questions, we help “hear each other into deeper speech.” Parker J. Palmer.
- Good work is relational, and its outcomes depend on what we are able to evoke from each other. Parker J. Palmer
- It is usually most helpful to ask questions that are more about the person than about the problem. Parker J. Palmer
Questions to answer
- Have you noticed those ‘sacred ground’ moments in conversations?
- Why do we rush to solve a problem?
- When have you entered a personal ‘sacred ground,’? That place where memories swirl and time drifts to uncomfortable places. What is your response? Run, take off your sandals, listen?