(With gratitude to Rex Nelson for his image)
This universe is sacred no matter how we name it, no matter how we celebrate and honor it ritually, no matter the meaning many people ascribe to it, both those who speak about environmental responsibility and those who understand the planet as that which can be exploited for human use. So, if this universe is sacred, then why do we continue to use formative narratives, language, symbol, and ritual in ways that separate humans from the non-human realm, and separate religions and denominations one from another? Because I do not intend that as a rhetorical question, I continue to speak and write about the space between.
The space between holds the possibility of common ground – language, metaphor, narrative, and ritual – where success is measured in terms of inclusion not exclusion, and the goal is to remove altogether the concepts of right thinking, orthodoxy, the right way, God’s chosen, etc.
My vision for the space between is that place of blessing, sometimes metaphorical and sometimes physical, in which we the people are able to recognize and name the narratives that inform our collective lives. I am speaking of such as the life cycles of birth, death, and rebirth; of compassion, generosity, and kindness; of forgiveness; love; the interdependence of all life forms; our human role as earth citizens; and the nature and ground of our moral compass. This, of course, is what the various religions intend, but by their very nature and intention, their context, doctrines, rituals, and language, religions exclude; they shut people out from the universal sacred community which embraces both human and the non-human.
The space between, then, is that place in which sacred expression, meaning, and a shared narrative can emerge using language, story, and ritual that excludes no one, because its elements are those which we hold in common – earth, waters, winds, and fire. Its stories are those we share – birth, life, death, and rebirth. These are not human constructs alone; they are the formative narratives of universal life.
In this space between, we don’t need to be defining the sacred life around the concept of God (YHWH or Allah) or the gods of a thousand names, around a Jesus known as the Christ, or any other construct that allows a group of people to claim the distinction of being more valuable, of following the “right” (or only) Way, and of some kind superior morality.
One of the comments I hear when I speak of the space between is that I am “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” It’s an interesting concept.
There are differing ideas as to the origin of the idiom. Before the 16th century, baths were not commonplace. Water had to be drawn and heated, and the same water was often used for an entire family’s weekly ablutions, with the father going first (ironically, probably the dirtiest), then the mother, and the children, down to the baby. By the time it was the baby’s turn, you can imagine a certain murkiness to the water, the baby perhaps lost to the accumulated dirt. Toss the water, toss the baby, I suppose, and although it probably didn’t happen (or at least not often) the idiom emerged and settled itself in the various cultures of Europe and elsewhere.
When people suggest that my emerging “web-of-life” theology tends to throw the baby out with the bathwater (I have posted a review and my response to the review elsewhere on this website), usually the “baby” has to do with biblical warrants, Christian orthodoxy, etc. I take the comment seriously, and have had to keep thinking about it.
But in my defense, I am not throwing out anything that religions want to keep. I am simply creating a space between. A parallel exists for me when I hear Christian people who cling to the Defense of Marriage Act suggest that marriage between same-sex couples threatens the sanctity of marriage period, which, they claim, is biblically ordered as between one man and one woman.
How does same-sex marriage threaten the sanctity of marriage so defined? It boggles my mind to hear people say that. In the same light, how does the creation of a sacred space between threaten the orthodoxy of any religion? In truth it doesn’t. It simply invites people into a sacramental and ritual way of being in the world not circumscribed by the particulars of any religion, not defined by any one path or any one God, any one orthodoxy.
The space between strives to give birth to a human recognition of the sanctity of all life forms, and the understanding