I’m beginning to understand two things: one, what I call the space between is the ground for holy exchange, not only between humans and the biotic world, but also between and among humans; and two, that the space between is hard to come by, even harder to hold.
When I was in the process of writing The Space Church & Not-Church, my editor continued to ask me, “what do people of churches and people not of churches bring to the space between?” I continued to respond that it wasn’t about what people dragged into the space, it was what they were able to release for the sake of deep listening, patience, trust, and respect, as well as a sure and certain knowing of the sacredness of creation.
I have a story to share about this space between sacred experience, although it would be another decade before I understood what this was really about. In 1999 or 2000, a Houston, Texas community of former teenage gang members, graffiti artists, drug dealers, under the auspices of a non-profit called Youth Advocates, came together several times each week to translate their rage, defiance, and often hopelessness into the art of breakdancing. They were an awesome group – funny, smart, compassionate, with older kids mentoring younger ones.
This group of about twenty was invited to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles to accompany the LA teenagers on a fifty mile walk with the former bishop. We’d walk eight or ten miles, then spend the night on the hard floors of some or other church. Each evening we’d do some or other form of Evening Prayer, and the bishop would offer a short homily. That was the pattern.
One evening, the bishop talked of the parable of the mustard seed, while the graffiti artists painted what they were hearing on an eight by four sheet of plywood. Here’s the backstory. That afternoon, my husband Jim and I, along with a couple other adults, had accompanied these three young men to an art store, where they examined various paint nozzles and colors, three heads so close in as to be touching, yes to this one, no to that one, how about this and this in combination?
If we were astonished by the collaborative nature of the adventure then, we were transported by the experience of the evening.
It was a balmy Los Angeles evening, breezy, not muggy, and we gathered in the courtyard. One of the host teens read the story of the mustard seed, and as the bishop spoke, the graffiti artists painted. The leadership was seamless, reminding me of a wise man who once told me (about collaborative leadership) the Spirit dances first on one, then another, then another. The three artists, again so close in they seemed as one body, communicated softly to one another as the bishop spoke, not always with words when words weren’t required. They laid down paint in layer after layer, white hot in the middle, to depict the explosion of the mustard seed itself.
During the years that followed, people looking at this remarkable painting, remembered the Big Bang, the waters of birth, the waters of baptism; they spoke of community, the eye of God. The image of the mustard seed evoked seemingly infinite responses, all of them resounding with the sacredness of the image itself, and to the creative sacred experience that created it.
I think this was my first experience of what it meant to move into the space between. I wouldn’t have called it that yet, because I didn’t understand it. But as I continue to speak and write about the space between as a path to the healing of the biotic community, I offer these as real life practical application of what it means to live there, with others, in the moment, with trust and respect, with a commitment to listen deeply to the creative gifts of the Other, and to honor both process and participants.
I am coming into the understanding – it’s been an evolving process – that the space between is where we will be able to acknowledge the harm we’ve accomplished, between and among humans, and between human and non-human life forms. I believe this is where healing begins, in the space between.
Last night I posted on my personal Facebook page and my Restoring the Waters Facebook page, a link to a TED talk entitled “There are No Mistakes on the Bandstand”. I hope you watch it. But if you don’t, and you stick with this post, I’ll just tell you about it, using improvisational jazz as the vehicle for a space between experience.
Stefon Harris, the band’s leader, begins with this explanation, “Okay, I have no idea what we’re going to play. I have no idea what it is until it happens. So, I didn’t realize there was going to be a little music before, so I think I’mm going to start with what I just heard.” Picture a xylophone with mallets, bass, drums, and a piano. Stefon lays down the pattern on the xylophone and repeats it. At fifty eight seconds, the drummer picks up his drumstick, the bassist’s fingers begin to dance with the strings of his instrument, and the man on the keyboard begins to offer the voice of his own instrument. Six minutes in, and the the band members have created something remarkable.
Stefon continues with his philosophy of “mistakes”. There are none, basically. The only mistake, he says, is “if I am not aware, each individual musician not aware and accepting enough of his fellow band member to incorporate the idea”, in other words if the musicians can’t allow for creativity.
Referring to jazz improv as sacred blessing, Stefon refers to the science of listening, of the value of patience, of the willingness to pull from something going on around him, and thus inspiring others to pull from him.
This is as clear a space between experience as I can imagine. It requires trust, respect, a willingness to embrace life in the moment.