“Space” and “Place” are more important than we often think, and they are especially important when we think of borders, thresholds, liminal space, being on the margins, marginality, and borderlands. Because our lives are full of space(s) and place(s). They shape us into who we are and what we will become…these spaces and places are where we tell our stories of who we are, and they also shape what our stories contain and exclude…how our stories are told and re-told…and why we tell our stories in certain ways. In this sense, many places can be sacred, and all intentional space that we create together should be sacred and bring with it an experience of the “Holy”…not as something separate and set apart (as is traditionally understood)…but as something here and now…with us…in the midst of us…pointing beyond us
“Place” is full of identity and memory. It carries and holds a narrative and a history that connects our identities to individual and communal memories. People and their stories come and go, but the specters of their stories and memories haunt places long after they are gone. Places are cultures, and more specifically, they are sites of cross cultural experiences (they are “multilocalities,” meaning actual locations are many different “places” at the same time)…as we travel into and out of place…crossing and re-crossing thresholds and borders…these places are borderlands in the sense that they form us and shape us through cross cultural identities and memories (they are “multivocalities,” meaning there are a variety of different voices to be heard in a place). A sense of place, then, is vitally important, and we think it is also a spiritual journey…a “spiritual geography.”
Place, then, is a sacred “text” where we can tell our stories, and these stories never stop creating deeper and richer layers of meaning for our communities, our identities, and our shared memories. As Philip Sheldrake writes, “It is appropriate to think of places as texts, layered with meaning. Every place has an excess of meaning beyond what can be seen or understood at any one time. This excess persistently overflows any attempt at a final definition. A place can never be subordinated to a single valuation, one person’s prejudices, or the assumptions of a single group…[and] there can be no sense of place without narrative.” Furthermore, Sheldrake argues, “If place lends structure, context and vividness to narratives, it is stories, whether fictional or biographical, which give shape to place.”
This means that places can be sites of conflict, exclusion, and oppression…or they can be places of hope and renewal and reconciliation. Place can ground us in the here and now, the “thisness” of reality, but it can also keep us too focused on our own particularity and individuality without letting us grasp the larger whole. And, so, we must keep the sense of “place” in tension with the more universal and communal sense of “space.” We must seek to offer sites of reconciliation by inviting “place” and “space” to intersect, and we must also be and embody these sites of reconciliation and transformation. We can do this by always going on our journey…by never arriving at a destination…by always being “in transit” and “on the way”…by being the place of the “sacred” so that we might offer a “space” of and for reconciliation and justice within a cross cultural context…which means we must also be spaces of subversion…on the margins…disrupting and disturbing sites of transformation that disorients and dislodges the dominant narratives of public places…helping to make them sacred through community and justice…by telling our stories and alternative histories of marginalized cultures and theologies.
As such, we become spaces of expectancy, hope, and “becoming” for and with the Other, and it is this understanding and practice of space that, as Sheldrake says, “Drives us ever onwards to embrace the ‘elsewhere,’ ‘the other,’ the semper maior – the always more, the always beyond.” And it is this dynamism that “pushes us forever to transgress boundaries and to exceed limits”…in the name of the Other…so we must practice space as a “practice of resistance to any attempt to homogenize human places.” And so we dive deep into our self and into community, a responsibility with others, in order to practice this radical sense of space that is always a formative and sacred endeavor…and always unfinished…