By Steven Norris
Wendell Berry is the kind of Baptist I want to be when I grow up. A Kentucky farmer, the 86 year old novelist, poet, essayist, and environmentalist faithfully advocates for a deep connection to our land and for a corresponding spirituality of rootedness.
Some years ago, a friend of mine presented me with a copy of Berry’s poem, “How to Be a Poet.” He said that I should read it carefully, substituting “preacher” for “poet” and “sermon” for “poem” throughout the text. I now have it pasted on the inside cover of my Bible.
Listen to these words: “Breathe with unconditional breath / the unconditioned air. / Shun electric wire. / Communicate slowly. Live / a three-dimensioned life; / stay away from screens. / Stay away from anything / that obscures the place it is in. / There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places.”
The last three lines have the most profound affect on my soul. They propel me to consider those places in my life, places in our local community, and places in our shared cultural life together that have been “desecrated” in the past year. They point me toward the places that feel violated, disrespected, or gravely dishonored.
Are there places in your life where violence has been perpetrated — whether physically, verbally, or emotionally? Do the “safe havens” or “sanctuaries” in your life now feel invaded, profaned, and no longer feel safe? Have spaces in your life been marked by injustice that has gone unchallenged?
Many of us are praying for a season of healing — physically, emotionally, and socially. I can’t help but wonder if, in that same spirit of prayer, some of these desecrated places might be consecrated and sanctified once again.
The season of Lent begins next week. For 40 days, people of faith mark the journey towards Christ’s death and resurrection with an increased focus on repentance, prayer, and communion with God. This year, I suggest that our Lenten journey might include an intentional effort to reclaim some of these spaces.
For the next few weeks, I want to challenge us all to consider how such a reclamation project might take place. First, let us begin with an honest assessment of naming the places in our lives that have been violated. We must be truthful in naming the areas of pain and injury.
Then, let us then courageously search our own hearts, asking the Spirit of God to reveal any areas of complicity for which we need to repent. Have we harmed others or supported systems that have continued to devolve, unchecked and unchallenged, for years. While we don’t have control over others, we can certainly allow the healing work to begin in us.
Finally, let us find creative rituals — simple or elaborate, formal or informal — to reclaim these as sacred spaces. As individual households, neighborhoods, church communities, or in virtual spaces, let us take concrete steps to honor the presence of the Holy in and among us.