Friday, April 8, 2011

SACRED SPACES…


This morning I’m re-reading a copy of a column entitled “Sacred Space” that appeared in “Tuesday Morning,” a Sewanee publication edited by my good friend, The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz.  Susanna is the professor of Contextual Education at the School of Theology here at the University of the South and has often appeared in my poetry as the Tuesday morning preacher at St. Mary’s Convent where I attend Morning prayer and Eucharist some weekdays.

Susanna not only teaches and preaches, she’s a songbird with a beautiful operatic voice who does workshops in Music, Goal Setting, and Marketing.  She leaves us each summer to work on her Ph.D. at Exeter in the British Isles. A woman with long auburn braids, she’s fond of bright colors and wears a ring on each finger, standing in her bare feet on the altar when offering up the bread and wine.  As I wrote in an article published in “The Pathfinder” (a quarterly publication of the Grundy County Historical Society), Susanna celebrates at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, Battle Creek, Tennessee, “speaking extemporaneously most of the time, looking down at the open Bible, shutting her eyes and musing, then opening them and saying ‘hmmm,’ letting the Holy Spirit direct her spontaneous thoughts.”

SACRED LINDISFARNE, IN THE NORTH SEA OF COAST OF ENGLAND
The article she wrote in “Sacred Space” about Lindisfarne, an island in the North Sea off the northeastern coast of England, close to the Scottish border, shows that Susanna is as accomplished with the pen as she is with the spoken word.  In the article she’s walking barefoot across “the wet-packed sand studded with slippery, seaweed-covered rocks between Lindisfarne and Cuthbert’s Island…where the rippling tide of the North Sea pulls back from the island every six hours, leaving an expanse of sea bottom littered with beauty…seaweed of many kinds, colors, and textures; shells…and the ever-changing sparkle of sun dancing across the bare sand…”

I think Susanna is a poet, as well as a prophet, and her pilgrimage to Lindisfarne to see the ruins where Sts. Aidan and Cuthbert lived and prayed inspired her to create many beautiful lines while she was in a sacred space.  She describes her thoughts when she runs her fingers along the deep cuts of chevrons “carved by nameless masons centuries go…as a way of connecting viscerally with the vibrations of hymns and prayers that soaked into the stones from the mouths of monks and pilgrims.  I want to pretend that this place was so thin then that earth felt like heaven with every step…”

CUTHBERT ISLAND, A SACRED PLACE TO PRAY
I’ve written about sacred places before, but Susanna describes these spaces more eloquently: “A thin place where earth and heaven are so close you can almost touch the separating veil.  I imagine I can feel the presence of the nameless monk whose grave lies empty near the monastery wall.  Nearby sheep still graze and seagulls swoop and cry.  This is truly sacred space—a place where the invisible soul takes on weight…”

Cuthbert’s Island seemed to be the favored choice of Susanna’s adventures to the islands.  There, she visited the sunken area surrounded by rocks that mark where St. Cuthbert’s hut probably stood.  A towering cross marks the place, and pilgrims like Susanna often place stones and shells at its base.

“I sit in that place to pray, to think, to drink in the beauty of God’s creation and a saint’s presence,” she writes. “On my first visit, I felt my soul sink into the ground and find purchase there.  That part of my soul has stayed on that island and will forever.  The small shells and stones I’ve brought back home connect me to what I’ve left there…”

REV. SUSANNA'S COLUMNS
These are only isolated excerpts from Susanna’s column, but readers can see why we’re glad she’s among us at St. Mary’s.  Most of the time she’s preaching about issues of justice and peace, and we understand why she needs these periodic visits to sacred spaces in the British Isles where “in the silence of a beautiful [thin] place surrounded by creation [she] often hears the call of a needy society…”

I was saddened when Susanna didn’t become the Bishop of Northern Michigan (even though she was one of two finalists), but everyone at St. Mary’s breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t leave us sans our Tuesday morning prophet. 
Post a Comment