Where is your sanctuary in the midst of life’s catastrophes and chaos? How will you take the time to nurture your soul?
© Joel Nakamura/theispot.com
Just off Kenosha Pass on Highway 285 in Colorado, you’ll find the trailhead for segment 6 of the Colorado Trail. On a recent drive north from Salida, I stopped there and hiked through aspens, evergreens, and remnants of snow to a sundrenched picnic bench overlooking the Mosquito Mountain Range. Other hikers were few, and sitting there with my face to the sun, the wind chilly yet comfortable, I felt the rush and roar of my days grow quiet. I thought of the places—not many, it seems—that allow for the distillation of one’s musings, the merging of familiar ideas into new creations, and of the companions who gently hold the space for discernment when needed.
I thought of the women—black, Asian American, and queer white American—who form my emerging peer discernment circle, based on the Circle of Trust approach developed by Parker Palmer. How together we “turn to wonder,” building a web of relationships that allows us to “attend to our own inner teachers,” and to do so with deep care. While I’ve not always warmed to retreat spaces, finding the white cultural norms they embody, at times, stifling, these women are a wonderful mix of warm, playful, thoughtful, and deeply committed to love and justice in this life. They are a gift. They are my sundrenched sanctuary in the midst of the personal and national catastrophes and chaos that rip through life all too frequently.
We practice being present with our complex and unguarded selves knowing that we’re each holding to basic principles like “no fixing, saving, or advising”; knowing that we will be met with open and honest questions that have the power to be transformative in the moment and beyond. Because of its invitational nature, the web we’re weaving is flexible enough for each of us to be, to stretch, and to show up just as we are. Our process is generative and bounded by principles that allow for personal discovery within community.
In my first encounter with the Circle of Trust approach, I struggled mightily to understand what was expected of me if I couldn’t “fix, save, or advise”; what else was there to draw on? Slowly, I was introduced to the power of questions that are not about satisfying my curiosity, questions that I could not possibly know the answer to. These are questions that focus on the narrator, on the moment, on being a gift for the person offering their vulnerable and holy self to a group of witnesses.
I have learned that trust isn’t always easy to gain, naming a space safe doesn’t necessarily make it so, and offering an invitation doesn’t guarantee that the recipient will feel welcomed. I’ve also learned that having a space defined by “no fixing, saving, or advising” can allow for the tender self to be present as fully as possible, bringing its joys, challenges, fears, hopes, and discontents.
In my peer discernment group, as we play within the boundaries of the Circle of Trust approach, we become witnesses to the messy and creative holy work of being fully alive right now. Shortly after the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, in Orlando, on Latinx Night, we gathered via video conference, creating the space for each of us to have our varied reactions without judgment. I arrived with a heart busted open and found myself held by others who were still grappling with what they themselves felt. We didn’t all need to feel the same thing; we only needed to hold the space for each other to show up as we are without qualifications.
Sometimes, it seems like there are so few places in which we can show up and be as fully present as possible, so few places in which our unguarded selves are heard into being. What spaces can you and will you create to allow for the distillation of your musings? To allow for your inner knowing to emerge, be seen, and be accepted? Where is your sanctuary in the midst of life’s catastrophes and chaos? How will you take the time to nurture your soul?
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The Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde serves the UUA as professional development director in Ministries and Faith Development from her home in Longmont, Colorado. She identifies as an African descent queer, cisgender female with deep roots in Tobago and will readily admit that there is much about her current identity that reflects her twenty-plus years of living in the United States.