A Sacred Space

By Chelsea Stanton

I love fortune cookies.  Honestly, though, I could do without the cookie part: what I really want is the little slip of paper hidden inside.  They feel like tiny premonitions, surrounded by sugar (a method Mary Poppins would approve).  A few that sit taped to my alarm clock read: “You have a charming way with words and should write a book,” “You tend to have deeper thoughts than you are able to express to others,” and best of all “Others enjoy your radiance.”

I think what I really want is a little slip of paper to give me a one-sentence answer to all the difficulties in my life.  Or maybe several little slips of paper dropped down from Jaarsma’s almond cakes at just the right moments.  For some reason, I expect my deepest truths to be given me from outside. I don’t trust myself to weigh the drawings and differences I feel every day and collect them into something meaningful and accepting.  The task of discovering my life’s purpose seems too important to leave with someone clumsy and stumbling like me.

As a super introverted person, the most interesting and intense things in my life happen inside my head, where only God and I hang out.  I’m beginning to see this—my mind, my consciousness, this place between my ears?—as a sacred space.

Parker Palmer, in his book Let Your Life Speak, writes: “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.  I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”

I now see that my  sacred head-space doesn’t need fortunes imposed from outside, despite the church-y and societal rules layered over who I am.  Rather, I must respect what happens on the couches in my head where God and I sit together and listen to my life.  My vocation becomes more clear, now that I’m listening.

So, my vocation thus far, according to my life: to practice reconciliation across race, class, and gender lines; to seek and serve Christ in every person; to offer presence, hospitality, and a listening ear; to cultivate what Henri Nouwen calls “free and friendly spaces” where truth and love can be shared without fear.

In short, to live in and cultivate sacred space.

A Marta Moment

By Chelsea Stanton

An exciting Thursday: today is the day of the Thanksgiving basket sign-up!  Managing the steep stairs down from our apartment, I see crimped lines of people stretching down the driveway, waiting (im)patiently for a neon bright index card with the Muriel Lokey Center stamp and number that Bethany and I spent Wednesday preparing. It is just after 9 a.m. and already a crowd of triumphant people loiter at Mr. McGruder’s store and the bus stop, moving on with their day, secure that Thanksgiving dinner will happen this year.

I wander past the lines, clad with my splattered-paint backpack and purple Vans, to join the folks at the northbound MARTA stop, all standing quietly. My travels on Atlanta’s unreliable public transit help me feel like a part of the city, moving through the streets en masse, sharing a common experience with thousands of annoyed travelers.  Like a tiny miracle of regularity, the bus appears, the driver greets, and our group moves onto the already-and-always crowded #55.  I take my usual place standing beside the back doors, my paleness sticking out like a sore white thumb, a familiar sensation.

“I saw all those people waiting at the bottom of the driveway, not even seeing that red-bearded man waiting at the top with nobody around ‘im.  So I just trotted on up there.  Made it out with my card in five minutes,” the woman in the green hat announces, smugly yet warmly.

“Me too, dawlin’.  I saw you start up there and followed right behind,” says the woman with the red handbag, “a great idea.”  They discuss more thoroughly the placement of the card givers and the silliness of the unobservant folk waiting in line.

The first woman turns to me, and, with a look of motherly concern, asks, “What number did you get?”

“Me?” I say, surprised and delighted to be invited into a conversation I thought I’d only been eavesdropping in on, “I didn’t get one.”  She tilts her head at me with a look that questions why not.

The conversation continues, my brain simultaneously listening and wandering off to process.  A Word arises in my mind, matter-of-factly: this is where & who you need to be.  A member of humanity, living in touch with the reality of poverty, refusing privilege earned by oppression, remembering moments that bring into focus the beautiful commonality once dulled by prejudice and fear.

I am overcome with gratitude.  Thankful to be a part of the life of the city.  Thankful to be seen as more than my skin color and my gender.  Thankful to be cared for by strangers.  Thankful to be perceived without judgment or strict expectation.  Thankful for a moment of communion.

Our conversation continues, jokes waffling in the air between the two women, myself, and a man carrying a retro Dijon yellow suitcase. I lean against the cold metal bar, shuffling away from the door at the stop-requested dings, amazed to be where I am.