But when I look at boundaries as something to separate one place or person from another, something to mark the confines of safe territory, a border which should never be crossed, or only crossed with extreme caution, I miss something. According to an essay on courage by Isaura Barrera, “sacer” is a old Greek word used to mark the border of civilization, a warning that what lies beyond includes danger. And it's also the root of the word “sacred”.
Dangerous and sacred – a jarring juxtaposition at first, until I really begin to deconstruct the idea. Barrera also says that boundaries serve another function, marking the space where two different realities touch. Courageously moving beyond the conventional boundaries allows us to find connection and synergy between distinct and differing ideas, where often we only find conflict. Isn't that connection between myself and something other, different, larger really what the word sacred is trying to convey?
When I think about God showing up, it's never within the boundaries. God shows up in the connection between two very different realities. God shows up outside the lines. And messengers from God often resort to a common opening statement “Do not fear!”. Why? Because when I encounter something out of bounds, I tend to experience fear. Often, that fear keeps me from stepping over the line. I resist connection with anything different, strange, unexplainable, illogical, other. Because it's frightening to encounter something I cannot immediately recognize or categorize, something I disagree with that causes me to examine my thoughts and feelings and actions.
This fear is evident in the political and religious climate around us today. Conflict and criticism of the other rule the day. Our lines are sharply drawn, and we are told over and over again that we have to make a choice between one thing and another, take a stand, protect the border from the enemy who seeks to destroy. And living in fear, the sacred is nowhere to be found.
What if instead of conflict, I could look for connection? When I take the risk of moving outside protected territory and really engaging with someone or something different, when I allow myself to overcome my fear and connect with another who doesn't look or talk or act or believe like I do, then sacred space is created. And in these connections, barriers come down, understanding starts to unfold, respect and dignity are offered, and love becomes the field in which we operate together, love instead of fear.
I cannot, and would not want to, deconstruct every boundary. The sudden loss of security would only create chaos. But I can be aware of where my fear stops me. I can dialogue with those voices that shout “don't you dare”. And I can risk taking a step or two or three into new territory. Because when I face my fear and open my heart to connect with someone or something beyond my comfort zone, God shows up. And when we hold each other's hearts as sacred, we strengthen the very web of connectivity that supports us all.
Sacred, from the Greek, sacer. Posted on signs that marked the edge of a territory, the end of safety, the beginning of the wild. Cross only if you dare it says. Caution. Danger that way lies.
If you go, you will be alone.
Beware, there are wild things beyond the borders.
Instead, I say, step across with courage. Step into the sacred circle. Here you are not alone. Together we will face mother bear, until you melt into her embrace. Together we will share this sacred circle of dreams. And we will be home.