Sacred Space, and 2 Poems on Language


Tomorrow night we meet once again to create our next Sacred Space evening together. Perhaps there is no better time to reflect on our last Sacred Space, and share what I consider two absolute gems that came of it–original poems by Stephen Berg on language and inclusion. April 25th's Bleeding Heart Sacred Space was all about inclusion, exclusion, and the role language plays in both. Words have power. Words of hate, or even words misunderstood, can divide and conquer us. Words of hope can bring us together, like the rallying 'I have a dream' of Martin Luther King, Jr.

We got to these thoughts through the four passages from the Lectionary, each one revealing a facet of this theme. Peter receives a vision telling him to eat a variety of animals once forbidden–animals representing cultures outside his own tight religious community. The dream is from God, and it means Peter is to move beyond his safe community and share God's Good News with the waiting world. Every nation, we are told in Revelation, will be singing songs together in the end. Those like us and those very, very different, will have 'hallelujah' on their lips. We will all be singing Psalms, and we will be surprised at some of the voices around us. Jesus has thrown the doors open. Love spills over. Everyone is invited.

Our Sacred Space evenings last an hour, and include communion, prayer and readings. Beyond that they each look quite different. Each has left an treasured image or experience in my mind. This time, it is the words of Stephen Berg that linger. Stephen wrote two poems for our evening together (fitting, as it was Poetry Month). Each poem gave us pictures to ponder and metaphors to tease out. The second gave us a prayer for the night. Stephen has graciously posted those online, and I'm happy to share them with you here.

Stephen Berg's first poem

1. Consider the mechanics: your thought, a lexical chain, turns wheel, pushrod presses diaphragm, air rushes from lungs to trachea, excites larynx, passes over vocal folds, periodic pulses of glottis, fashions phonemes, for post-throat conditioning, and in the roll and yaw of mandible tongue clicks free from its cavity, flings phonemes through caves of mouth and nose, past teeth to lip aperture, and you pray, that this phonetical filament, in resonance of pitch and tone, might bear some similarity to your original thought.

2. If language was used less, it may last longer. But tell that to the tongue.

3. The tongue, impatient, conceives its own path,

no chain of thought threatens its domain. It is too nimble, too quick; jacks up minds, high-jacks hearts.

So heart and mind must take tongue by the hand, to the wilderness, with its slow forms of fingers, feather quills, ink and bark,

to peel and pare, and make tongue fit, for a king indicting a goodly matter. The tongue at last, the pen of a ready writer.

4. I tell my love: words fall through space out of sheer loneliness. Go wild on their own, pine for connective tissue.

Take this noun for instance, huddled against abstraction, vagrant, indigent, dying in isolation even with other nouns.

But should a willing adjective stop by, noun is changed, liberated, coloured, like a scarlet macaw, through coupling.

And see that verb that glances, how it’s struck by the painted preposition enticed into a syntactical ménage à trois to create the tight triadic world of a sentence.

Forging fact or fantasy, able to convey beauty or blight, hate or light, or this singular thought: My love, I adore you.

5. I know a poet who listens to the spaces between words. Narrows the gap of these small cracks through which meaning falls. Resists the temptation to choose the better sounding word rather than the right one. Waits for 20 years until the better sounding word becomes the right one.

6. Language is a river, its headwater unscalable, unseen; gathers lexicon from a great glossal basin of branches, feeders, rills. And dialectic detritus from distant rains.

River winds, flows toward fluent confluences of meaning; meaning shared, then sundered by rocks and rapids; languishes in argot eddies, reconstitutes in quiet currents.

Silt, sediment, alluvial sleep, force lingual bends into overstated arches until banks are breached and the bend cut off, leaving behind an oxbow lake, stagnant as Latin.

Still the river flows.


Steven Berg's second poem (a prayer)

Zachariah, Peter and Sly Stone

Soon the Octave of Easter weeks will be swallowed by the flat terrain of ordinary time, left to graze on the greying memories of holy week.

And now I’m wondering: does sacred need profane? Didn’t the eyes of Zechariah burn with a new light? Gazing on those common cooking pots and horse bells seeing ‘holy-to-the-Lord’ blaze itself onto the quotidian, his inventory overturned, unbound, suddenly fluid.

And Peter too—in the shimmering glow of his inclusive act, standing by his new friend, quaking in the greening comprehension— had cried, the dream-in-waiting has arrived, the revelation-revolution is that you, friend, are holy.

He’d seen, at the in-gathering of everyday people the sacredness of all breath and breathless things. How God had sung the buzzing, blooming world, this giant bejewelled chalice, holy.

But how hard it is to transpose this new song. Hard to find our meaning beyond division. Easier to stay safe on the righteous side of a conjured line, call our exacting ability to classify and codify, the gift of discernment.

Easier to be over and above, than to love; easier to breach than to merge; easier to preach than converge, and try create a supple ‘we’ beyond the icy ‘us-and-them.’

And back at the Temple we sweep out the odd and ungainly, the queer and the quirky, all those mismatched colours onto the coarse ground, keeping holy holy, and profane profane.

And now, as I write, Sly and the Family Stone comes pop, funk, soul, rock-ing over these cafe speakers, singing “Everyday People.”

And a girl in a red top sitting in a purple chair starts to sing, “There is a blue one who can’t accept The green one for living with a black one… And so on and so on… Oh sha sha… We gotta live together.”

First band to mix race and gender, Family Stone climbed the stage and danced their kaleido-delic diversity onto the human plain.

But alright, we’re still in our swaddling clothes, needing to designate times, places, things holy, raise to mind and stamp our memory matrices with coordinates through which we can seize and fuse a reality that can be rehearsed, transcribed and coaxed, onto the cosmos entire. And by this, should we be moved to see what we are —we may call it liturgy.

Zachariah, Peter and Sly knew the aim; knew that every day is Easter, knew that all time is ordinary—and kissed holy, that all people are everyday—kissed holy.

--- This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. On this day, millennia ago, God performed a miracle of language. Fresh off the death and resurrection of Jesus, he spoke to an international crowd each in their own language, through ordinary Jewish followers of Jesus. It was the first occurrence of 'speaking in tongues' and it was all about inclusion. God's spirit is still calling us all to the table, in our own language.

The most beautiful thing about Sacred Space is discovering what each participant brings to the table. Stephen Berg brought poems. What might you bring?

We hope you can join us this Thursday night at 7 at St.Faiths (11725 93rd street).


Read more from Stephen Berg at

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