Peace in an unlikely place

By Clyde Davis: CNJ columnist

I recently ran across an entry call for an art show, in which the admittedly open or ambiguous theme was “Sacred Spaces and Sacred Places.” As the promoters willingly acknowledged, this sort of theme can create either opportunity, or confusion.

What, after all, is a sacred space? I know that answer as it applies to my own perception, but does that necessarily apply across the board? Might there not be a person, perhaps polar opposite of myself, whose concept of sacred space is the center of a large city, while mine would encompass mountains, ocean, lake, empty if possible of all that was not natural.

I have in fact been with such a person, while serving as command chaplain at Fort Hamilton, an Army post located in the shadow of the Staten Island Bridge. The deacon who was the Catholic chaplain at that post, a civilian, was such a person.

Except for his service in World War II, the deacon had never spent more than a vacation outside the confines of New York. Though he was 80 years old, I always let him do the driving around the city; navigating the traffic in his big silver Lincoln was second nature to Deacon Bill.

He’d spent an entire career — an estimable one — as a journalist for the New York Times. If you do the math, you realize that his time encompassed the heyday of the big city newspaper, and I used to listen with rapt attention when he would talk about those days, when people went to their newspaper as habitually as they now go online.

The deacon could not have functioned outside of New York, with its frenetic energy and chaos. Drop him down in the middle of the woods, or on the shores of a lake, and Deacon Bill would have been lost, frightened, and confused (as I would have been if I had to drive through Manhattan).

The concept of sacred space, as the organizers of this show are apparently well aware, is highly individual or at best, group determined. We could stretch the boundaries further by reminding the reader that, in some measure, sacred space can also be an interior or internal process.

I have wondered if a piece of this may not be ancestral or genetic, given the fact that some people are “whole,”