Sacred Ground

 Carolyn asked if I would use this space to say a little about the Sacred Ground dialogue circles that are just getting underway at St. Paul’s, but I want to start with a story of my own childhood. 
     I did most of my growing up in a small suburban town of 4000 people in northern New Jersey, where I walked home for lunch every day right through 8th grade. My parents chose that town because of the high taxes, since high taxes meant that residents supported the schools. My parents’ core belief (besides active involvement in the local Episcopal Church) was that money should be spent on good food and good education, so I ate well and attended excellent public schools. In the afternoons after school, starting in 3rd grade, I’d often go with a group of friends to play in the woods at the end of our street. Everywhere – everywhere — I went, I felt completely safe, loved, and secure. I assumed that this was how life worked for everybody. I have often talked about my “golden childhood.” What I now see, as I move more deeply into the Sacred Ground curriculum, is that I actually had a very “white” childhood.

     Sacred Ground is a workshop deliberately designed for white-white dialogue. As Ijeoma Olua, a woman of color, says: “White People, I don’t want you to understand me better; I want you to understand yourselves.”

     The purpose of these Sacred Ground dialogue circles is to help us do just that: to better understand ourselves by reflecting on our own family stories within the context of white culture, acknowledging the (mostly unrecognized) privileges we have inherited at the expense of those we have been accustomed to identify as “other.” The purpose is never to elicit guilt or to place blame. The Sacred Ground curriculum is carefully designed to open our eyes to the ongoing effects of systemic racism on those who experience it, while simultaneously helping us recognize the subtle forms of racism we ourselves might unintentionally still be carrying, and to accept the reality of white privilege as part of our lived experience (such as my “golden” childhood). It’s a shared journey into self-awareness, with the understanding that ultimately this self-awareness will call us into the work of racial reconciliation, whether by how we re-vision our own and our nation’s history, by how we pray, by how we interact with others, or by more active social and political engagement.

     St. Paul’s currently has three Sacred Ground dialogue circles (although the dialogue circle I’m part of is actually more of a “dialogue square” since we meet via Zoom). There are 10 sessions in all; the group I’m in will be meeting monthly, meaning that we will be doing this sacred work from now through next April.

     If you are not currently taking part in one of these Sacred Ground dialogue circles but are interested, please contact the church office; a list is already underway for another dialogue circle (or more) in the fall.

     Meanwhile, tend yourselves, body and soul, knowing that God is with us even in the midst of pandemic and protest, tear gas and grief. Jesus lived in such a world, and he is with us now, calling us always to hope.

Many blessings and a virtual hug,
Mary Lee