Sacred spaces

Saturday morning we went for a walk. We had a couple of errands to run, so we parked in the lot at the Post Office and mailed a package and then walked to the library to return a book. I know that the library has a drive-through book return. I know that you can renew books online, but we were done with that particular book and we needed a walk and the weather was nice. Since we had other things to do that day, we had started out fairly early. We reached the library at about 9:45 and it was obvious from half a block away that the library wasn’t open. We deduced, correctly, that the library doesn’t open until 10 am on Saturday. It was no problem for us. We deposited the book in a book deposit slot and continued our walk.

I mildly missed the fun of going into the library building, but it is an experience that is common for me and so I’ll go another time. I have been thinking about those people who were standing and sitting outside the entrance waiting for the library to open. They came early. I don’t know their stories, but I can imagine that there were all sorts of stories behind the people who were patiently waiting on a Saturday morning to get into the library.

There is something very special about a library. In some ways it is like a church - it is a sacred space hallowed by generations of use and activities. Libraries, like churches, are quiet places. They are places to think and contemplate and they encourage a slower pace.

Yesterday the children of our church were talking about rules and it was pretty much universally agreed that one of the rules of the church is “no running.” I think that rule applies to libraries, too. At least it wouldn’t occur to me to run inside of a library. I usually walk quietly and carefully in libraries.

When we lived in Chicago, I was always a bit troubled by all of the locks and doors. Our apartment was on the second floor of the building. We had a locked door to get into the building, another locked door to get into the stairwell and another locked door at the entrance to our apartment. The space was small and isolated. Windows faced only one direction. We were comfortable and safe in our apartment and our building wasn’t too noisy and we were fortunate to have an apartment on the back side of the building. The ones that faced the street were entertained by a regular procession of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles that used the street as a corridor to reach neighborhoods to the south of the University where fires and other emergency calls occurred frequently. But we could walk a block to the Seminary and soon be inside of the library. The seminary library was spread out over multiple stories with lots of staircases. There were study nooks for students connected by passageways. But the main reading room was two stories tall with high windows and light streaming in on massive oak tables. the space was always quiet and always had an air of being a part of something bigger than oneself. There were too many books for one person to read in a lifetime. There were mysteries that remained after years of study.

Just a few blocks away was Regenstein, the main library of the University of Chicago. It was a temple to books and reading. There were entire floors of collections. And with our seminary IDs we had full access to the entire library. We could even fill out the applications to view documents in the rare book rooms.

I imagine that some of the people who were waiting to get into the library on Saturday morning come from houses that are more chaotic and less spiritual than a library. If you come from a crowded house with multiple people in every room and maybe many people in the same bed, there isn’t really a quiet space in your home. If you’ve spent the night at the Rescue Mission or in one of the safe beds at the Care Campus, you might be longing for a little private space - a place where you can get away from other people. At the library, you can spread out. There is room. There are chairs by the windows where you can dream and be quiet and look out at the world going by. There are high ceilings and architecture designed to inspire. There is peace and quiet.

Like a church, a library is building designed to nurture your spirit. And if you don’t have a space of your own a library welcomes you into a space that you can call your own, if only for a little while.

After we moved from Chicago, I have always worked at a church. I have had ready access to sacred space whenever I want. I regularly take advantage of that space. I go into the sanctuary when there is no one else in the building. I use is as a place to pray and to think and to sort our my ideas. I’ve developed the habit of walking the building even when there are no others there. It started by a simple walk about to check all of the windows and doors to make sure the building was properly locked and all of the lights turned off. I still do that before leaving the building each day, but I also will get up from my work and take a couple of laps around the building to clear my head from time to time. I look into the rooms and remember the meetings and classes and activities that have taken place there. I think of the people who frequent the spaces. I read the names of the children from their artwork posted in the halls and think of the sounds of classrooms full of preschoolers that are there during the week.

I don’t know if librarians walk their buildings in a similar fashion, but I do know that they, like me, are among those privileged to work in sacred spaces. I hope they too find meaning in their spaces.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!