Space Between the Spaces

26 November 2006
Arlington Street Church
Mr. Barb Greve

exceprt from Interstitial Integrity by Rita Nakashima Brock (1)

Interstitial life often feels like a process of being torn among several different worlds that refuse to get along. It can, in its transcendence, however, feel as if one is following the rhythms of a migrating bird. The bird cannot rest long in one place, but it finds nourishment and strength to fly on. This refusal to rest in one place, to reject a narrowing of who we are by either/or decisions, or to be placed always on the periphery, is interstitial integrity. Interstitial refers to the places in between, which are real places, like the strong connective tissue between organs in the body that link the parts. This interstitiality is a form of integrity, not a state of being impaired or lesser than one whose identity is monocultural, as if such a thing ever really existed anymore except by self-deception. Integrity has to do with moments of entireness, of having no part taken away or wanting. Integrity is closely related to integration, to acts of connecting many disparate things by holding them together. Integr(ity)ation is ongoing renewal and restoration, learning how to live in the tensions of holding together all the complex parts of who we are.


Claude Debussy is attributed with saying “Music is the space between the notes.” John Cage proved this true when in 1952 he composed his piece “4 minutes, 33 seconds.” Do you know the piece? I consider it to be one of the most amazing pieces of music out there. Imagine attending a performance of it – you’re sitting in the audience prepared for a brilliant musical performance. The lights go down and the pianist comes out on stage. S/he sits at the piano and then for the next 4 minutes and 33 seconds, with the exception of an occasional page turn, s/he seems to be doing nothing but sitting there. Imagine that for the first half-minute or so the audience around you waits patiently and quietly. But how long would go by before feet started to shuffle? And not long after that, throats might be cleared, joined by an occasional cough. Imagine audience members who are attending the concert together beginning to turn and look at each other, perhaps even shrugging, quickly flipping through programs to make sure they understood to what piece they were supposed to be listening. Imagine, as the pianist flips a page that the audience’s anxiety increases, thus providing more sound to the piece. For four minutes and 33 seconds, the only music performed is that of those gathered together in the concert hall. And then, as simply as it began the piece ends. The pianist stands up, faces the audience, and bows before leaving the stage. The audience, perhaps yourself included, is unsure if clapping is the proper thing to do.

The first time I heard the piece, about 2 minutes into it I began to listen beyond the audience created sounds to the sounds of the room – the heating, the ventilation system, the high pitched buzz of the sconces at the end of each row. I heard the creaks of seats as people shifted their positions and I began to hear my own body – the rush of blood through my veins as my heart beat, the air flowing in and out of my nose and lungs, my knee cracking as I stretched my leg. Sounds that I don’t often take the time to listen to: sounds that exist between the sounds of the everyday auditory onslaught.

Among those I’ve spoken with who have experienced this piece (and I would truly describe “hearing” it as an experience like none other), I have heard a full range of likes or otherwise. I love the piece because it asks of me that I pay close attention to what is going on around me. It reminds me that I don’t do anything alone, that together communities create a cacophony of sound and experience. And through those shared experiences we make meaning.

This in turn reminds me of our religious communities. The communities we create in our churches not only make cacophony together, but also teach one another to appreciate the complexity and multiplicity of life…to recognize the interstitial spaces and build an integrity that holds the all of all of us.

We are a community where people are confident enough to be themselves. We are surrounded by people who strive to never compromise their principles for the sake of others, and will take a stand on important issues, whether those issues directly impact their lives or the lives of those around them. We remind one another that life is a mystery and the universe is a complex place. That there are questions, answers, questions in the answers, and often those questions and the journey that leads us to them, are more important than any answer we might find. We try never to forget that religion is a powerful force in our lives and cannot be easily extracted from the human experience.

As the late Reverend A. Powell Davies once wrote, “Religion is not something separate and apart from ordinary life. It is life – life of every kind viewed from the standpoint of meaning and purpose: life lived in the fuller awareness of its human quality and spiritual significance.”(2)

I have a quote posted next to the inside frame of my home study. It is in this location so that I see it every time I leave my study. The quote is from Kahlil Gibran, who wrote in The Prophet, “Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.”(3) This is no easy task to be called to do, but nonetheless it is a worthy one to strive for. I was first introduced to Gibran’s message about twenty-five years ago when my childhood minister first lent me his copy of The Prophet. Its meaning was instilled in me by my congregation’s religious education program and is one of a handful of lessons that I carry deep in the core of my being.

I often find myself returning to those core lessons I once learned in religious education. I particularly remember participating in the kindergarten curriculum, Haunting House. Through this curriculum I learned that the places around me and my body itself were sacred and special. The class semester started out with each child bringing a small, special object to the first class. We made a home for our objects, all the while talking about the importance of having special places to go to. As the semester progressed we moved on to make special places for ourselves out of large appliance boxes, again connecting the activity with a discussion of why it was important to have our own places. I remember that at some point in the class I made a connection to the life of a turtle, an image that has stayed with me through all of my years.

I believe that at times we can each be characterized by the turtle. Times when we are out and about, engaged fully in the world; slowly exploring what is around us. At other times withdrawn into our shells, protecting ourselves from the chaos that can be life; hoping to contemplate the experiences we have had.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker J. Palmer asks, “What does it mean to listen to a voice before it is spoken?” He answers the question later by writing, “It means making space for the other, being aware of the other, paying attention to the other, honoring the other. It means not rushing to fill … silences with fearful speech of our own and not trying to coerce [others] into saying the things that we want to hear. It means entering emphatically into the … world so that [others] perceive you as someone who has the promise of being able to hear another person’s truth.”(4)

Hear the concert of the community, listen for the voice before it speaks, hold the integrity of interstitial space… These are some of the many core values of our Unitarian Universalist communities and religious education programs. Not just the children’s programs, but all age levels. Our religious education is lifespan education – reaching from birth to death and including many values and lessons. Among my favorites are our emphases to embrace our search for truth and meaning while encouraging one another toward spiritual growth, and striving toward deeper relationship with others in our lives (both human and otherwise).

As I’ve grown and aged I have discovered that in addition to building on the lessons of my childhood, I am continuing my search for deeper questions and answers. I am constantly reminded to appreciate the journey that takes me to not only the answers, but also new questions. I am challenged to slow down and listen to the space between the spaces; to allow time to pass so that I can observe the world around me and make space for others to contemplate, and allow thoughts within me to percolate.

Our world doesn’t provide us many opportunities for contemplation. We aren’t often encouraged to pause long enough to recollect the miseries of the world we live in or pause to smell the roses. Rarely do we stop and consider the bigger questions of life, we’re too busy trying to make ends meet – whether financially, in our relationships, or time-wise. So church should be, must be, a place where we can not only pause long enough to ask the questions, but also hang around and enjoy the journey the questions take us on. Here is the place where we learn to listen to the space between the spaces, to embrace Cage’s concepts of community concert.

Religious community should offer us opportunities to further educate ourselves through both intellectual study and direct experience. I believe that many of us learn best not when we read a book and discuss it, but rather when we are able to experience a lesson and apply that experience to our every day life. It is my hope that we will provide more and more opportunities to teach and learn beyond the dualism and dichotomy of our current lives. Perhaps opening up to new sources of inspiration along the way…

Which reminds me of the time I found G*d. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the source of inspiration in this story, but I found that I had little choice in the matter.

It happened in one of those absolute, unsuspecting, out of the blue, out of the ordinary moments. I had, during college been a janitor and had spent much too much of my time reading and thinking while I was sweeping the food court floor. And so I had read John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, several times over.

The story was inspirational and I decided that I would leave my job and drive around the country in hopes of finding myself. I didn’t have a dog named Charlie, in fact I didn’t have any dog, but I did have my a tiny Toyota Tercel; filled to the brim with camping equipment and Spagettios – enough to last for well over a month.

As I was driving I saw pieces of our country that were awesome and phenomenal. The beauty of a sunrise over a river that amazingly exists alongside a highway. It was October and the leaves, oh the leaves – the magnificent reds and oranges. The yellows that looked golden in just the right light. Purple that blended in just so. And so it was in fact while I was driving from Wisconsin to Iowa that I discovered a beautiful mountain range covered with such beauty.

The road I was on happened to be one of those highways where you have just 2 lanes, one going in each direction. Add to that fierce crosswinds that bucked my little car to and fro and you’ve got a sense of my drive.

Just my car and I, bucking and waving as I didn’t pay much attention to where I was driving but instead looked out at those reds and yellows, oranges, purples, and greens of the leaves on the trees. It was breath-taking and I got myself lost. Very, very lost – lost in both thought and geography. I might add at this point that there was only one major road to get from Appleton, WI to Iowa City, IA. I was on the right road, but I was lost.

I had left in search of myself realizing as I was searching that I was also running away from myself – something that you can never quite do in a car. So there I was, deep in thought wondering where my life was taking me; contemplating what I was going to do with it. And then before I knew what was happening, there in the southern regions of Wisconsin, where I least expected it, I found G.O.D. …

…in the form of an eighteen wheeler truck.

Now if you don’t know the company, it’s a fabulous company called “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” and on the backend of their trucks it says “G.O.D.” G-O-D. Right there – you can’t miss it really. And so it was right there for me to find. “G.O.D.”

I realized as I swerved my tiny Toyota Tercel and hoped we didn’t crash, that in fact I had found G*d. I had found that divine moment in my life where there was absolute clarity. Not only did I avoid smacking into the back of the truck (always a good thing), but I realized that the definition of g*d mattered a lot less than the relationship we have with g*d or spirit or universe or any of the many names we call the holy and divine. I came to believe it is not just the relationship with that divinity, but also the relationship with each other that is important. Who would have ever had thought that such a profound epiphany could come from almost colliding into an eighteen-wheeler rig?

Rita Nakashima Brock, in the excerpt we used for the reading this morning, reminds us that “Interstitial refers to the places in between, which are real places, like the strong connective tissue between organs in the body that link the parts.” I pose it to you that the connections between each of us are such places. And further, that those places are the very places where divinity (G*d if you will) exists the strongest.

Davies and Gibran teach us that religion and life are not something separate, but are connected – with us always. Wherever we go, whatever we do we bring our religion with us.

Brock, Debussy, Cage, and Palmer all remind us that it is important to pay attention to the “spaces between the notes.” As we enter into the rush of the commercial Christmas season, constantly accosted with do, do, do and buy, buy, buy… perhaps it is more important that usual to pause and find the space between the spaces. In a world that is constantly rushing us from “point a” to “point b” and further, let this community, this place be a sanctuary where we can listen for the spaces between the spaces. May we begin to understand that those spaces, whether filled with notes, cacophony, silence, or a combination thereof; that those spaces are the dwelling place of the Divine.

Ashe, Amin, Blessed Be.

words by the Rev. Erika Hewitt

The hand in yours belongs to a person
whose heart is sometimes tender,
whose skin is sometimes thin,
whose eyes sometimes fill with tears,
whose laughter is a beautiful sound.
The hand that you hold belongs to a person who is seeking wholeness,
and knows that you are doing the same.
As you leave this sanctuary,
may your hearts remain open
may your voices stay strong
and may your hands remained outstretched.


1) Rita Nakashima Brock, “Interstitial Integrity,” in Introduction to Christian Theology: Contemporary North American Perspectives, ed. Roger A. Badham (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 190.


3) Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923), 78.

4) Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 46.

Published in: on 26 November 2006 at 11.00  Leave a Comment  

Been too long…

I admit that I have not held up to my promise of a spreadsheet per Anne’s request – it is coming, some day. I have yet to find the box where the data to go in said spreadsheet is. My sincerest apologies!

Today is the day after Thanksgiving/Thanksgrieving. In honor of yesterday’s higher aspirations (reflecting on that for which we can give thanks) I take a moment to say thank you to those of you who have put up with me for the past few months. The move across the country was more difficult that I anticipated and my health put some intense challenges in my path. But I am thankful to be able to type that all things considered, my health is fine and my spirits are good.

I started my internship in the beginning of September and while I am enjoying the work that I’m doing and the people with whom I’m working, the schedule and intensity is well… intense. But (again), I am thankful to be able to be doing the work that my soul is called to do. More on that in days to come.

So I leave you, my dear readers, with this hope: to write at least once a week with reflections on the events in my life. Until the next time ~ I encourage each of us to spend some time each day reflecting on that for which we can give thanks.

Published in: on 25 November 2006 at 1.18  Leave a Comment