Sacred Space2019-12-11T16:28:14+00:00

Sacred Space

Shared by Stephen

The experience I’d like to share occurred many years ago, before I became a student of A Course in Miracles. But because I am currently participating in a study group in which we are going through The Manual for Teachers together, I’m able to reflect back on this moment in time with renewed gratitude for how powerful it was. I share it here, in hopes that others will find it helpful:

There is a room in my home, I call my sacred space. It doesn’t look sacred. There’s no incense burning, there are no mosaics, no candles, and except for a poster about faith, peace, God, and love, it’s just an ordinary room. The only one who makes pilgrimages there is me. I go there when I want to be alone with myself, to read, listen to classical music, to nap, to cry, to grieve, or just to be quiet and enjoy solitude.

In earlier years, I would go there when I felt concerned about my children, about financial matters, or after a disagreement with my wife. Whenever I go there, with whatever distress I’m feeling, it soon disappears like fog burned off by the sun.

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in my early sixties, I went there, too, but that time I found no solace. I was afraid. I was afraid of being incontinent, and the shame that would cause me. So afraid, in fact, that I announced to my wife that I’d rather be dead than incontinent!

The idea brought up memories of the foul smell of urine, catheters, drainage bags, diapers—vivid for me from all the years I spent as a doctor working in hospitals and nursing homes. I wondered what it would be like. Would I feel clean, or would my body disgust me?

I was afraid of being impotent, of never hiking again. I was afraid I’d die from the complications of anesthesia. I was afraid my wife would leave me.

I had trouble falling asleep. I’d wake up and stay awake until sunrise, when I’d get up tired and angry. I didn’t yell or scream. I just kept the rage inside. I tried to cry, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t concentrate and I felt irritated with my wife if dinner was late or when she came to bed after I had fallen asleep. I felt she was avoiding me. I became angry with her over little things. I began making my own breakfast.

My faith had always been in my body: I’d kept it healthy, was robust and trim, had survived Marine Corps boot camp training and hiked over one hundred mountains. I felt it was betraying me. I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I felt so utterly miserable and knew I had to do something.

I decided to call a friend—I’ll call her Linda—whom I had met while participating in several personal development workshops. She was kind, gentle, patient, open minded, and friendly. She had a gift of listening.

This was the second time I had reached out to her: Eighteen months before I was diagnosed with cancer, when I was going through a career change, I was feeling depressed and asked for her help. Talking with her then gave me a fresh perspective and let me feel an immediate sense of relief.

This time, when I called her, I reached her answering machine. I wanted to hang up, but the sound of her voice asking me to leave a message stopped me. I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t stumble. I simply said, “Linda, I need your help.”

Soon afterward, we met in my sacred space. I remember it all so clearly. She sat in a chair near the bookcase. I turned on the light that was on a small table, next to her chair, and sat in a chair facing her. She smiled, and though I felt her kindness, I was still tense, conflicted, and ready to explode.

When Linda said, “Steve, how can I help you?” I could only cry. I felt my body shake and tremble. I felt a little crazy. I sobbed aloud. My sobs seemed to come from a very deep part of me that I had experienced more than once in my life. I had to wipe my nose several times, but it didn’t stop the tears and I didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious in front of her.

Finally, I felt exhausted, but relieved. When I looked up, the room was much brighter, with light seemingly emanating from everything. And when I looked at Linda, I saw light streaming from her face. She was radiant. I saw her eyes sparkle, full of empathy, and then I heard her say, “Steve, what do you ask of this space, where your humanity meets your Divinity?”

I thought of my mother, how she had been my best friend. I thought of how she taught me to pray—not by words, but by example. I could tell she was praying, because there was a stillness about her. I prayed frequently as a teenager and more as an adult. And in that way I could talk to a Divinity, which I call God. I found in meditation that I could listen to God. When I did that, I experienced an inner peace that went beyond all understanding.

I had felt this on mountain peaks, and I’d felt it working through me during my years helping the sick to get well and helping others to die a painless, peaceful death. It made me feel humble. I felt comforted that I was not alone, that I could offer my life to a Divinity, so It could work Its miracles through me.

And yes, I’d felt it in the ecstasy of making love to my wife. I’d felt it when we were having a problem with a teenage daughter and I was able to say to her the words I knew had come to me from a divine Source: “I want you to know that I love and accept you, just the way you are.”

And now with Linda, I felt it again. My breathing became regular, slow and shallow. My body relaxed, strengthened; my eyes were no longer cloudy. I said slowly, softly, and quietly, “I ask for love, I ask for peace, I ask for courage, I ask for support.”

And in an instant I received them all.

I remember the experience vividly: the instantaneous shift from absolute fear of death to inner peace. My body softened. Most of all, it seemed not to matter if I made it through the surgery or not. I had experienced God and that’s all that mattered.

After my surgery, Linda paid me a visit at the hospital and brought me a small African violet. I said to her, “Before I saw you that day, I was overwhelmed with fear. And afterwards the fear was gone.” She said, simply, “When you are in the Presence, there is no fear.”

I wish I could say that everything was perfect after that. Unfortunately, the surgery did result in changes to my body that I found it very difficult to accept. And in the immediacy of having to cope with intense physical and emotional challenges following the surgery, I temporarily lost touch with the powerful memory of my experience of God.

My healing journey since then has been long, and filled with gifts for which I am very grateful, including the enduring love of my wife and our family. Also among those gifts was the opportunity to become helpful to others by leading support groups for men coping with prostate cancer.

And, of course, another has been my work with A Course in Miracles.

It was many years after my encounter with God when, as a student of the Course, I came across a description of a revelation experience written by the Course’s scribe, Helen Schucman. I found I could relate with it very personally: “It was incredibly intense, like a great burst of unexpected clarity. It was briefly so compelling that it seemed as though there was nothing else at all. The whole world just disappeared.”

Yes, that is what I experienced. And although the effects faded with time, the memory has stayed with me. And that’s one reason why this passage from The Manual for Teachers (“Does Jesus Have a Special Place in Healing?”) is a favorite of mine and always touches me very deeply:

“And gratitude to God becomes the way in which He is remembered, for love cannot be far behind a grateful heart and thankful mind. God enters easily, for these are the true conditions for your coming home.”