By Rev. Anna Blaedel
For as long as I can remember, my body has loved both wide-open spaces, and cocooned cloisters. My arms (and heart) fling open at the immense panoramic skies of Wyoming, the top of the world feel of Colorado’s continental divide, and glistening city skyscapes from rooftop perches. And, my body longs to curl up and cradle itself in tree forks, and sheet forts, and sand dunes, and cozy tucked away nooks. My embodied being—and I do not think I am alone in this—both longs to feel free and unconstrained, and longs to feel held. In so many different ways, the earth offers its hospitality to us. In so many different ways, the Divine offers her hospitality to us. And in so many different ways, with the gift of hospitality comes the responsibility, the opportunity, to extend this gift to others.
There’s a relatively recent term to describe an insidious and often unnoticed practice: “hostile architecture.” Hostile architecture intentionally constructs or alters public space to keep people from feeling free or feeling held in the space. Sloped window sills to keep people from sitting. Benches with armrests in the middle to impede lying, and sleeping. Spikes and studs embedded in flat surfaces to prohibit rest. Border walls and prison walls designed to control and clearly demarcate who is deemed worthy of welcome, belonging, life itself. Hostile architecture is the result of people drunk on power and profit laying claim to space that is meant to be shared.
How devastatingly easy it is for patterns of fear, legacies of dominance, and habits of control to make us forget that creation emerges from the generous movement of the Divine, the mutual reciprocity of giving and receiving and sharing. When we share freely, there is enough to go around. When we hoard greedily, there is never, ever enough. The Divine’s instinct and invitation is to hospitable architecture, webs of relating in which we are held, and free.
My next door neighbors recently built a fence, aimed at providing their dog and their soon-to-be toddler a balance of holding and freedom. As they were pouring concrete for the posts, we realized their design would keep me from accessing the storm cellar doors through which I can haul long lumber or big tools into and out of my basement workshop. By the laws of private ownership and property lines, they had every right to proceed with their plan. Instead, they dug up the concrete and re-laid the posts, angling the fence so I can continue to come and go with ease. Every time I see that queer angle, I am moved by their act of neighborly hospitality. Hospitable, rather than hostile, architecture.
Our surroundings press and impress upon us. We are inseparable from the spaces in which we live and move and have our being. And in turn, we shape the spaces we inhabit.
A friend of mine recently taught me a mindfulness exercise, where you pause and become mindful of your body, held in the sensory space you are inhabiting. What are 5 things you hear, 4 you see, 3 you feel, 2 you smell, 1 you taste.
(Mixing up the order you move through the senses allows for different patterns of noticing and sensing, and also accommodates the different sensory abilities and disabilities of each particular body.)
This is one way of becoming attentive to space, of recognizing the mutual relationship between body and surroundings. If you pause, for a moment, what is the world offering to your senses? What offerings are hostile, and what are hospitable? How can you practice hospitality, in the spaces you inhabit?
What do you long to have space for?
What do you need space from?
I’m trying to be attentive to the space around me, recognizing and receiving the generous hospitalities and attending to hostilities I may be able to play a part in shifting, or redesigning.
I’m trying to greet the world each morning, as a prayer practice - a way of entering the day differently:
Good morning, beloved, as I kiss my beloved’s bare shoulder and slip from bed. Tumbling downstairs for coffee, my knees creaking down the steps, while the steps are creaking even louder...steps my great grandfather built over a hundred years ago. The smell and steam of coffee, carried to the porch. Good morning, wind chime, and its soundtrack of ruach, Spirit, Breath of Life. Good morning sparrow, and cardinal, and robin, and chickadee. Good morning mint, and basil, and chives, and rosemary, and thyme. Good morning, pollinator wildflowers, and first zinnia of the season, and spider swaying in its glistening web. Good morning, new and oddly angled fence, and old black walnut, and even older cypress trees. Good morning, beautiful and broken and breaking open world. In your arms we breathe. This is how we birth new worlds. Holding each other, freely.