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Pathmaps: Constructing Sacred Space
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For: Lower, Middle, Upper School

Pathmaps Points: Relationships, Awe & Mystery, Intentional Action

Summary: Help students be aware that space can be sacred or not, that it is beneficial to have sacred space, and that our efforts and intentions have the power to make space sacred.
Introductory Discussion
Ask students to think about a variety of places that they can imagine, or that they have experience with:
a) someplace where they do not feel welcome or accepted
b) someplace where they feel calm and peaceful
c) someplace where they might feel frightened
d) someplace where they feel their best talents can be used and developed
e) someplace where they feel close to God, to the sacred

Other than their regular place of worship, are there places where they feel close to that which most deeply gives their lives meaning? Help them discuss or privately explore what the characteristics of these places are. How do these “sacred spaces” become sacred? Can we help to sanctify them through our attitudes toward them and our actions in them? Can we create and maintain sacred spaces? If so, use the answers to these questions as guides to creating someplace sacred: at school, near the school, or perhaps individually, in or near students’ homes.
Creating a Space

Work with students to create a special place for individual and group prayer/meditation, or for silence. Be sure to introduce the area to the students, preferably to one or a few at a time. Use the space with them so they experience, rather than hear about, its purpose. Change the space only when absolutely necessary. Especially with younger children, the area should feel permanent. This may be done by using one or several of the following suggestions:

· Use a regular or low folding screen to set off a corner of the room
· Use tape, cushions, or a rug to mark the borders of a special area
· Create a focal point such as a prayer table or image
· Create a focal point by painting a section of wall or corner
· Set up a small tent
· Use a refrigerator box

The sacred space can contain objects collected or arranged by the students. These objects are then considered communal and students can also take one home if they find it meaningful or helpful. It can be kept or returned at another time. Whenever something is taken, something needs to be placed there in order to keep the number of objects from dwindling. No announcement is made when something is added/taken. It can be done before or after class or during a free period. This is an organic and informal way of creating a sacred space in the class for significant and meaningful objects and symbols to be exchanged.

· Cloth to cover the table (may be of different colors, especially if specific colors have symbolic meaning within a specific tradition)
· Candle, snuffer (see candle exercises below)
· Statues or other objects
· Small cloths or doilies to place under objects to show their importance
· Pictures or icons with stands
· Items from nature (flowers, plants, shells)
· Resources representing different faiths and holidays (menorah,
medallion with name for God in Arabic, incense, Advent wreath, etc.)
· Photographs of the children
· Sacred texts (Bible, Torah, Qur’an, Granth Sahib)
Candles seem to have universal attraction and can be a part of the sacred space. The lighting of a candle to set apart a special time can be as significant as having a particular space set aside. Having children light their own candles from a central candle can be an important ritual. Preparation and decoration of candles and holders can be a meditative exercise. When painting on candles, mix a little egg yolk with the paint so that it will adhere. Candle activities can be drawn from a range of traditions, depending on the orientation of the school.

See information on the significance of candles in a number of religious traditions at “The Religious Significance of Candles,” by Jim Slate at

Judaism: The candle is a powerful symbol in Judaism, and one is lit every Friday night to celebrate the beginning of the weekly Sabbath. On Saturday evening, a Havdalah candle is lit to mark the end of the Sabbath. Candles are also used in the Chanukah ceremony, where a candle is lit every evening for eight nights, to commemorate the candle that miraculously burned for eight days when the Jews recovered their temple from the Greek / Persian invaders. For Jews, the candle's flame represents the ever-burning flame of the divine being. A candle is also used to commemorate those who have passed away, and one is often lit to commemorate a loved one, or someone who has died tragically, such as in the holocaust. Students might light candles for people they love or family members.

Christianity: In Christianity the candle is used for both religious and decorative purposes. In its decorative function, it is a representation of the Creator's light, or specifically the light of Jesus. For this reason you will often find a candle lit and placed on an alter. Ritually, candles are often lit and placed in front of pictures of icons in Orthodox traditions. A votive candle may also be lit to accompany prayer. Some churches also use a Paschal candle, which represents Jesus; it is only lit on Easter and other very special occasions. Ask students to paint a small pillar type candle with the traditional paschal candle symbols, add cloves at the cross points. Or, give each child a red votive candle. Light tall red candles, each representing a gift of the spirit, allow each child to choose a gift for which she wants to pray, and then she or the adult lights her small candle from the tall one. During the Easter season, give each child a white votive candle, light a tall paschal candle and have each child come forward and receive the "Easter light."

Buddhism: In Buddhism, candles are often placed in front of statues of the Buddha along with food or drink as a sign of respect. Symbolically they represent the light of the Buddha's teaching and the enlightenment they added to the world. Students might place candles near objects or elements in the sacred space that have special significance for them.

Hinduism: In the Hindu tradition a diya, or clay lamp, is an important component of any religious ritual. The lamp holds the candle during the ceremony, and acts as a symbol of prosperity and enlightenment. Every year Hindus also celebrate Diwali, also known as the festival of light. On this holiday lamps are lit to symbolize life and hope and the conquest of good over evil. Students might create Diwali lamps by placing sand and votives in paper lunch bags and lining the walkway or windowsills of the school.


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