Holding space together

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 10/20/21

Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats penned that sentence in 1889. It echoes across the Atlantic Ocean more than a century later. In this country, …

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Holding space together

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Posted

Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats penned that sentence in 1889. It echoes across the Atlantic Ocean more than a century later. In this country, wildfires burn in the West, floods overwhelm the South, and the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices are everywhere. Our economy suffers from a labor shortage. Women’s and voting rights are imperiled by draconian legislation.

And the entire world faces a climate catastrophe. Predictions for the future include fewer food and water resources, more devastating storms and more refugee crises.

There are also personal tragedies. Reading these words, you or a loved one may be sick or facing surgery. You may be grieving the loss of a job, a dream or a loved one.

There are too many things. Too many for even a big heart to hold.

Yeats made this statement of lament in the introduction to a book of Irish fairy tales. I am not under the fantasy that any of these crises — whether national, global or personal — will magically disappear with the wave of a wand or the appearance of a heroic prince.

But I do have hope. Even with too many things for a big heart to hold, we can still hold space for one another.

“Holding space” means to become physically and emotionally present to each other. It begins by showing up. When I trained as a hospital chaplain, a supervisor repeatedly told me, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” The message is that your presence can offer a gift greater than you could ever put into words or even imagine. By holding space, we can create holy space.

I serve as the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. Members of our congregation meet weekly with members of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Sometimes, we study the Bible. Occasionally, we discuss current events. We always hold space for one another.

Later this year, Chapel in the Pines will mark its 10th year of holding worship services in our sanctuary. Last month, Mount Zion celebrated 168 years of ministry! Even before Mt. Zion’s members met as a church, their ancestors worshiped outside in “brush harbors” — clandestine meeting places away from the prying eyes of white slave owners. During slavery, too many things were occurring for even a big heart to hold. Yet, those brave and faithful people held space together and held onto hope.

Due to the ongoing reality of the pandemic, we have been meeting outside at Mount Zion. We gather under their enormous oak trees which were planted around the time the church was established 168 years ago. As we meet, we share concerns and prayer requests. We also share lots of laughter! Though we partner to provide relief for our larger community, the problems remain in the world. And I still have my own anxieties and fears.

But when holding space with my friends of faith, I feel like my own heart stretches. Together, we hold on. Together, we are enough.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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