TEMENOS: demanding times as sacred spaces of transition and transformation

Published September 12, 2018 by Revd Ian Adams

Temenos, Sacred Spaces, Transition, Transformation

Sometimes my unconscious seems to help me process events by giving me a song to sing. A Brian Wilson song from the Beach Boys' sublime Pet Sounds album has been around a lot in the last year. The lyrics on my lips. The core and final line on repeat.

I guess I just wasn't made for these times.

Reflecting on the Brexit process and the Trump presidency, the CEO of the International Rescue Committee of the Red Cross and former Labour politician David Miliband has suggested that in the UK and USA "our politics and government are setting new standards for dysfunction". It's hard to disagree. Around the world every day new examples of such dysfunction appear that are evermore destructive to people, to human culture and to the planet.

So I guess I just wasn't made for these times. And I think about disappearing to the hills. I imagine shipping my family off to somewhere civilised. To a place where people are kind to each other, welcoming to the stranger and refugee, and tender to the earth and her creatures. Where beauty is loved, knowledge is valued, and mystery is embraced; where public office is held with dignity and humility; and where our life together is not treated as a competition but as a shared journey for the benefit of all.

Dream on, you might say. And so with Brian Wilson I sing, I guess I just wasn't made for these times.

But over the last year I have sensed another possibility at work. A growing realisation that perhaps you and I were made for these very times. That these demanding times (and of course demanding times are nothing new for so many around the world, just relatively new perhaps to people like me) may be exactly the times for which we were made.

A key strand in this realisation emerged through a collaborative project with artist and Methodist minister Ric Stott. Pondering ideas together for a collaboration - Ric's paintings, my poems - we were drawn towards an exploration of the possibility of threshold or liminal space - the Temenos of the title - particularly imagining how demanding times may actually become sacred spaces of transition, offered to us as dark gifts through which the light may break in, and through which transformation may come.

However tough things may seem in our world, change for good is possible. Any such change must of course begin first with us. The world only changes for the better to the extent that we give ourselves to it with our love. As Ric and I began to create the Temenos paintings and poems together, it became clear that they were following this trajectory. Personal transformation through Temenos encounter, helping in some way to bring transformation in the wider world.

So the paintings and poems in Temenos are both personal and universal, common to all human experience. They explore memories, losses, hurts, addictions and regrets. They also open up moments of joy, bliss, possibility, hope and revelation. In recognising each of these experiences as potential Temenos we are given the opportunity to imagine new possibilities in our lives, and then to allow these personal re-shapings to become small gifts to the world around us.

In the faith tradition in which Ric and I are rooted the teacher Jesus of Nazareth affirmed the Jewish understanding, both beautiful and demanding, that a life well-lived comes through loving God and loving thy neighbour. Such a path will at times be costly. But also a source of delight. One of Jesus' core wisdom sayings – the Beatitudes – puts it like this: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

These are demanding times. But we are not powerless. Can we allow each day - however difficult, mundane or sublime - to become a Temenos moment, a sacred space, through which transformation may come, and the world reshaped for good?

What if you and I were made for these times?

Ian Adams is a poet, working with words and images to explore the possibility of faith, hope and love reshaping the world. He is an Anglican priest, Associate at Ridley Hall Cambridge, Spirituality Adviser to Church Mission Society, partner in the Beloved Life project and creator of Morning Bell. Twitter: @pacebene and blog:

Ric Stott's blog:

The Temenos exhibition has been on show in Plymouth, Leeds, Sheffield and Chester. The complete project is now available to download from publisher Proost here.

All images and poems are ©Ric Stott & Ian Adams

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