In the last few years, I've begun to think differently and, I think, more intentionally about the classroom--and what goes on there. The last two years, I've started inviting my students, especially but not only, in those classes that are part of the liberal arts core of WPC, to think of the classroom as sacred space--and to invite them to enter that space with that special sense of liminality. The classroom is a place in between; a place of encounter, hospitality, welcoming and encounters--with themselves, with others, and with God. (Parker Palmer has played a huge role in helping me think this through; I still think To Know As We Are Known is one of the most important books I've ever read.)
In fact, I have asked students to literally stand at the door--outside it, inside it, and within it--to make more concrete this idea.
In the syllabus for my course, REL 320, Spirituality, Character, and Service, I have included the following in the syllabus. I hope this will help us all think and practice and welcome liminality:
If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.
Places are sacred; they may be sacred because God shows up; they may be sacred because something happens that changes you forever; they may be sacred because you encountered beauty or love or truth—or all of the above. They may be sacred because someone you never thought you would meet is suddenly present and you are present and everything is altered. Everything is altered.
I think a classroom is sacred space; actually, specifically, I think this classroom is sacred space because of what has happened here and will happen here—because students and teachers showed up here in this room, 100s of one and 1000s of the other, and learning happened, and life happened, and truth was discovered. God was discovered. Oh, I could tell you stories. I was changed in this room; I was forever altered by what happened here and in this place and on this campus. So, here we are, in the hall, before we go in because I want you to really think about what is going to happen in there. What might happen in there. I don’t want this day or this class or this hour to be ordinary. I want it to be extraordinary—but I can’t make that happen; only we can make it happen. You see, at this point, although I know some of you, I don’t know all of you—and since we are all mysteries, there is so much more to learn. But I believe this: you are already amazing, brilliant, beautiful, intelligent, creative persons—which some of you know but perhaps not all (although I think you suspect it and might be just a little afraid about it and some of you may be ready to run away from yourself or have already done that). But I know you are not just good enough; I know you are extraordinary and that, together, you and I are capable of blowing our collective socks off this semester and make something truly beautiful—together!