The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place

Exploring Spiritual Formation and Creativity

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The current world seems designed for exposure. Every platform requires something to be shown. Content creation, advertising, and social media all require being seen. The amount of attention one receives is the reward they get for the exposure they commit to. I’m sure there is research somewhere about what kind of sharing gets the most attention – something like, authentic, personal, and real, might be describers. The reality is however, that transformation, while not an individual pursuit, is not necessarily a public one either. Transformation requires time with the persona that will change you AND away from the personas that will only judge you (for better or worse), having you locked into a pattern. That is why solitude is one of the primary spiritual disciplines.

Many artists get this. By the time a painting, sculpture, book, or even live performance is seen, there have been countless hours spent by the artists interacting only with the piece they are bringing to life. This is often done in a kind of secluded environment. This is not only for the sake of secrecy (another spiritual discipline), but also for the sake of protecting the thing (even the process) from outside – often less informed – forces. Of course, there is a time for the thing itself to be shared. If earlier in the process, the sharing may begin with just a small circle of trusted friends. Then maybe a larger group of people – the general public. After all the sharing is done the amount of time spent making the piece is still much larger than the time spent sharing it. It takes time to bring something to life.

A Sacred Space

There is something profound about the space that we get to use to make things. The artist’s studio, the designer’s desk, the private study, the conference room, the dance studio, even the classroom, all hold a kind of wonder that lingers even when the activity of making is done. The empty classroom has echoes of teaching and growth. The dance studio has echoes of the movements and sounds. The conference room has echoes of deals agreed upon, and announcements of shared victories. The designer’s desk and artist’s studio lay in wait until the next call to make. They all echo the challenges and successes experienced there. Each one of these spaces is organized toward, remains poised for, and presents echoes of the process of bringing specific things to life. They are extremely focused and so reflect the nature of the specific process.

What of the spaces that are used to bring the person we are to become to life? Our rooms, homes, neighborhoods, parks, and more all are focused areas of life. The way they are organized, the patterns of activity that happen in them, even the way they direct our attention, all work towards bringing a particular kind of life to life. The spaces promote particular habits.

Here, there are at least two things that can be mentioned. First, while we may respond instinctively to every space, each holds great potential for a variety of purposes – being creative with what can happen in a space is one way to break free of a particular pattern, expectation, or norm. Second, we have great power to change the way we interact with a space, especially if we find our first inclination to be less than helpful. Here are some examples from my own life:

There was a time that I lived in a communal house. It was a significant time of learning for me, as it was the first time I was living with strangers, multiple roommates, and far away from family. As I shared a particular challenge – trying to find a space to be really alone in the house – a friend recommended the monk’s closet. I had never heard of this idea and pressed for more details. They explained that the monk’s closet was any room in the house in which I could find the most privacy, and which others also agreed was a private space. Once such room in some houses? The bathroom. And so it was, that for a number of weeks the bathroom became my most private, protected, and safe place. It wasn’t my first inclination, but it worked!

Another example. Growing up I lived in apartments mostly, with plenty of room for the family but not much else. I had a habit of filling my spaces – with good things, but full. Working in New York City allowed me access to specially designed spaces for making dancing, working to care for my body, and more. This separateness helped me focus my attention. When I went to the studio I thought about dancing – and little else. When I went to the gym, I thought about all I was doing regarding physical care. At home, I would reflect on these things, but the activity, and focused attention, happened elsewhere. In my current home I have a living space that doubles as a place to workout, and sometimes even dance. It also has all my books. It has taken me some time to learn to set my attention in that room, turning the room into what I need it to be, rather than simply responding to what the room offers – what might first catch my eye. Sometimes a quick rearrangement of a chair, an added towel on the floor, even sitting in a different place in the room, can help shift my attention.

The act of becoming is a sacred act. As we attentively grow, we touch on the wonder of life, things beyond our knowledge, and the fact that we are brought in to be a part of the process. Any place in which we can be attentive to this becomes a sacred place. Wherever we might be, as we attend to who we are becoming, and the process of the people around us, a different sense of “what we are doing” may come upon us. This is a sense of the sacred.

A Place For Hiding

But what if we feel overrun by our responsibilities, the multiple inputs we respond to on a daily basis, and the way our spaces may point us toward such things? We need a space for hiding. We are not talking about refueling, or escaping the day, necessarily, but rather remembering what our default state of being is. A sense of protection, inner strength and growth, fundamental transformation, all come in the place of hiding. Sometimes we are comfortable with the timing, feel accomplished and ready to hide for a bit. Other times we feel forced, itchy for exposure, and restless in the hiding.

One of the keys here is what we bring with us into the hiding place. For followers of Jesus, the hiding place is the place in which we more intentionally spend time with God – if by doing nothing else but eliminating other distractions. Of course, we may very well carry many things with us into the hiding place. Our general thoughts, specific concerns, celebrations, and dreams may come with us into our hiding place. They are supposed to. This isn’t an emptying of the mind experience, but rather a reconciling of the current state of mind with the mind of God. This is not (actually cannot be) a self-directed endeavor, nor is the experience always smooth.

As we enter into the hiding place we are met there by God. However, how we think about God is going to affect how our time hiding goes. Our willingness to prepare, desire to enter, expectation of being met, and general trust in the time, will all be shaped by how we think of God. The more we come to fall in love with God, the more we may welcome hiding with him. We may even come to desire some hiding time. With grace, we may come to discover that we can take what we find in the hiding place with us wherever we may go – and begin to practice that!

The assumption that we will be transformed by our time in the hiding place is key here. Moving from anxiety to peace, burdened to lightness, hurried to ease, fearful to assured all can happen, but we have to be willing. Transformation requires honesty. We hide with God so as to be hid from everyone else – those who (whether purposefully or not) act in opposition to what is best for us. We hide from the rest of the world to be completely open with God. We open ourselves to the master craftsman who knows the human heart generally, and each of ours specifically, with such intimacy that his care is immeasurable – almost unexpected.

Some Practicality

One of the oddities of the spiritual life is that it functions in abstractions. God is larger and often more than our limited natures can fathom. So, we land in abstraction. But this is not the reality. The reality is that God has everything to do with the material world (as well as the spiritual), is tactile, and matters for the lives we are living right now. If God is an abstraction, sitting with God is an abstract idea. If God is real, then sitting with God is real – a thing that we can do at a particular time that changes everything that comes after it (and sometimes before it, too).

However, this reality can only be experienced by trying it. Some practicality might be of interest if you are interested in experimenting with a hiding place. What the hiding place looks like is different for different people. For me, rooms that don’t carry a sense of immediate responsibility – that don’t trigger action – are great hiding rooms. Rooms that remind me of my humanness – the bathroom, wherever laundry happens – also help. Sometimes, just finding a nice nook, or sitting or laying on the floor instead of a chair, is enough to shift my mode. I have found hiding in nature to be a wonderful experience, too. Finding a place, just far enough out of the way that it feels private, gives me the sense of being hid. I didn’t always have access to different rooms or away places in nature for that matter, so remember that it isn’t the place that makes the experience, it’s the person you are with.

It’s the time, the attention, and the communion that can happen that matters. Friendships aren’t born or sustained without interaction. Interaction requires attention. Friendship is the sharing of attention. Hiding ourselves from what is around us, so that we might share our attention with God may just be one thing we can do.

The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
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