The Grove: Boundaries

The Grove, for many ancient and modern peoples, is sacred space.   This sacred space relies on boundaries to do and be what it offers to us.  The boundaries exist in three aspects so that you know when you have entered a grove, you feel the focused space of the grove, and you experience another dimension of reality.

Laterally, a grove defines itself very simply by a stand of trees.  You can see it from the windows of the sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.  If you look out, there is the deck and the playground and some open space, and then that stand of trees.  This would be true anywhere a grove exists–a stand of trees that announces as one looks or walks that here is where the grove begins.  Enter here as you move among the trees gathered in this space.  We might call this relational space.  It is defined space alongside other spaces that announces itself.

Once inside the grove, one need only look up or look down to experience the focus of the grove.  Looking up, one sees a circle of open sky that the cluster of trees known as a grove subtly brings into this otherwise dark woodsy space.  At the same moment one is surrounded by trees that create shade and one is filled with the light that is invited in through the opening at the top of those trees.  You cannot experience this contrast of light and dark unless you enter the grove itself.  It requires participation.  Looking at and thinking about the grove will not produce what we might call this experiential space.  You have to go into the grove for that to happen.

The third kind of boundary involved in a grove takes time to experience and many visits to the grove to see that it always exists in a larger landscape, that it always sits between other spaces that are themselves very different from each other.  Historically, the grove sat between domesticated, cultivated spaces of farms and cities and the wild untouched spaces of mountains and deep forests.  We could call the grove, from this vantage point, liminal space in which one simultaneously has a sense of where one has come from (most recently) and where one is returning to (originally).  Both a sense of ultimate origins and immediate residence can transform us.  It is this third aspect of The Grove which depends deeply on the first two, that almost no other kind of space in our world can give us quite like entering into and experiencing The Grove, again and again over time.

We can today take the experience of The Grove wherever we go by looking at our own spaces–relationally, experientially and liminally.  Who and what are we up next to and up against today?  In the midst of our various spaces and relationships today, what is the focus, what can we see only because we are in the midst of things?  Where do we find ourselves in between other spaces and other relationships, and what insights do we gain from those moments of vision?  This is The Grove Experience, and it can be had anywhere (but it helps if we have a literal grove to practice in!).

Bob Patrick

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