tsatsas(& the art of improvised pilgrimage)    
sewanee, tn, october-november, 2011

November 2nd, 2011: Fourth day of A Sewanee Pilgrimage

I knew *something* was drawing me to bring in greater collaboration for this project, but I hadn't consciously assimilated what a full-blown oral history/communal meditation on sacred-ordinary space might look like.

There's a prayer I've been singing each morning that says, "I ask for the most benevolent outcome of ________ [fill in whichever of the 10,000 things comes to heart], and that the results be greater than I ever hoped for or expected. Thank you, thank you, thank you." So that seems to be where we are, right now, in the Sewanee Pilgrimage.

Here's what Eric Thurman, who teaches in the Religion Department at Sewanee, sent me this morning:

Hi Julie,

Here are the first of our tsatsa photos! More coming soon! Thanks again
for the invitation. Lesley, Polly, and I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon
walking in Sewanee, finding the right spots for each of our tsatsas and

I placed this one and offer some commentary:

This is the front gate to our house at 216 Maple St. We just bought the
house, our first, this past summer. "Home" of course has a long
association with sacred space: a privileged space of filial piety, ties
of kinship, private refuge from public life, comfort and safety from the
natural world, ethical instruction, and the everyday rituals that
sustain and reproduce life: food, sex, birth, and death. Home means many
of these things to me and what makes this house different from our
previous homes is not only a sense of ownership (however impermanent),
but of connection.

Most of our furniture is either inherited or inexpensively custom-made,
(though we do have a few pieces from IKEA). Each piece (even the pieces
from IKEA!) carries a personal story of where it came from, who made it,
who had it before us, or where we were when we got it. Each piece
connects to others who have influenced our lives in different ways. And
so does our new, old house. Like others in Sewanee, we've learned
something of the identities and stories of those who lived in our home
before us. That history--a reminder of how we change as we move through
space and of how we persist through memories connected to place--is part
of what makes our house sacred to me.

I didn't put the tsatsa in a sacred space in the house itself. Not the
fireplace mantle, familiar symbol of gathering and the warmth of fire,
bodies, and memories. Or the kitchen, the place of everyday rituals that
feed us. (And not the bedroom, which brings to mind the bed itself as
the sanctioned space for sex and death, but in my Protestant tradition
is often kept separate from sacredness itself, much to that tradition's
loss.) I put the tsatsa on the gate to our house because the "sacred,"
to me, often transgresses the mundane boundaries we put up. The closed
gate separates my space from yours, you from me; the open gate invites
you in to my home, making it a place of gathering and departing, where
strangers may become friends and friends may venture off into a strange

Unseen, on the other side of the gate, is a sign left by the former
owners: "Beware of the Dog!" Many meanings of sacred space there. Of the
desire to mark off mine for yours, you from me, profane from holy, with
threats of violence to back up a border not to be crossed. Of the need
for safety, holy comfort, refuge, acceptance, and even unwavering
protection, to not be caught in the unholy hands of those who would do
harm. Home, with all of its curses and blessings.

photograph by Eric Thurman
photograph by Eric Thurman
Sewanee Pilgrimage project pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12