Imagine us on a boat with an anchor. Instead of dropping the anchor, we throw it way out. And then we pull toward it.
My friend and mentor Mahan Siler gave me this image for how we work with vision. I think of it now as I feel a tugging. My spirit threw an anchor outside the sphere of the religious institution a long time ago. Now my mind and body are trying to pull toward that place.
This longing for the new anchorage stretches me. I feel my desire reaching out, my spirit going on ahead. In reading and conversations I look for reports from others pulling toward that place. I want to go there, too.
And I am aware of a counter-pull, that which keeps me where I am: comfort, familiarity, security. I know the old words of an old world, and I have a tacit agreement with the religious institution that gives me a kind of range within the tradition, permitting me even to critique it. But I long for another place, though I struggle to define it.
“Sacred/civic placemaking,” the phrase Sympara uses to describe our work, is an anchor we have thrown way out. Some of this phrase can be explained. “Placemaking” is the art of designing communities where everyone flourishes; it is the discipline of asking what a people can become in a place they inhabit, such as a church in a neighborhood or a synagogue in a city. “Sacred” is traditionally understood as the domain of religion, “civic” as that which comprises the neighborhood and the commons. “Sacred/civic” is the in-between or the integration of these meaning-making domains.
Notwithstanding these definitions, the phrase eludes certain clarity, for we pull ourselves toward a vision covered by mist or cloud; or the vision is beyond the horizon; or it's shaped by endless waves, making it a process, nebulous. Yet we do notice life swimming around us and through us, and our vision expands by the energy we witness. We see this life even now, amid death, amid shipwrecks of the economy and civil society. This life is a harbinger, a herald of a common hope, a prelude to a universal aspiration made particular by the old religion at its best.
The life we witness points to the world we seek. Up ahead we glimpse signs of what sacred/civic placemaking can be: the creation of new communities that bridge divides of race, class and belief. We see possibilities for new relationships of people and place that are just, equitable and sustainable. And lo and behold, this new thing — stirred up by movement we already know in part — suggests that sacred/civic placemaking will be buoyed by ancient currents of wisdom.
Look now, friends! We have thrown an anchor way out into the unknown. Like me, you may hesitate on the other end of this line, but do you feel the tugging, too? Then let us go there together.
Daniel Pryfogle is cofounder and CEO of Sympara.