Amoureax by Eve Arnold

A sane space is something which forms us in the rhythms and patterns of the Kingdom of God. Of course, the premier examples of such spaces are liturgical and sacramental, although these are not my concern here. The eucharist, its associated practice of fraternal admonition, footwashing and baptism form us in sharing, in peacemaking, self-emtying love, and love relations which are extended to neighbour and enemy and are not dependent upon blood, nationality, race gender, sexuality or any other such arbitrary distinctives. I would like, now, however to focus on more banal examples, ones which we may find less easy to assimilate into our modern lives. These banal examples are dependent upon a liturgical formation for their practice and are an integral part of liturgical practice. A sane space is one which is fertile and which generates fertility and so is creative of independence, moves us into satisfaction, is communal and draws us further into the rhythms of sanity. Geoffrey Lilburne writes:

“Place is not conceived as a mere point, a location, but as an arena which partakes of the qualities of that which dwells there ... space is charged with qualities, is able to shape and transform us as we come to know it and enter into relationship with it.” - Geoffrey Lilburne, A Sense of Place: A Christian Theology of the Land, p82

A sane space is a space ’charged’ with the qualities of sanity. Every task we perform is expressive of and formative of who we are. Particular spaces are expressive and formative of us. We have allowed most spaces to be ’mapped’ and colonised to such an extent that there is little of the gospel expressed in them, few of the patterns and rhythms of the Kingdom of God, and so little sanity. This includes the aforementioned liturgical spaces. We thus undergo an alternative formation, one characterised by the rhythms, patterns and disciplines of an industrial consumer society. A sane space is one which is expressive of our gospel hope and moves us into it.

3.1 Keeping Rabbits

Did I mention banal? Perhaps for some such an example is plain distasteful. Nevertheless, the husbandry of rabbits has been in my mind as something exemplary of the kind of space I am attempting to describe. William Cobbett writes of keeping rabbits that:

“Of all animals rabbits are those that boys are most fond of. They are extremely pretty, nimble in their movement, engaging in their attitudes, and always completely under immediate control. The produce has not long to be waited for. In short, they keep an interest constantly alive in the little chap’s mind; and they really cost nothing; for as to the oats, where is the boy that cannot, in harvest time, pick up enough along the lanes to serve his rabbits for a year? The care is all; and the habit of taking care of things is, of itself, a most valuable possession.” William Cobbett, Cottage Economy, p141

If the gendered nature of this excerpt may be excused for the purpose of being able to use an historical source, other noteworthy elements become apparent. The last point is of particular interest to us here. What Cobbet proposes is a task that forms a part of the domestic economy of the cottage, which does not afford mere amusement. This productive task is itself interesting as well as making a certain kind of boy (or girl or anyone, for who does not need to learn care). For Cobbett, keeping rabbits forms the keeper in care. The activities of that care extend beyond the immediacy of the rabbit hutch to involve collecting food for their upkeep and so it is an extensive care.

The task of keeping rabbits has its own structure, its own ecology. It is a task chosen because it is productive and, once chosen, it also structures the lives of those who participate in it. Intrinsic to that structure is the pattern of care. As I have been thinking about these things, one of my fellow communards and I have been in the process of building rabbit hutches in order to keep rabbits for our community, the Peace Tree. This complex of hutches should provide the community with as much meat as we need (which is almost none presently). The act of building the hutch builds our relationships and skills. Very likely, my co-worker will take responsibility for the care of the rabbits once we have them. This is a deliberate attempt on his part to begin to participate in just modes of gaining sustenance. We will also attempt to grow or gather as much of the feed as we can and so participate in the natural rhythms of planting and harvesting and observation of where and when the best wild feeds are to the found. This latter portion of the task ensures that other people and places are not exploited for our benefit.

Keeping rabbits, in ways we do not yet know about, will demand things of us which, I submit, are significant acts of non-conformism to ’the patterns of this world’. It is one task representing participation in a sane ordering of things. I am not, of course, suggesting that readers of this essay must all keep rabbits but I am suggesting a certain way of thinking about the tasks that we presently consider most important for our response to climate change and a low energy future. To my mind, the priority tasks are those which form us in fertile and just rhythms and make us more sane in the way that keeping rabbits does.

3.2 A Hotbed

If you will permit me another banal example, perhaps my meaning will be clarified, for it is not only care that I am suggesting we must be formed in. There is a whole range of disciplines now foreign to us which are a part of the joyful patterns of sanity. The Shaker Gardener’s Manual mentions that keeping a hotbed:

“... is quite particular, and requires you to be thoughtful and regular; but this is only promoting a good habit and if you were inclined to forgetfulness, it would almost justify keeping one expressly for that purpose.” quoted in Rita Buchanan, The Shaker Herb and Garden Book, p18

A hotbed doesn’t make as much sense in Perth, Western Australia as in, say, Peasant Hill, Kentucky or Lebanon, New York but it is another good example of a sane space. A hotbed consists of a large wooden container which can be half filled with composting horse manure and covered with glass. Seedlings are grown in soil above the manure, which provides heat from below. The ’particularity’ in the management of hotbeds is in regulating its heat by removing and replacing the glass at the right times to keep a good temperature for the growing seedlings.

I suggest that, like the Shakers, we must be more aware of how particular activities form us and our loved ones. What kinds of activities move us into the compulsion and forgetfulness of consumer society where we recall and are recalled primarily by advertisements and what kinds move us to be ’thoughtful and regular’ in the production of healthful produce for communal enjoyment?

Sane spaces such as these are creative of independence in our communities - they are productive They are fruitful in ways which are not exploitative, use available resources and build fertility. The Shakers used horse manure because that’s what they had. On the other hand, I can go to a suburb on Perth where race horses are kept and find bags of manure lining the roadside. This is characteristic of an insane space - the fullness of the task is denied and waste and expense are created.

As we approach the fullness of the task we enter into its satis-faction and ours. If we accept the fullness of the task of keeping rabbits, for example, we will not buy (much) food but grow it or seek it from ’wild’ places and so learn care. The same act of accepting the fullness of the task makes it a just act, for we do not exploit others to do what we will not, nor use energy or resources we are unwilling to expend or which are not ours to use. We do not create ’waste’, which is in fact fertility for the sustenance of our land and lives.

Each of these tasks can (or must) be done with others or with reference to others and so they are personal, or communal, tasks - they are tasks that children can play at and join in.

These are some of the characteristics of sane spaces. Changing lightbubs in comparison, while important, is more an act of consumption than it is productive of real change and greater sanity in our selves and communities.

A sane space is also one that sweeps us up into sanity, a space which draws us ever deeper into itself. The generative and creative nature of sane spaces is what I would like to address in the next section.


Thanks for this post Harry. Finding 'sane spaces' outside liturgy or communion will enable us to bring all areas of life under Christ... and thus is so important.

Please keep posting!

January 3, 2008 at 4:50 PM  


Thankyou for your encouragement.


January 3, 2008 at 6:34 PM  

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