The word is carved on a pulpit in the chapel at the Baylor University Spiritual Life Center in Waco, Texas. Until two years ago this worship space was what interior designers call dead space. A couch here. A coffee table there. It reminded Chaplain Burt Burleson of a bank lobby.
Now there are kneelers. A basin and towel adorn a small table near the pulpit. There’s nothing new about the large panes of clear glass — a staple in modern buildings. They filtered natural light before. But now the space has focus and so does the light.
What was dead space is sacred space. Another corner of the world has encountered the reign of God in the right here and right now.
Such a transformation from dead space to sacred space should make us think. It might even make us watchful.
It’s a good word for the church. In his instructions to the church at Colossae, Paul asks his readers to be watchful. Leadership trades more often in words like ‘vision’ and ‘future.’ These are not bad words. But sometimes our attempts to vision the future blur the world right before our eyes. Vision and future allude to coming events. They’re like marks on a trajectory. Watchfulness is more than that. It’s a constant state of being and becoming.
Dean Burleson looks out over the Baylor campus and wonders. What forms a community identity? What does this or that space mean? Burleson doesn’t always know. But he never stops wondering. While he wonders, in a dorm across campus, a group of students meets for Morning Prayer. The same day at noon in the place that used to look like a bank lobby, a group of faculty, staff and students also gathers for prayer. The tone of these gatherings contrasts with the surrounding culture. This is Texas. It’s a place where bigger is better. But on the surface at least, there is nothing big about these gatherings. They’re quiet and simple. They’re reflective and watchful.
When we watch we learn where the needs are and what questions to ask. We notice the patterns and movement in the sky as the sun touches the horizon and the world is aglow. Watchfulness tells us something about who we are and how we work. Even the most visionary among us must watch before determining the next steps.
This is how it is in institutional life. We can wonder what might be, but sooner or later we have to reckon with what is. While this might cause us to face up to dead space, watchfulness helps us discover the windows that have always been there and how they might bring focus to the light.