A View from Glen Hill: Sacred spaces

Daryl Hawk’s presentation on sacred places of the world at the Wilton Library last month drew together a stunning series of his vistas from the Americas through Antarctica to the Pacific Islands and South Asia. Daryl’s comments lyrically described the process of collection of this remarkable array of images: his careful research on each location and its culture and topography, the daunting treks often along harrowingly high, narrow, and winding mountain roads and across remote terrain, followed by hours spent waiting for exactly the right lighting, and always an engagement with people in each location as he built personal relationships using trusted guides and interpreters.

Then came 60 minutes devoted to the showing of these images without narration or captioning and accompanied by a beautifully tranquil and uplifting series of violin duets by Wilton High School music educator Marty Meade and senior Christina Chavez. One stunning image after another took us gradually around much of the world. Daryl’s photographs reflect the majesty of this precious earth, our “island home” — that tiny yet sparkling blue speck shown in photographs taken from deep space, as Daryl noted, yet filled with such a vast array of extraordinary visual experiences. Daryl is a true master of the complex process of finding and capturing these experiences photographically and then describing them poetically.

I am reminded this month of a sacred space close to home as the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee (Wi-ACT, composed of congregants from 10 Wilton faith institutions, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) puts on its annual all-day Stop Hunger Now meal-packaging event on Saturday, Oct. 24. This Wi-ACT October event over the past four years of its existence has packaged 452,000 meals feeding in total 1,240 of the world’s neediest children for an entire year in educational settings in which the children served are nourished in mind as well as in body. In fact, Wi-ACT’s annual event is now the largest in all of New England for top-rated nonprofit Stop Hunger Now, Inc. with which Wi-ACT partners to put on this event and which then distributes the finished meals to wherever in the world the need is greatest.

There is something very powerful in seeing a large hall full of people of all ages, from six years old to 90-plus, working together to package life-giving meals. Volunteers do their meal packaging to lively music as they work at multiple stations. Many work in teams of a half-dozen blending together bulk ingredients and vitamin packets into individual meal packages. Young children carry small trays containing four of these packages to other volunteers who weigh and hermetically seal each package and then box them together for shipment.

Packaging 160,000 meals in one day involves a huge amount of activity with 150 to 200 volunteers working on each two-hour shift — 750 to 800 volunteers altogether over the course of the day. Yet it is also a surprising sacred experience, and powerfully so, as one sees families working together and people from across our entire community engaged in a common enterprise for the good. Many families report how the event becomes a centerpiece of family conversations in the car and over meals for days afterwards as kids process the experience and reflect their understanding, often profoundly deep, of what it means for their recipients, who are numbered among the 10% of the world’s population (more than one-third of them children) for whom daily survival is an enormous challenge.

Everyone is welcome to volunteer for a shift on Oct. 24. Shift times are 9 -11 a.m., 11-1 p.m., 1-3 p.m., and 3-5 p.m.; register at http://vols.pt/XMNn1F. You can also contribute financially to the work by going to the website for Stop Hunger Now, Inc. specifically identifying your contribution as for the “Wilton, CT Oct. 2015 Event.” Each meal costs 29 cents for the ingredients, and all of the funds raised by Wi-ACT go to cover ingredient costs.

The meal-packaging experience has now expanded to Middlebrook School, which put on its own event last spring with 100 seventh-grade volunteers packaging 20,000 meals as then-seventh grader Patrick Cummins’ Power-of-One project. In fact, Middlebrook is planning a meal-packaging event school-wide for this spring.

Each volunteer is asked to bring to Wi-ACT’s October event a nonperishable item for local food pantries, and the enormous stacks of those donations themselves create another sacred-space image.

So, sacred places can take many forms, as Daryl Hawk’s brilliant photographs from around the world illustrate and as our own experiences right here in Wilton underscore.