Several years ago Tom and I had the privilege of visiting St Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai desert. This is one of the oldest working monasteries in existence, and monastic life in the area dates back to the 4th century.
I still remember visiting the Greek orthodox church with its amazing collection of icons, chalices, manuscripts and works of art. Heavy incense filled the room. It was a feast for all my senses and a powerful reminder that for many early Christians places of worship were designed to usher us into the kingdom of heaven.
Sacred spaces should stir all our senses, and there is no better place to imagine how this could be accomplished than in the garden. The Irish poet and mystic John O’Donohue said that our senses are the gateway to the soul. And its true. A beautiful flower not only delights our eyes but also touches something inside our hearts. The fragrance of a rose transports us to a place of divine encounter. Even weeding becomes a contemplative act that invites us to touch, smell and enjoy.
Sight: Gardens are a place to experience the richness of the glory of God. Savouring every nuance of light, colour, texture and sound touches and transforms our souls, not only revealing the visible world but sometimes the invisible as well. Gardens shimmer with the presence of God and in their midst we often feel that the veil between earth and heaven is nonexistent.
Smell: A pleasant fragrance in the air awakens our sense of smell. It also often stirs our memories which isn’t surprising as scent is our strongest connection to memory. So as you plan your sacred space consider the fragrances that awaken your memories of loved ones, special places and significant events. How can you incorporate these in your garden?
Taste: Fruit, vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs are a delightful aspect of any garden and should be included in any sacred space. Every flavour-filled bite is a foretaste of the kingdom banquet feast. It is also a reminder of the generosity of a God who fills all of us with lavish abundance. My friend Craig Goodwin, planted his vegetable garden in the shape of a labyrinth, a wonderful way to blend the sacred and the edible
Hearing: Many of us love the silence of sacred spaces within a garden. But silence in a garden is never empty. It is filled with the sounds of wind in the trees, the buzzing of bees, the melodies of songbirds, and the sounds of circardas, frogs, and other garden creatures. Wind chimes, fountains, and waterfalls can all enhance the delight that garden sounds provide for us.
Touch: Have you ever run your hands through a bush just to experience the sensual delight of its texture? Lamb’s tongue feels like velvet. Tree bark feels like paper. Cacti draw us to touch their spines and prickles. And often what we reach out to with our hands reflects our inner state of mind. Touching can comfort our distress, make us feel loved or help us express our angst.
So as you plan your garden sacred space take time to reflect on not the ways that your interaction with nature draws you into the presence of God by stirring your senses. Pretend you are entering a cathedral and imagine yourself decorating this space as a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
This post is part of a series on creating sacred space check out the previous posts: