This morning’s post in the series Creating Sacred Space Do We Need Churches? is written by Lynne M Baab. Lynne is the author of numerous books on Christian spiritual practices, including Sabbath Keeping, Fasting, and Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. She teaches pastoral theology in New Zealand. Her website has numerous articles she’s written about spiritual practices, as well as information about her books.
When I started this series I asked people to write about how they connected to God outside of church, but I have been reminded by many of the comments of the importance of connecting inside church buildings too. Lynne’s article is another good reminder of this.
The first time I set foot in a Benedictine monastery, I knew many, many people had prayed over many, many years in that place. It was St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, and all the spaces felt sacred. I kept coming back every year until we moved away from that part of the world. In my visits there, my own prayers felt like part of a chain that spanned many years.
Around the same time as my first visit to the monastery, I discovered two sacred places in Seattle, the city where I lived. Places where I could pray easily. Places where I sensed the presence of God.
St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in Seattle, has a heavy hugeness to it. Its solidity speaks to me of God’s safety and stability, and the enormous empty space inside of it tells me God is so much bigger than I can grasp.
The Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University is small and quirky, with odd curves and angles. Its colored glass windows come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The baptismal font near the entrance is very large, and the water rises exactly to the height of the font, giving a smooth still surface much like the pool of water outside the door of the chapter. The stillness of the water in the font and the odd shapes of the building and the windows speak to me of God’s peace coupled with the challenge of God’s unpredictable call to us.
Fifteen years ago, around the time of my first visit to the monastery, I was a newly ordained associate pastor in a Presbyterian congregation in Seattle, and I knew I needed reflection time in order to hear God’s guidance for ministry. In addition to the yearly trips to the monastery, I booked out one Wednesday afternoon each month for thinking, praying and planning. On those Wednesdays I parked my car a few blocks from Seattle University, and I walked a circular loop that took me to both St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Chapel of St. Ignatius. I brought my journal, and I sat in each of the two worship spaces journaling for a while. I tried to sink into the space and listen for what God had for me in each of the two very different places of worship.
Walking between the two worship places got me out into the fresh air. I always enjoyed the urban walk along sidewalks, businesses, parked cars and busy streets. As anyone who engages in urban walking knows, small but beautiful signs of God’s creation peek out everywhere. A baby in a stroller, a flowering bush, a pocket park with interesting landscaping, a window box with petunias. My Wednesday afternoon combination of fresh air with signs of God’s creation, plus architectural spaces that speak of God’s character, fed my soul in profound ways.
Two years after I began that monthly practice, I had a knee injury that prohibited me from walking very much, so I had to find new ways to reflect and meet God. I’ll never forget those spaces that spoke to me of God’s character, spaces where I heard God’s voice of love, felt the companionship of Jesus, and sensed the Holy Spirit’s guidance for ministry.