Sacred Space Can Enhance, Prayer, Meditation

Feb. 16, 2005

A UMC.org Feature
By Renee Elder*

If big family rooms and state-of-the-art kitchens reflect our love of food and family, shouldn’t our relationship with God also claim a special space in our homes?

For many, the answer is an emphatic "yes."

"If you have one place where you settle down to pray or meditate on a regular basis, you can move into it faster and more gently; it’s your space for that purpose," says the Rev. Theonia Amenda, a retired United Methodist minister and covenant guidance counselor in Slinger, Wis. "I have a room—it’s a guest room, really, but it’s also my meditation room—and I have symbols around me that help me focus."

It might be a room in your home, a spot in your garden or an easy chair by the living room window. But designating a special place for spiritual reflection enriches meditation, prayer, Bible reading and journaling, says the Rev. Elizabeth J. Canham, director of Stillpoint Ministries in Black Mountain, N.C.

"I set aside a room in my house that is like a meditation chapel, with icons on the wall and some prayer shawls," Canham says.

She spends about an hour in her special room each morning.

"I make it pleasurable. I take my high-test coffee," Canham says. "I use an oil lamp and sometimes put on a piece of music. I think it needs to be personalized. There’s no one-size-fits-all."

Canham recommends decorating with items that are meaningful—perhaps pebbles from a stream, religious icons, beads or candles.

"It can be difficult to sit and pray and meditate, and it’s good to have something you can pick up and be with," she says. "You can make a ritual of coming to the table or altar, lighting a candle and doing some simple stretching and bowing to begin. It’s a way to make the experience very intentional."

When the weather is nice, she often ventures outdoors.

"I built a little meditation walk in the woods," says Canham, an Episcopal priest who came to the United States from England in 1981. "It’s a simple path, not a labyrinth, but you can follow it as it twists around."

The outdoors also beckons the Rev. Brian Wingo to spiritual reflection, though in a less formal setting.

"My wife and I both love to garden, and that is a spiritual thing in many ways for us," says Wingo, pastor of Pleasant Green United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C. "We have statuary and benches we put out. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but it’s invitational. If you feel a need for a place to think, reflect or pray, it’s there."

Wendy Wright, a Catholic and professor of theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., has written a book, Sacred Dwelling: A Spirituality of Family Life, that urges readers to seek the holy in their daily lives.

"People often experience the dining table as a place where, when the family gathers, they share not only food but the details of their day," Wright says. "It’s a place of emotional and intellectual exchange. Yet we tend to dismiss the sacredness of these ordinary spaces."

It only takes a nook or corner to define a space for spiritual reflection, she says.

"I’ve known people who have created little prayer rooms in whatever physical space they could find inside their house," she says. "It may be a basement or even a closet area where they can be reflective, or maybe just in a bedroom chair late at night. I think people have to be creative."

Before setting up a spiritual retreat, reflect on what fuels your relationship with God, says Amenda, who works with a spiritual formation academy and covenant community in Wisconsin.

"Nature speaks to me of God, so my focus is outside," she says. "There’s a huge old tree outside my window that speaks to me as being grounded. And I also have a picture of Christ in front of me. Someone else might sit in a room with a candle because it helps illuminate the light of Christ within them."

Canham recently wrote a book, A Table of Delight: Feasting with God in the Wilderness, that examines the wilderness theme in the context of spiritual struggle. The ideas can be used in a domestic setting, she says.

"I talk about entering the desert as a time of struggling with spirituality but also a time of holy encounter," Canham explains. "It’s about choosing a place of beauty and silence in order to be more open to God."

*Elder is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C.

News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

This feature was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.



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