Working from home presents challenges and opportunities. I love my new daily commute, from my kitchen where I have my breakfast to my dining room which I’ve set up as a home office: a much easier start to the day than driving along a busy M56. This is a time when whole families are adjusting to being predominantly indoors, together under one roof trying to negotiate work or online learning schedules, computer access and physical workspace within their house or apartment. I’ve been wandering around my home to get a good internet connection and am trying to avoid the room where my husband holds his online Teams meetings with work colleagues. Then there is the issue of virtual Chaplaincy and making sure I am not interrupted at those fixed points in our calendar and ensure our dog, Sophie, is not likely to start barking at the wrong moment. The miracle of modern technology is wonderful but I am missing those opportunities to gather together in our beautiful Chapel.
Physical space matters and our interconnections through technology, in the absence of being able to meet together, are vital for our relationships and emotional wellbeing in these days of social distancing and isolation. But how do we switch off from work and study when our sitting rooms and kitchens are also used as workspaces? As well as workspace, it might be helpful to revisit our understanding of sacred space. Where do we find a sense of the sacred and how do we keep it sacred, a place where we know we can go to encounter God that is tailor-made for each of us? There might be a physical space in your home, somewhere you can retreat to, turn off any distractions from computers, televisions and phones and talk with God. Some people find lighting a candle valuable or having another symbol such as an icon or a plant as a focal point to help lead them into prayer. Prayer mats or prayer stools can be effective ways of focussing on prayer and of course, music can be a helpful way of connecting with God. Journaling and art are other ways. We’ll each have our favourites.
In her book ‘Taste and See – Adventuring into Prayer’, Margaret Silf, speaker, writer and spiritual director encourages her readers to remember a time and place when they have experienced warmth, light and contentedness, to remember it in detail, the weather, the time of year, the sounds, sights and scents of the scene and to be quiet with the memory, relish it and give thanks for it. She then suggests you invite God into the memory “to make that a sacred space for you”. She says that “a sacred space is quite simply a space where you can become more fully aware of God’s presence with you”. She writes about a friend who goes, in her imagination, to a particular park bench, to sit and talk with Jesus. Another friend, who lives in a busy household and has no physical space she can set aside for herself to pray, has a view from her apartment window of a beautiful tree which, through the changing seasons of the year, helps to draw her into prayer and which she describes as “her soul-friend, when she has no other”.
The wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers has much to teach us about prayer today. Abba Moses said “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything”. In this time of lock-down, can we deepen a sense of sacred space, whether through encountering nature in our one daily outdoor exercise routine or, in an indoor space, a ‘cell’ set aside just for us, using symbols, music or the power of own imaginations?
30th March 2020