Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sacred Space : Part 2

“The job of the church is to create the space in which people can find that they have been found by God.”

I love this quote, which was recently tweeted by Bradford Diocese. Of course, that ‘space’ is in fact many spaces: the way in which we inhabit our own homes, and shape public spaces – both physical and discursive – as those who have been shown hospitality and so extend hospitality to others. It will take people discovering their calling to shape culture in particular ways, offering their particular gifts and partnering with others who have different and complementary callings and gifts. This space is far more than our own church buildings, of course; but it should never be less than that.

I often hear people say that church is not a building but the people. They are wrong. This is not an either/or reality, but a both/and reality. Historically, church buildings helped people encounter God. I think many Christians have forgotten that, choosing instead to meet in (what we mistake to be) ‘neutral’ buildings that point to our own skills and not beyond.

I serve in a place where the church as people has very little resources with which to help people encounter God. But we do have a building: a building that points to and nurtures connection with God...a building many local people have an attachment to, through family baptisms, weddings and funerals. Most of those people won’t come to a worship service – there is too much baggage, too much bad experience, or too much that is unknown and fearful about such a prospect – and yet the building itself can be missional. With appropriate direction and sensitive prompts, this sacred space may indeed be one in which people can find that they have been found by God.

I have created a (cruciform) trail around the building, and asked the congregation to give two hours of their time in order to have the building open during the day, each day next week, to welcome people and to talk and offer to pray with people if they would like, while respecting their space in this sacred space. Listed below are the prompts that will be offered, on laminated card, at each station. The ideas are specific to St Peter’s, but the principles are transferrable.

The Font

Think about the family you belong to, in all the joy and sorrow of human relationships. Hold their faces in your mind’s eye, before God.

If you are baptised, you might like to dip your finger in the water in the new font, and mark your forehead with the sign of the cross, to remind yourself that you are part of God’s family.

You might like to write a short prayer for anyone in your family or among your friends who is at (or hoping for) a new beginning: a new baby, newly-weds, a new start, a new job...

Leave your prayer in the old font.

Here are some Psalms you might like to read, on the theme of the beginning of life, and of belonging to God’s family:
Psalm 67 (page xxx)
Psalm 91 (page xxx)
Psalm 127 (page xxx)
Psalm 139 (page xxx)
Psalm 145 (page xxx)

The Lady Chapel

Sit awhile before the stained glass window depicting the empty tomb. Jesus has risen from the dead; but the women who followed him do not yet know: an angel waits to tell them. Their response would be fear and hope, uncertainty and trust.

How might we hold before God those we have loved and lost? How might we place our own lives, our own inevitable dying, in God’s hands? With fear, and hope? With uncertainty, and trust?

As you look through the stained glass, ask God to breathe his comfort and reassurance into you.

Before you move on, you might like to light a candle in remembrance of a loved one who has died.

Here are some Psalms you might like to read, on the theme of loss and living in the face of death:
Psalm 23 (page xxx)
Psalm 91 (page xxx)
Psalm 116 (page xxx)
Psalm 130 (page xxx)
Psalm 143 (page xxx)

The Choir

The universe is vast, our Earth a blue jewel teeming with life. Some things are so far off, we need a telescope; others, so small we need a microscope. The wonder of it all has inspired poets and scientists and artists and songwriters and astronauts and – well, every one of us at some time or another!

The Choir stalls are surrounded by angels, spinning in infinity, looking down on us. Sit in this space. Look up. Look around. Let your imagination take you deep beneath the ocean waves, or to distant galaxies. Do you feel small? Do you feel alone...or loved? Is this all chance? And if it is, is it meaningless? Are God and our world really incompatible, or are we held in the hands of a Creator who still sustains life?

Here are some Psalms you might like to read, on the theme of the wonder of creation and the mystery of the universe:
Psalm 8 (page xxx)
Psalm 19 (page xxx)
Psalm 93 (page xxx)
Psalm 147 (page xxx)
Psalm 148 (page xxx)

The War Memorial
Sit beneath the list of names, young men of this parish who did not return from war – from The War To End All Wars, and The War (So Soon) After That. Consider the tragedy of war, and our inability to decommission our weapons and turn them into agricultural implements (an image from the Bible). Pray for peace.

You might like to light a candle, as an expression of prayer for someone known to you who is serving in the Armed Forces: that they may be a light in the dark corners of the world; and that, fragile though they are, they might not be extinguished.

Beneath the Roll of Honour remembering those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars, we have left a large piece of paper on which you might like to add the name of someone known to you who is serving in the Armed Forces today – a Roll of Honour for the living, who give their lives for others on a daily basis.

Here are some Psalms you might like to read, on the theme of enemies:
Psalm 3 (page xxx)
Psalm 9 (page xxx)
Psalm 37 (page xxx)
Psalm 43 (page xxx)
Psalm 46 (page xxx)

The Labyrinth
A Labyrinth is a path that leads, by a circuitous route, into a centre point and back out again. Unlike a maze, there is only one path, and you cannot get lost. It is an ancient Christian pattern of prayerful walking: away from the concerns and distractions of life, into God’s presence...from where we return to the things that concern us, strengthened by God.

If you have never walked a Labyrinth before, it may seem strange at first. Walk slowly, don’t rush. As you walk, imagine leaving behind the things that trouble you, not in search of escape – you will return – but for a while. At the centre, imagine placing those things at Jesus’ feet. Listen for any sense of what he might say to you about them. Stay as long as you need. When you are ready, walk back out again, following the path. Don’t take any shortcuts!

As the path loops around, at times you are closer to the centre and at times, further away. It is not a direct route, not an efficient route: it is a route to aid meditation. At times, our goal seems within our grasp, only to be pulled away. We set off, in search of God...and just might find that he is our companion, every step of the way.

Read Psalm 25 (page xxx).  Read slowly, take your time.  When you are ready, take off your shoes, and step into the Labyrinth...

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