I have been thinking about space lately. Not outerspace, but how physical space impacts my interior space. It is a bit like how space or what we call rests between notes is what makes music intelligible. Let me explain.
As I am writing this I am sitting in an airport half way around the world on the continent of Africa. Several times in the last two weeks I have had an abrupt shift in physical environments that has brought a sense of awareness that was acute and spiritually powerful. I had the opportunity to speak with the staff of an incredible church that has one of the most contemporary designed church campuses I have ever seen in the world. Not overpoweringly large just fresh, unique, and architecturally spectacular. But amidst this contemporary complex of buildings was chapel. On the outside the building fit with the rest of the campus, but the inside? A total shift in space feel. Starkly minimal, dim catacomb like lighting, traditional pews and an incense I had never smelled before. We were gathering for 12.00pm prayers; the whole staff and administrative team, there must have been 70 people. The abrupt shift in space made me very aware. I sensed something different in me and in my ability to listen to God as we did some Taize type chant. The residue from that experience lingered as I noticed my ability to listen and ask questions during the next 3 hours I shared with the staff. My 20 minute shift in space had actually created a shift in me…
Last year I had the opportunity with 40 others to spend 5 days with the Benedictine Monk Father Thomas Keating. Keating is the head and heart behind the explanation and practice of centering prayer. We met for a one week event at a hotel in Colorado. What was interesting to me though was how we took a conference room and transformed it into a special space. I am not a fan of the distinction between sacred and secular space. Everything is God’s and to quote Richard Rohr Everything Belongs. But what was interesting as we entered this conference room made “temple where we meet God,” something shifted with each of the participants. We walked into room where prayers mats and cushions, an altar full of artifacts we had each brought that held some symbolism for us, and then incense, candles and art all contributed to a shift in all of us from casual and common to alert and special. This shift was noted and discussed on several occasions during the week…
How physical space impacts our moods, self understanding and outlook is a fascinating and sometimes overlooked dimension in our spiritual formation
This raises an interesting thing for me as I reflect on the double entendre of space/rest and it’s interplay with the correspondence of architecture/music.
Jesus changed locations for altering his perspective and for shifting his awareness. For him the desert held special significance, but we see him heading to mountains and sea as well. (This incidentally is the idea behind Len Sweet’s water, mountain and desert Advances.) For Jesus changing locations brought altered awareness and perspectives. He was the one that said I only do that which I see the Father doing. His rhythmic away-ness in a different space colored and toned his with-ness in ministry. His intonation to the people around him, the flow of power in and out of his body, his unapologetic movement away from people in need to recoup his own rhythm are all notable characteristics in his life and work.
The spaces we create in the long musical note of life noise is what gives it the potential to transforms into music. For our lives to sound different than our culture we have to have a rhythm punctuated with rest/space that let’s noise undergo transformation into a musical score that actually goes somewhere.
Largely out of my Keating experience I decided to create a place in my house where I could do my centering prayer practice each morning and evening. In the space I face the woods in my back yard, I have a prayer mat and cushion, I have candles and a small platform I can place some reading or quotes if I choose. It’s portable and movable. No big deal really. Now I admit this may sound like “Quiet Time 101” to use that old term I remember hearing in my early Christian days, but I have to say something has happened to me that is hard to describe. The inserted space into the physical architecture, is symbolic of inserted space in the noise of my life. One impacts the other in deep and spiritual ways.
My entrance into the chapel this week, half way around the world, has been but one of the many reminders I have had recently that spirituality and the ensuing formation from it are sometimes as much about form as they are content. That is true of architecture as well as music. I have a renewed commitment to pay attention to both.
1. Consider how the tempo of life unfortunately and often dictates your outlook
2. Really consider a 2x daily centering practice. If you are unfamiliar with this a
good place to start is with Keating’s book Open Heart Open Mind. The entire
book is available free online. (http://www.centeringprayer.com/OpenHeart/index.htm)
3. Consider making some space special for your centering times. It can be
portable and movable.
4. Monitor what happens in twice daily rhythm and how your creativity soars,
your ability to listen and hear becomes more acute and intonation to
the Spirit’s promptings naturally emerges.