Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sacred Space - Celtic Chapel

My parish church.

 Something of a landmark, it's pyramid structure exhibits the imaginative design of churches built on the cusp of Vatican II. The church won an architectural merit award in 1965 and remains a listed building; occasioning the odd knock on the presbytery door and a group of architecture aficionados asking for a look around.

The church itself is a wonderful space - managing to be theatrically expansive and intimate as required. A lot is achieved in the lighting.  We do hold many services by candlelight and appreciate the shadows and warmth reflected in the wooden panelling of the roof. The architect, with a sincere respect for the symbolism of church architecture, followed the traditions of space and form to create a contemporary place of worship suitable for large congregations (it holds 700+) and smaller services. But sometimes we have very small groups and individuals seeking a quiet space of their own.

In a side porch we have created the Celtic Chapel in acknowledgement of the first Christians that would have worshipped in this area - actually just up the road but more of that another time. The area was home to monks who would have come on mission from the North East, particularly the Holy Island of Lindisfarne - ditto another time.

I have had the opportunity to stay on Holy Island and in one of the retreat houses there is a chapel in the basement. One of the island churches has a tiny prayer space in a boiler house. Any space, it seems, can be sacred.

A wonderful carving of the Celtic Cross, showing the intricate weaving of the eternal journey of life, death and rebirth is the focus of prayer. There are fabric prints of celtic design and an offering of Creation's own artwork in the shells, stones and seedpods around the base of the cross.

The seating arrangements are an ad hoc collection of donated and found chairs and cushions and, together with the 'end of roll' fabric bargains disguising the doors, a space is created that is warm and intimate and totally different to the main church space.

A carving of the 'Green Christ' by a local artist and parishioner guards the entrance. Within this intricate carving of a joyous Christ there are butterflies and ladybirds, oak and elm leaves - the promise of the resurrection witnessed each year in Spring and at Easter.

Here we have meditation every week for a small group which, every couple of weeks, becomes a meeting for a support group.
Here, we start the classes for Confirmation and Holy Communion as a way of making space between the busy world and God's house.
Here, people come to read, talk, to listen and to not talk at all.
Here, we have Celtic morning prayer before the weekday Masses to begin the day asking for blessings for ourselves and each other.

It has only been in place about three years now but it has been a Godsend as much as a Godspace. It is a refuge; a place of holding and a place of letting go.

Sitting in the chapel silence descends as the breath stills. Then the world becomes loud as all the background sounds make their presence known, traffic, police sirens, the crack of the beams in the church, the hum of the motorway. Turning inwards these sounds are left to drift and it is the sound of the heart that fills the ears; a little longer and even this fades. The silence becomes thick and palpable. When I have been in Greece and Portugal I love to swim out a couple of hundred yards from the beach and 'hang' in the water. It used to drive my son frantic but it is the nearest to a natural silence that I have ever come - my own isolation tank surrounded by creation.

I get that same feeling in the chapel; time doesn't stand still so much as ceases to matter.

And then....



Martha at Authentica said...

Your words touch the soul! I can "feel" the silence and the reverence!
So beautiful your description of the Sacred Space! As always, I benefit from your words!

Sending Love across the ocean! :)

Word in the Hand said...

Sending it back Martha - thanks for your kind comments. It's a special space. m+x

Philomena Ewing said...

Your lovely description makes me want to visit and the comparison with hanging in the water is great too.

I used to find certain churches places of great peace but in the last few years I seem to find just as much peace in nature or outside of a church !!
The best church I ever went into was one in Assisi, not because it was particularly beautiful either- I can't remember it's name but it had one very tiny window above the altar that streamed light and the rest of the church was dark. The atmosphere inside was incredible. I was on my own apart from one other person and after five or ten minutes I could not stop the tears falling- weird because to this day I can't say what was going on exactly inside me. I was both happy and sad. It was one of the most important moments in my life - pathetic but true!
Thanks for reminding me of this.


Word in the Hand said...

Thanks Phil, Assisi is full of wonderful churches and yes sometimes it is the simpler ones that give you permission to let go.
I agree about the nature and what I love about my church is the wild meadow at the back - that will be another entry altogether.
blessings m+x

Margaret said...

It is funny how many churches really do not feel sacred. I'm glad you're at a place that feels like sacred ground. Our church, too, feels that way to me.