Sacred Space & Awe

Today’s prompt is Awe, which is one that I admit I’m kind of excited to write about. There are so many different topics relating to faith that are suitable for inclusion, but I think I’m going to choose a somewhat unorthodox one – sacred space.

Sacred space is holy. It’s a place where the faithful congregate with the intention of devotion and praise to their religious head. In a Christian sense, sacred space is everything from a stately Renaissance monastery to a homely icon corner. It encompasses a place where we go to feel closer to God, and to bask in the presence of the Almighty. It is holy balm to a wounded and aching soul.

Perhaps that’s why today, after running errands around my university campus, I found myself quietly slipping into one of the chapels on campus. This particular chapel is extremely old (dedicated in 1908), and there is something truly magnificent about even standing in a holy place that has been around for literally over one hundred years. That’s one of the things I love about churches, chapels, monateries, and convents; the truly ancient ones are visible reminders of the everlasting grace of God that stands the test of time. To stand in them, or behold them with your eyes, is to witness something that has been around for generations; something that those who have passed on from this world also stood in, and beheld. It’s a sobering, yet comforting, thought.

While this particular chapel is not Anglican in nature (it is Catholic), I have found refuge from the chaos of campus here many times before, and the parish affiliated with it is where I briefly attended RCIA. It is quaint, with beautiful wood and marble, and the sanctuary itself is quite small. Stations of the Cross line the walls, and a traditional Confessional – complete with velvet hangings – is tucked away into a corner. Beautiful stained glass windows cause light to play across the altar in a smattering of colours that dazzles the eye, with the only other light from the array of candles lit at both the altar and the shrine to Our Lady, tangible reminders of the prayer intentions of the faithful.

It is in this chapel that I occasionally steal into between classes to regain my equilibrium. It is amongst these pews that I catch my breath, sitting in the quiet, smelling the heady scent of the incense, basking in the glow of the building. It is marvelous to behold such an imposing place, and I never cease to be awestruck each and every time I find my way here. This ancient retreat of the faithful, this holy sanctuary, has been on these grounds longer than I have been alive. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Christians have entered and worshipped within its walls, letting their voices and their faith be carried onward in memory by those who came after them. I think of all the others who have sat on the wooden pew before me as I quietly contemplate.

Today, there was only one other within the chapel, though I’m familiar with who she is by sight, if only because she is one of the only women in the parish who still wears a mantilla. I confess that this particular tradition has always been one that has snagged my heart, though I’ve never had the courage to don one myself, despite actually owning one. The local Anglican congregation does not have any among them who veil, so for now, I think it is likely to be a tradition I never quite follow myself (regrettably). Today, she was the scheduled adorer, and observing her piety as she viewed the monstrance, her lips moving as she recited her rosary, was quite inspiring.

One of the things I truly wish my university’s Anglican ministry would do is offer their own chapel for quiet contemplation daily. Unfortunately, the Anglican chapel is only available during mass on Sundays, and is closed the rest of the time. This is unfortunate, especially for those of us who wish access to the chapel for prayer (or even daily mass, for that matter). Being present in a sacred space, amongst other faithful, and meditating on life and Christ is something that I greatly value, and for me is also an expression of faith. It’s easy to sit on one’s bed and recite evening prayers, but to make a “mini pilgrimage” to the local chapel or church, actively seeking out a holy place of God, to make evening prayers in is something different altogether.

Sacred space is awe-inspiring, and chapels are timeless. They are beautiful places where we go to commune with God and grow closer to Christ. They are worth so much more than I think they are given credit for.

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