During the years of my training for ordination, I had the opportunity to join the sung evensong at Chelmsford cathedral every Thursday evening before our St Mellitus college session of meal, worship and lecture began. I became dependent on that service of evensong to reset my head and my heart in preparation for the evening, and became aware of actively seeking sacred spaces. This is not too hard to do when you are frequently on retreat or away for residential training weekends, or regularly opening up an ancient, darkened church before worship.
A life of faith is a journey, with an ever- changing landscape. Sometimes, it is a real change of environment when you move from one place to another. The oldest church I knew as a child and teenager was Rosebank Methodist Church, built in 1890’s. Most churches in South Africa are younger than that: modern buildings or halls, lacking that aura of abiding tranquility you find in churches like Holy Cross. Functional, light and airy, easy to keep cool (heating is not much of an issue there!). Not so easily identified as sacred spaces that help to settle our thoughts, a calm place for prayer.
The other day I read Mark 1:35 : ‘In the morning while it was still dark, [Jesus] went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.’ Many times we see that Jesus turned aside, went to a place of solitude, went into the hills to pray. And it occurred to me, that not once does it say Jesus went into the synagogue or the temple to pray. He taught in the synagogues, he ministered to people in the villages and surrounding areas, he was always busy, always interfacing with other people.
This made me think. Jesus was always ‘in communion’ with his Father, I’m sure asking him for strength when in a difficult situation, sending ‘arrow prayers’ as they are sometimes called. This has comforted me no end, because often I pray ‘on the go’ while driving, walking, cleaning up the kitchen. This is helpful at times when the WhatsApp is pinging away with prayer requests. Bishop Peter said recently that God would not make prayer difficult; indeed, how could it be if God is with us all the time? What is more natural than to chat with him?
Each of us has a unique relationship with God; we may indeed find it easier to talk with him in a quiet place. But, you know, I can’t help feeling that he loves to hear us chat to him. And, if we listen for it, we will hear him too. God bless you in the quiet places and in your busy times.