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A Place of Prayer

September 17, 2010

I will never forget visiting once with our former Bishop Dudley and learning from him that his mother used to take half an hour a day by herself, off in the fields with a little book that they never dared to touch. She was the mother of ten, and she took half an hour alone every day. After she died, the children did look at the book, and they gave it to Bishop Dudley. It contained her prayers for her children, over the years.

It is not easy to take time alone. I am sure there were days when it was impossible even for Mrs. Dudley: she couldn’t have wandered into the fields during the winter in Minnesota, and sometimes there must have been sick children… But she went so regularly that they knew she was going, and they didn’t bother her.

A home is a living space

with interior spaces meeting the requirements of life:

space for eating,

space for sleeping,

space for play

space for reading and study.

A mother arranges a space for prayer:

perhaps a kitchen Madonna,

an image of rest and a presence of silence

centered within her principal workspace;

perhaps a room, so that the door may be shut,

or a place in the field or garden.

Space is a fundamental aspect of human life and of every home. As home school families know, the space for study must have some character that sets it apart. Even if the kitchen is used, it is different during the school time; and in some families, a different room is entirely set aside for school.

But more important than school is a space for prayer. Rumer Godden has a lovely little book, The Kitchen Madonna, about building a kitchen shrine to Mary, a very simple one, just an image that has a place. God is spirit, and he is everywhere, but the Church recognizes and teaches us that we are body and soul and we need places to go, images to see, and things to touch if we are to build an awareness of God. One image of Mary or of Jesus or our patron saint needs to be in a place where we can be reminded to pray, perhaps where we can light a candle when someone is specially in difficulty. It is not always possible to have a room; it is not always possible to go to Mass, or even to go outside. But it is possible to have a special shrine that draws us into prayer.

It’s odd about space. In our rather objective way, we may think all spaces are the same, but every so often, we actually feel a “presence” in some place that is regularly used for prayer, and then we understand that it matters. I had a visitor, once, who went to sit in the garden space that I used for prayer, and that had been blessed for this purpose. She came back shaking her head, saying that she had never felt such a strong presence in a particular place. She noticed it more than I did!

But whether you notice it or not, and whether anyone else notices or not, prayer fills a place or prayer and makes prayer easier the next day, and the next. Then, too, since we are Catholics and not opposed to images (we don’t worship them, but we do make use of their power) we choose one space in which to honor a presence which, theologically speaking, is universal, but which needs to be local for us.

The mother is in charge of the spaces in her home. She is the one who makes a house into a home, and she does this by her own sense of space, a sense partly expressed by how she lays things out and beautifies them, partly by the power of her own strong presence and her approach to God.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 17, 2010 10:38 pm

    Thank you, Mary, for your reflections on space. It was a “peaceful space”
    in my day.


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