Sunday, November 09, 2008


The autumn dusk was just beginning to fall. There was the slightest suggestion of a chill in the air. The campus of the big city church was, for the most part, still and quiet.

Just across a small courtyard from the solid sanctuary with its flagstone narthex and exposed buttresses was the prayer chapel. Made of the same stone as the church, its six walls enclosed an area hardly bigger than a master bedroom. The circular altar, made from a three-hundred pound piece of Jerusalem stone, had one of the Hebrew names for God carved on each of its four sides. It was centered beneath a suspended cross and surrounded by a kneeling bench of iron wrought to resemble a crown of thorns. The ceiling above the cross extended up two stories and ended with a skylight.

I looked over at my friend Margaret. She had known I would love this place. "Would you like a few minutes?" she asked and then quietly slipped out the heavy wooden doors leaving me alone.

I stood at altar, tilting my head back as far as it would go to look through the skylight at the quickly fading day, took a deep breath and lowered myself down onto the kneeler.

I was tired. And sick. And anxious. If anybody needed to be kneeling in a quiet place and opening her heart to healing it was I.

And, oh, yes, I was grieving, too. Grieving over the death of my friend, the one who, in the darkest time of my life always ended our telephone conversations with, "I'll say a rosary for you tonight." It was a soothing image even to this non-Catholic, the image of someone moving her fingers over worn beads, repeating sacred words and calling my name.

I folded my hands tightly together like a child playing "Here's The Church," felt my chin fall to my chest and heard myself praying.

I don't know what I prayed, just that words came out and drifted up and got caught in the great whirlwind of breath that constantly rises to worship that which is not – and never will be – human. I felt my eyelashes grow heavy with tears that did not fall, but floated, trembling like an over-full cup.

This wasn't my place. I had no history here. Had not witnessed baptisms or weddings or taken communion at this altar. Had not sung hymns or recited creeds under this roof or watched sunlight shoot through these stained glass windows to draw hopscotch courses on the floor. And, yet, it became in those moments a sacred place. One of my sacred places.

I have quite a few sacred places. Since I know that the sacred can not contained within the walls of any one church or even all the churches put together, that the sacred can not be contained at all, I have learned to find it everywhere.

The Celtic cross in the middle of Wesley Memorial Garden on St. Simons, surrounded by the unruly flowers and shrubs of the coast, is a sacred place. So is the top of the Temple Mound at the Ocmulgee National Monument, the ground around a particular fire-scorched pine tree just inside the property line behind Mama and Daddy's house and the roof-top deck on a certain beach house.

They are all places where I have experienced grace, the unexpected outpouring of the weighty, yet ephemeral, assurance that, as Julian of Norwich said, all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

I blinked and the over-full cup emptied on my cheeks. A self-baptism as it were.

I stood and walked toward the door where I noticed a set of votive candles on either side, a very non-Protestant accoutrement to worship. I felt the skin around my mouth loosen as the corners rose into a smile.

Okay, Nancy, I thought as I picked up the lighter, this one is for you.

The wick flickered and then caught, stretching itself into the air, into my breath, into grace.

Copyright 2008

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