This week the world wide church celebrated Ascension Day when Jesus left his earthly ministry and started working from home! Although it is a time of celebration I’ve been stuck with a real sadness this year as, at St Mark’s we should be joining with other churches in the area to sing and worship together, and of course we can’t do that this year. My plan is to watch the service at St Martin in the Fields in that spirit of visiting other churches but it isn’t the same however wonderful their services are.
In this season between Ascension and Pentecost when we are made very aware that Jesus is not just a good man who told us to be nice to people but God I’ve been wondering about how we encounter the divine today.
For me that encounter can happen in thin places and sacred spaces. My favourite thin place is by the sea where the waves roll onto the beach and the seagulls call overhead – there the barrier between the everyday world and the divine feels more porous and prayer is deeper and more immediate. I can’t visit that place at the moment and that is a loss. I can pray in the supermarket and I do, but it is different.
I wonder where thin places are for you? Perhaps in nature, in Bushy Park, in a forest or up a mountain? Maybe it is about watching clouds or smelling the grass or the sounds of the rain. Or being with people – at a big gathering for music or worship. It will be different for everyone but those thin spaces are out there.
Sacred spaces can be thin spaces too. I’m a huge fan of cathedrals which are sacred spaces. They were designed to be sacred but they can be thin as well. There is a big baptismal pool at Salisbury Cathedral that I love to visit and see the reflections of the building in the water. There is a statue in the crypt at Winchester Cathedral that has a quality of stillness that I can spend hours with.
Perhaps being apart from our sacred and thin spaces is why staying at home can feel hard right now.
St Marks is a sacred place. It feels prayerful. It isn’t just the simple architecture although I’m sure it helps, but the place has been prayed in for 80 years and somehow it has seeped into the walls. There is a quality to the silence there which I noticed the first time I walked in.
There are plans to open up the churches when the government allow but for now perhaps it is enough to mourn the loss of our thin and sacred spaces and to wonder if there might be a way to find them closer to home. By spending time being and not doing in the garden. By stopping in our walks in the park and remembering that God is with us. If you are not used to praying in this way take a moment as you set out on your walk to imagine yourself in the presence of a God who loves you more than you can know. Perhaps imagine Jesus walking with you or the Holy Spirit as a flame or breathe of wind accompanying you on your walk. Keep focused on the everyday and notice how beautiful the trees and birds and flowers are. If you feel able have a conversation with the one who is walking with you. At the end of the walk thank them for their company!
At a time when we can’t travel to sacred and thin spaces we can find them closer to home.