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Sparks of Beauty: Sacred Spaces

Thursday 10 October 2019

Media and Communications Office
 
A reflective Sparks of Beauty night was held this week by the Archbishop’s Office of Evangelisation at St Mary of the Cross MacKillop’s Chapel in ACU. The night was filled with conversation and contemplation of the theme Sacred Spaces, the ones we build around us and the ones we create within.
 
 
The night was emceed by Tiffany Davis and featuring Fr Laurence Freeman OSB who is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation –an ecumenical, contemplated, community dedicated to teaching meditation. Also present was former Director of the Archbishop’s Office of for Evangelisation Cathy Jenkins. The evening offered insights on how we might find and celebrate the sacred and ‘signs of God’ in today’s increasingly fragmented and secular world.
 
In opening the evening, Tiffany mentioned how Christians are often known for assigning sacredness to spaces and objects and asked the speakers about what some of their earliest memories of the experience of the sacred.
 
‘I lived in with a large family in a small house and we used to have a swing in the backyard. And I used to go to the swing at the end of the day and I’d think about what’s going on, think about life and think about how beautiful everything was. I think for me that preserved a little taste of a growing understanding of what sacred meant,’ said Cathy Jenkins.
 
‘When I was very young I went to a school run by the Sisters of Sion Notting Hill I can remember a particular moment, I must have been around five sitting in this chapel and just feeling something awakened,’ said Fr Laurence Freeman of his own first experience of the sacred.
 
 
 ‘Another element were the smells of nature and the discovery of sensory diversity of the uniqueness of discovering the new smell of a flower,’ he said.
‘There was an idea that only a priest could touch the altar,’ he explained of his years growing up.
 
‘And yet I had a sense of familiarity and being at home in that kind of sacredness. I think today some people feel it is an artificial sense of the sacred, nonetheless, for a child anyway-there was an appreciation of something intangible, something special.’
 
Tiffany guided the conversation towards sacred objects and spoke about how some people feel connected when they are young to something tactile, and queried what the speakers appreciated as sacred objects.
 
Cathy spoke about her mother’s sense of celebration where candles were lit at dinner in special crystal candlestick holders ceremoniously and her grandparent’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the Rosary and a holy statue.
 
 
‘That statue of Mary travelled to different people’s houses and my grandparents were particularly devotional and this was a big deal,’ she said. ‘For a whole week we had to go to my grandparent’s house after dinner saying the rosary and I can still remember not quite understanding what it was about but looking at this large statue of Mary and getting a sense that I was a part of something that was bigger than myself and that there was something about this person of Mary that was inviting me to become of something bigger.’
 
Fr Laurence followed with his fascination with the glow-in-the-dark statue of Mary. ‘I don’t know if it was sacred or it was magical,’ he joked.
 
‘At the beginning, our sense of sacred begins with the magical and is very sensory and then it evolves and changes. But I think we have culturally lost value in that.’
 
  
As the night progressed, Tiffany asked Fr Laurence about his experience with children in the meditation space, and he expressed how a normally noisy class became quite still and notably how children in that class noticed it both among themselves and within.
 
‘They sometimes have the most profound insights,’ said Fr Laurence. ‘One child said, "I don’t think we’ve ever been so quiet in the classroom as we were just now," he explained.
 
‘And another child said, "I was able not to play with my hands while were meditating". And I didn’t know what he had meant until later on I found out that he is addicted already to video games so much so that he plays late at night and is too tired to come to school in the morning.’
 
He went on to speak about it similarly as in prison spaces.
 
‘When I meditate with prisoners, again you get the feeling that the Kingdom of God is manifesting so it becomes sacred for that period of time.’
Fr Laurence explained that it was not the physical place or objects but it’s the relationships that can make a space or object sacred. ‘When we enter silence together we enter a deeper relationship with each other and with God.’
 
And how are these relationships cultivated?
 
‘When we see God through the eyes of blessing, He encourages us to see the sacredness in the day,’ said Cathy. ‘I remember giving a retreat to Mother Theresa’s nuns in Calcutta and it was right next to the railway station so it was never silent.’
 
‘But the sisters were very peaceful and there was a sense of great silence in that space and the place was very simply furnished but it was beautiful,’
 
Fr Laurence shared an example of how relationships can be silently cultivated in a sacred space, coming back to one common source.
 
‘It was clean, simple and there was an aesthetic touch the way the flowers were placed. So you know that someone looked at that place with an artistic eye. So I think that that simplicity and clearing out of clutter in our lives, clearing out the external clutter and the mental clutter which is the work of meditation every day that also brings us back closer to the source.’
 
 Pictured: Fiona Dyball (voice), Geoffrey Urquhart (keyboard) and Patrick Shannon (violin)
 
The night was also filled with musical pieces by the likes of Bach and Taize on violin, piano and voice and followed with a Q&A session.

Fr Laurence is a priest and Benedictine monk of Monastry of Sta Maria d Pilastrello in Italy and is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation and of its Benedictine oblate community. Before entering monastic life he had experience with the United Nations in New York, banking and journalism. He has published a number of books including ‘Selfless Self’ and ‘Jesus the Teacher Within’.
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