Special & Spiritual Spaces

special & spiritualIn the past few weeks with the weather improving we’ve been able to get out again into the various different growing spaces that PXI is part of in and around the area. At the Cross at Yew Lane we planted new fruit apple trees, and added new whips into our blackberry hedge to strengthen it and add to the diversity with;

  • Cherry Plum,
  • Hawthorn,
  • Hazel,
  • Blackthorn,
  • Bird Cherry and
  • Crab Apple.

In addition to the trees and hedging we planted up a number of new planters in the front and inner garden areas, and erected a new seating area, and began work on attracting more wildlife into the garden. Meanwhile at LEAF we hosted a prayer event called Prayer 8 for the Methodist Church in Sheffield – this led some of us into a conversation about the “Special & Spiritual Spaces” at LEAF. Now this conversation was in response to something I’d read and shared some years ago, an article by George Lings called “The Seven Sacred Spaces of Monastery” http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/news/encounters43 in the article George outlines seven spaces common to monastic spaces, these are:

Chapel – place of public worship & celebration
Chapter – place of decision making and ordering of community life
Refectory – place of eating and hospitality, community and service.
Cell – place of private prayer, reflection & meditation
Cloister –  an ‘in between’ space which allows for informal interaction with the world beyond
Garden – place of manual work
Scriptorum – place of study.

The more I think about these spaces the more I think they speak about the things each of us needs in our lives, we may not all see these from a Christian or faith perspective but together they can help us in achieving something of a balance in our life. The “sacredness” of these spaces comes not from the space itself but to how and if we meet with something of God there, as Margaret sine puts it: “Sacred is where the soul goes ….. A place is sacred, ground is holy because we encounter God there.” 

Those special, spiritual spaces where we find it easier to meet with God, the divine, are sometimes called “thin places” (especially in Celtic Christian spirituality) but this weekend I was also challenge by Rev John Vincent who spoke about the importance of “thick places”. By “thick places” John was arguing the need to find God not just in the beauty, awe and wonder of creation, but also down amongst the dirt – the hurt and pain of life, the struggle (sometimes just to survive another day), amongst the broken hearts and broken dreams, to find God in the very places that seem to be missing God.

Plot64 feels a bit like a “thick place” in allotment terms – as well as all the rubbish we’ve been trying to clear off in the last few months, the current weather has made everything suddenly resume life. The site is so overgrown it seems at times like there’s nowhere to start and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, and admittedly this weekend Angela and I were tempted by what seemed an opportunity to swap plots for one that was ready to go as it were. Well it doesn’t always work like you hope and the other plot has now been let out – so we’re just going to have to knuckle down to some hard and heavy graft to clear away all the rubbish, dig out all the weeds and bring new life on to Plot64 – it will take time but it will be worth it.

Taking Time Out

Nasturtiums, Peas and Beetroot on Plot107

Well it looks like summers finally arrived (even if only briefly according the the forecasts) and is was lovely to spend a good portion of my day today on the plot – and it needed it! The recent wet weather had made everything grow and especially the weeds, so despite the heat it was a case of being down on my knees pulling up weeds of all different varieties. Weeding is one of those gardening tasks of course that never seems to end, it’s a bit like painting the proverbial Forth Bridge,but staying on top of them is important to allow growing and breathing space to the plants as a gardener you want to do well – and there was no shortage of those as well today. From the bright and colourful Nasturtiums, to the harvesting of 4llbs of Broad Beans, the reward of tasting lovely wild strawberries, and cutting some chives for tonights tea, this years harvest is well underway – and all because of that space to grow and the nurturing that goes with it.

It being so hot and sunny it was also good to just take some time out from the work and relax and reflect – friends and regular followers of this blog will probably know about my interest in re-discovering “monastic rhythms” and exploring ideas of “new monasticism” for me the plot is as much a part of the monastery garden (alongside Quiet Garden at the Cross at Yew Lane) and as such it is about providing a space where we can be nurtured and grow just like the plants around us. And so it was that I found myself sitting and reading “Cave, Refectory, Road” by Ian Adams late into an the afternoon.

Adams identifies three spaces key to a “spiritual” life;

  • the Cave. This is that place of quiet, often solitary – where we take that essential time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with all its joys and sorrows, its burdens and its rewards, this is the place that we rest, this is the place we try to draw close to the “more” that we sense almost instinctively that we know there is to life – we may each call that “more” something different, for me the “more”is God as shown to us by Jesus.
  • the Refectory. Here we meet with others in community, our friends our family our neighbours – this is where we share hospitality, it is the place that gives us our stability.
  • the Road. The road calls us to live our lives shaped by our contact with others, to become public over private.

…. and so I sit, now showered and home from the plot, to spend more time in solitary reflection and, strangely, I find my mind turning to a scene in Christopher Nolans “Batman Begins”. It’s the scene where Bruce Wayne having returned from a time of personal challenge decides to confront his fear of bats, he does this by venturing into the cave of his boyhood terrors and standing as the bats fly around him – gradually as his fear is overcome – the cave that in the past held only fear and terror, has become not simply a refuge but the place of growth and power. Caves it would seem are not always dark and damp, nor are they simply places to fear, they can be places lit up with insight, where fears and worries can be overcome, and where new insights can be gained. ….. And so back to the cave!

“The journey to knowing God must include the discipline of coming to know yourself, and that risky journey invariably starts in silence” Ian Adams “Cave, Refectory, Road”

Use & Beauty

Borage and Chives being harvested by the bees.

This week I went to the plot a day later than normal to actually garden, when I got there I finally managed to put in a final crop of potatoes (King Edwards this time) in all it took eight rows in the area recently cleared by friends from Sheffield University Chaplaincy project – the weather being fine and sunny makes it all much more pleasant to spend a few hours working, as long as the graft isn’t too hard. I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the good weather, as well as others on their own allotments the butterflies and bees were hard at work too. All this hard work could mean we don’t spend any time actually enjoying the beauty of what is around on the allotments and that would be sad, in some it would only let us enjoy half the story The balance between use and beauty was one that monastery gardens in particular worked hard to achieve, with food (fruits and vegetables) regularly being grown alongside medical herbs and plants such as roses.

We often (those less often now as “austerity” becomes the new watchword of the rich and powerful) hear about the desire for people to strike a balance in their lives as well; the ‘work-life balance’ a ‘balanced diet’ and even the need to ‘balanced budgets’ – it seems that we are well aware as humans that too much of something, anything ends up not being a ‘good thing’. And just as eating and drinking the rights things, and doing regular exercise will keep us physically fit and well balanced, so too we can keep ourselves in better spiritual balance by spending time out from the pressures of everyday life. That’s why Jesus regularly took himself off to a “quiet place” away from the crowds, away from his friends, away from all the demands and pressures that were put on him, and in that place; often a garden, or hillside, he would sit and meditate and talk with God. In my mind it wouldn’t surprise me if he spent some of that quiet time with God also taking in the beauty that surrounded him, the insects, and birds, the trees, plants and flowers – and there among all the beauty that is part of creation he would come close to God and feel transformed and renewed. That gift of a balanced spiritual life is possible for all of us ….. if you haven’t already, try it – maybe you’ll feel transformed and renewed too.

Rows of King Edwards