Seven Sacred Spaces: Portals to deeper community life in Christ is the new book by George Lings (published by BRF). George identifies seven characteristic elements in Christian communities through the ages, which when held in balance enable a richer expression of discipleship, mission and community.
In the monastic tradition these elements have distinctive locations: cell (being alone with God), chapel (corporate public worship), chapter (making decisions), cloister (planned and surprising meetings), garden (the place of work), refectory (food and hospitality) and scriptorium (study and passing on knowledge). George explores how these seven elements relate to our individual and communal walk with God, hold good for church and family life, and appear in wider society.
I found the book very helpful and warmly commend it. Inevitably I found myself asking: how do the ten holy habits relate to the seven sacred spaces? George himself sees a particular connection with the holy habit of prayer and the sacred spaces. He also affirms the value of the habitual in forming disciples, quoting an old proverb which says, ‘Sow a thought and reap an action; sow an action and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a destiny.’
I think all ten of the holy habits can and do have particular relationships with the seven sacred spaces – several of them multiple relationships. I suggest that:
Cell is particularly a place of personal prayer, biblical teaching and worship.
Chapel is particularly a place of corporate prayer, biblical teaching, breaking bread and worship.
Chapter is a place of fellowship and sharing the resources of decision making.
Cloister too is a place of fellowship and, where chance encounters occur, a place of making more disciples.
Garden is a place of serving and sharing resources. When enjoyed recreationally, it also a place of gladness and generosity.
Refectory is obviously a place of eating together but also a place of breaking bread, gladness and generosity and serving.
Scriptorium is another place of biblical teaching and making more disciples. This latter habit can actually be operative in all the spaces.
You may identify other relationships.
When taking about Holy Habits, I am always keen to stress that these are holy practices for the whole of life and all contexts and locations, not just for when we gather in intentional Christian community. So, eating together for example is not just about the meal we have on the Alpha course or at Messy Church, but something to be done intentionally in our factory canteen or with our friends in the pub. It is one way in which others can encounter the holy.
There are some stories and ideas in the book as to how spaces in secular locations can become gateways to the sacred, but I would love to see this more fully explored and developed. So how might the water cooler or photocopier in the office be the cloister in that context? How might farms, factories, shops or other places of work be expressions of Christlike work (the garden space in Seven Sacred Spaces). Early on in the development of Holy Habits, I remember being delightfully surprised when someone said they were going to ask at their local police station if they could spend a night in an empty cell to pray for those being held, the police officers, the victims of crime and the local community. A very different sort of cell, but what a wonderful idea.
Maybe this expansion is work waiting for someone else to do or a possible collaboration with LICC and their Fruitfulness on the Frontline work. In the meantime, may I encourage you to read George’s book both to reflect on how it could renew your personal devotional life and that of your church, and to ponder how the spaces you inhabit at work or in your local community may also become spaces in which others can encounter the sacred.