One of the things I have missed most since our churches were closed is the smell. I love the curious, and quite distinctive smell, of ancient stone in our medieval churches. I also loved the Monday morning smell of my training parish church, a wonderful mix of candle wax, incense, and furniture polish, all mingled together. These scents, or smells, remind me that all our senses are involved in worship.
Sitting quietly in any church engages all our senses until the atmosphere of worship is almost tangible. Layers and layers of prayer, built up through the ages, draw us into the past, the present and the future all rolled into one. Some people have said they find it difficult to pray properly without this very special atmosphere and I understand what they mean, particularly if they are used to being in an older church. But I am sure it is the prayer that makes the difference – it is the process of continuous prayer that creates a sacred space.
At one of our summer schools when I was training for ordination, the only place we could use for our worship was a lecture theatre. It had rather unpleasant green plastic tip up seats that made a noise every time anyone moved – or even breathed! It had white painted brick walls and an extraordinary amount of clutter – even a folded table tennis table. However, almost within twenty-four hours, with a little careful de-cluttering, a cross, flowers, and other objects to focus attention, the space began to change. Four congregational services a day, and private devotions, transformed the space into a place where the power of God could be felt.
If you have missed the special atmosphere of church during these last difficult weeks, I hope you have been able to create a sacred space inside your own home – but it is never too late to start! Of course, it’s possible – and desirable – that all our day should be built on prayer, like the Celtic Christians I wrote about some time ago, but to have a space set aside inside our own homes and made beautiful for God, where we can perhaps more easily feel his presence, is wonderful and special, even now we can begin to go back into our church buildings. And it’s prayer that makes the difference.