First, a personal note …
For some time now, I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts about praying in sacred spaces, also known as hierotopies.¹ And since I recently commissioned a drawing of one of my all-time favorite places to pray, Phillips Chapel, this seems as good a time as any to at least introduce the subject. So, beginning with “Chapels”, today I’m launching the sacred spaces page of this website. Hopefully, sooner than later this section will be full of local, state, national, and even international places of prayer for you to consider visiting…and praying. Meanwhile, I invite you to learn more about sacred spaces through the excellent interview with author, art critic, and philanthropist Roberta Green Ahmanson, “What is Sacred Space”. ² – aaw
SACRED SPACES: CHAPELS
There is no wrong time, wrong reason, or wrong place to pray. Indeed, we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to pray without ceasing for everything, everyone, and everywhere I Thessalonians 5:17, I Timothy 2:1-8. In a very real way then, any place, every place, can be considered a sacred space since anywhere God is present (which is everywhere) is holy ground.
I strive for this noble ideal – praying without ceasing – daily through my morning, noon, and evening prayers; throughout the day as I run my errands around town and go about the work of my prayer ministry and business at hand; my evening prayer walks for our neighborhood and local community; at weekly church services; and, of course, my daily Nexus Prayer. So, when it comes to heeding Paul’s admonition to pray everywhere, I do a pretty good job with portable praying. However, although praying on-the-go is a good thing, if you are like me, sometimes you just need to “get away from it all,” to be still and alone with God. For example, even though Jesus was “always about his Father’s business” Luke 2:49 He frequently removed himself from the people, problems, and public places of his daily life and ministry to pray in a secluded place Mark 1:35. Is there a lesson from Jesus’ example for us today? I think so.
With all the above in mind, I could wax poetic here about all the wonderful places to pray – both indoors and out. But for me, if praying at church or within a cathedral is good, then spending time communing with God in the sacred space of a chapel is great and one of my favorite places to pray. And when I’m able to pray alone in one of these sanctuaries of solitude, then that’s just a bonus gift from God.CAPE? CHAPLAIN? CHAPEL!
Now, when I say “chapel”, probably the last thing that comes to your mind is a cape like the ones worn by superheroes or religious such as the one worn by Saint Martin of Tours,³ but that is precisely where the word chapel, along with chaplain, from the Latin originates. Instead, the chapel that most likely comes first to your mind is the one made famous by Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” painted on its ceiling or by the white smoke that comes out of its chimney every time a new pope is chosen. I speak, of course, of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
The kind of chapels I’m talking about though, and am most fond of, may not be as famous, but are no less beautiful. At least in my mind. Not counting the fifty or so wedding chapels found in Las Vegas, chapels designed for worship and prayer may be found in almost every major city or small town in America. Usually tucked away in places most of us would never think of looking, these sacred spaces are typically small, intimate places that are often, but not always filled with beautiful religious art designed to draw us closer to God. I’ve prayed in many chapels over the years; here is one of my favorites – the humble beginning of the sacred spaces page on this site dedicated to the local, state, national, and international sacred spaces for all of us to discover…and pray.
1906 Bailey Avenue • Chattanooga, TN 37404
Of all the buildings on the campus of Tennessee Temple University, Phillips Chapel³ is the one I most fondly recall as a sacred space and feel the strongest connection to. Built in 1922, Phillips Chapel was the first permanent church building of Highland Park Baptist Church when Dr. J. B. Phillips was its pastor. By the time I arrived as a student in the ‘70s, not only was it being used for lectures, fine art performances, chapel services, and special meetings, but also for prayer.
But the chapel, as lovely as it was with its stained glass windows, bell tower, and arched Gothic architecture, the part of the building that was the most precious to me was the prayer room. It was certainly not the décor of this simple, unadorned, all-too-common room, but the spiritual activity of the room that made it sacred to me. Every day and night countless students like myself would enter the room, kneel at the prayer bench, read all the prayer requests recorded in a notebook, then close our eyes and open our hearts to God in prayer. Available around the clock seven days a week, I spent many an hour on my knees in that “upper room “ (that’s it in the first window next to the arbor on the building attached to the west side of the chapel.)
Unfortunately, Phillips Chapel is no longer open to the public, but I include it here out of respect for the literally thousands of pray-ers like myself and prayers logged in that special and sacred space over the decades. The chapel may now be closed, but in my mind the space remains holy ground to this very day because prayer – the prayers made to God centuries ago, yesterday, today, and tomorrow – have no expiration date. God will answer each and every one in His time. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. And thankfully, all over the world today there are chapels continuing the legacy of Phillips Chapel with their doors open wide waiting for pilgrims just like you and me to enter the sacred space of God’s presence through our prayers.
So, choose a chapel or other sacred space you’d like to visit and, while there, why not explore Nexus Prayer? Ready to begin? Nexus Prayer can be done in as little as five minutes a day and The Steps are easy to learn. Questions? Feel free to contact me anytime!
Note: Although a work in progress, I encourage you to visit the sacred spaces page on this website regularly to discover chapels in your local area or anywhere around the world where you may visit…and pray. – aaw
NOTES & CREDITS
1 Hierotopy | Studies in the Making of Sacred Spaces | Alexi Lidov
3 Saint Martin of Tours | Wikipedia – the free Encyclopedia
4 Phillips Chapel | Brief history, with photographic views of both the outside and inside of the Chapel compiled by LoopNet on February 26, 2013 from property record data and historical listings.
5 Photo Credit: Phillips Chapel illustration commissioned for Nexus Prayer International from artist, Mary R. Delamy. Copyright © 2017 Rev. Allen Aaron White | Nexus Prayer International | Many thanks to Piedmont International University for their kind permission to use their line drawing of Tennessee Temple University’s Phillips Chapel as a reference source that, along with actual photographs of Phillips Chapel, were used to create our illustration.
6 Photo Credit: “Flame” Super Hero | Public domain image used with permission via Wikimedia Commons. Illustration by Will Eisner (pencils) and Lou Fine (inks), uploaded by Roygbiv666 (Public Domain Super Heroes) [Public domain, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons