Praying in Sanctuary

I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. Ephesians 3.13-14

gothic revival architecture in Kingston’s St. Mary’s Cathedral (RCC)

This post is more of a personal anecdote. Recently I’ve been praying in Anglican and Catholic churches during the week. No matter what you may think of those churches (and as an evangelical, I also have my significant doubts about their orthodoxy), I find their theology of space to be so much more meaningful than Evangelicals’, and it is is their theology of space that contributes to much to, what is for me, an aid for prayer.

If we’re honest with ourselves, evangelical churches feel like something out of the 60s or 70s quite often (and perhaps it’s because a lot of them are). Cold, and hard, and seemingly reminiscent of what is termed brutalist architecture with their sharp lines and cubic shapes. Alternatively, sanctuaries are increasingly like conference centers with fold down seating and large projector screens. And perhaps it is for better, after all God does not dwell in the building of the visible church as he did in the temple, he dwells in the hearts of the invisible Church by the Holy Spirit and in the gatherings of believers. But, even recognizing this, I wish that evangelical sanctuaries were a bit more accommodating during the week.

Perhaps it’s odd that I rather like these churches with larger presences and high ceilings (and high in more ways than one). After all, I identify with the reformed, and Calvin himself (according to my history of Christianity professor at my secular university) locked the doors of his church to discourage superstitious activity. After all, the whole world is of God, not a merely single building. But, I say, there is something special to an idea of “sanctuary” especially in this day where the society is far less Christian than Calvin’s Geneva. A sanctuary is sanct, it is thought to be holy — a place set aside for worship. In the past it was a place, of refuge for those pursued by the law, a place that was treated as holy. Similarly, I like these high churches because their architecture tends to evoke an idea of the transcendent. Their imposing natures seem to make the buildings timeless and there is a sense of connection with both the past and the future. For me, this transcendence evokes a sense of the transcendence of God. Even recognizing, as Calvin did, that there is perhaps nothing intrinsically special about what we may call “sanctuary,” there is also a sense of beauty. And whether or not beauty comes from the grand canyon or the buttresses of a gothic cathedral, I find beauty inspires awe, and an awe for the god that is the source of all beauty.

The awe I feel is immediately connected with the verse I put at the beginning of this personal essay. Lately I have felt doubt, and doubt over many things. Because of this, I have regained a sense of praying on my knees. I think there is a lot lost in Evangelical worship services by losing this attitude of praying on your knees. Sometimes, there is almost a sense of scoffing at this simple act as unneeded and associated with “vain religion,” but more commonly there’s just a lack of care. Kneeling in prayer is a physical reminder and admission before an Almighty God that we are unable, that we lack power, and that we must be humble before the majesty of God. The reason behind my increase in praying in these churches that evoke a better sense of awe is (1) they’re more often open during the week and (2) I have been feeling doubt. I may just be sentimental, but this sense of awe is at once both reassuring, but also disconcerting. To pray in these places is, for me, an admission of my weakness, a recognition that I need the holy spirit to change me, and an attempt to once again draw closer to God amidst the doubts that otherwise impede my prayer.

So I continue to pray, and I pray on my knees for God to abide with me and I in him. I pray, so that he may help my unbelief, and I pray so that I may once again draw close to a God that I find so awesome. Traditional churches may not be anything special, but they are a place of quiet in a busy world — a place where beauty abounds in a world that increasingly favors the transient over the transcendent. And prostate I fall before the majesty and power of the Lord Saboath.

note: they also have kneelers that are conducive to this attitude of praying on my knees, perhaps they detract from this attitude of praying on my knees? who knows?

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2 thoughts on “Praying in Sanctuary

  1. Beautiful post. The picture of the church is so beautiful. You nailed it on the head when you talked about experiencing the awesomeness of God in churches like this. And yes, I feel that kneeling really adds to worship. I pray that you will be comforted during this time of doubt. It looks to me that you are being led by the Holy Spirit.

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