A couple months ago I happened to catch the wonderful 1957 classic movie An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, on television. In a nutshell, the movie is about playboy Nick Ferrante (Cary Grant) and former nightclub singer Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) who meet and fall in love while on a cruise ship sailing from Europe to New York.
When the ship docks somewhere off the coast of the south of France, Nick takes Terry to meet his grandmother who lives in a nearby villa. As they enter the villa’s inner courtyard, the grandmother emerges from her private chapel and greets the couple. Terry comments on how charming the chapel is, prompting the grandmother to invite her to make a visit. Terry readily accepts the invitation and enters the chapel. Nick is hesitant to follow, but gets a verbal nudge from grandmother, "Go in, it won't hurt you."
When Nick enters the chapel he finds Terry kneeling in prayer before a simple altar covered with a white cloth. On it rests a statue of the Virgin Mary with lighted candles on either side. As they kneel together, Nick is noticeably uncomfortable, but soon his discomfort turns to curiosity and then awe as he watches Terry bow her head in prayer. She then looks up, and fixes her eyes on the statue of our Lady as if she's hearing a personal message of hope. Nick gives one last glance over to Terry, nervously adjusts his tie, and then they exit the chapel.
I know my description of this chapel scene sounds rather cornball and a little too sentimental, but it honestly moved me. What appealed to me most about this particular scene wasn't only the beauty and serenity of the quiet chapel, and how it was so conducive to prayer, but the effect this atmosphere had on souls. (Nick and Terry were converted in less than five minutes.) I know this chapel scene is the idealized Hollywood version of reality, but finding a designated quiet space for prayer, away from all the cares and distractions of life, can have a transformative effect.
Nevertheless, the chapel scene stuck with me, and I knew that I needed a space like that in my life. But where do I start? My immediate thought was to search the Internet for a handyman site that offers some cozy (read, tiny) "backyard chapel" blueprints. After that I would send my hubby off to Home Depot for wood, nails, and roofing shingles. It would be a beautiful chapel. But that dream was quickly crushed; Hubby wasn't interested.
So, while the backyard chapel idea went south quickly, the idea of having a devotional area somewhere in our home stayed. Last weekend, I decided to convert a small section of our den into a prayer space. When I say small I mean small. The dimensions of that room are a mere six feet by twelve feet. But it was the perfect room. The only suitable piece of furniture in the room that would serve as an "altar" was a low chest of drawers. So, I covered the top with a nice white cloth, placed on it an antique brass tabletop crucifix (a garage sale score), propped a vintage holy picture against the wall in front of the crucifix, arranged a couple of statues on either side of the crucifix, and added some flowers and some votive candles. Done. Wish I had a prie-dieu, but pillows for kneelers will do. For now.
Having a sacred space in your home dedicated to prayer can enhance your prayer life. It can also be your refuge from the storms of life. I've been using my little space for opnly a short time, but each time I've been on my knees in the quiet of this room I've experienced great peace and openness to the leading of the Lord in my prayers. In our fast-paced, crazy-busy world today, having a space to go to for respite and spiritual nourishment will bring us closer to the Lord, not to mention all the spiritual benefits that prayer always brings (Phil. 4:6-7).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about areas set apart for personal prayer:
For personal prayer, this can be a "prayer corner" with the sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father. In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common (CCC 2691).
If your prayer space is located so that it's visible to those who enter your home, it can also serve as an effective tool of evangelization. I'm sure my little sacred space will draw comments from some of my non-Catholic friends. Like Nick Ferrante, I can expect to see a little discomfort, and maybe a few nervous tie adjustments. But with a sprinkling of expectant hope and much prayer, God can use this little sacred space to convert hearts. After all, nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). Our little home "oratories" can be used to communicate God's love to others, and through this beautiful witness and our prayers, hearts will begin to open to the working of the Holy Spirit and his truth.
But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees from the hidden place will reward you (Matt. 6:6).