In the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the character, played by Richard Dreyfus, has an intense experience while stopped on a road one evening. From that moment onward, he becomes more and more obsessed with trying to create the image that looms greater in his mind. At one point, using mud, rocks, sticks and various other materials, he constructs a large scale model of the image that now has become an obsession...a mountain with surrounding terrain. Then, the obsession became a mad search for the real place.
We may think such things are from the realm of fantasy, but such could not be farther from the truth. St. Augustine of Hippo (fifth century) reflected, "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in you, O Lord." There is not a person who has not had something like a gnawing feeling deep inside that begins something like a quest. Because of the many layers of conditioning and expectations, these quests may lead to dead-ends, or, like Don Quixote, a chase for windmills. What we actually search for is inside...which can often have some sort of anchor externally.
Such happened to me recently. In the early spring of 2008, our home basement (which is finished & furnished) was damaged, when the sump pump malfunctioned. It required the carpet to be removed, the basement dried out thoroughly and furniture restored. The first order of business -- after damage control -- was to replace the sump pump. We did so with a "state of the art" system that has two fail-safe backups. Being an old Navy guy, water-tight integrity is almost an obsession with me.
After the baseboards were removed and the damaged portions of drywall repaired, Denise and I repainted the entire basement living area. We left the project for about nine months. My sabbatical leave arrived, and I was engaged in a special project for three months. Fall came, and the parish program (and Denise's work) took center stage. Finally, this past spring, we settled on the kind of carpet we wanted, and the basement got finished and back to normal.
But, something had been planted deep within me during my sabbatical. The east wall of the basement runs for about 10 feet from the north wall and then juts back about 3 feet before continuing to the south corner. The small corner created, where the wall juts back became a place of obsession for me. At first, I had no idea why. As the carpet guy was working (and I helping with stretching it) I kept staring at that corner -- to the point that the carpet guy once asked if there was something wrong with his work in that area. Nope, the space just spoke to me.
While on sabbatical, I had learned the importance of sacred space and holy ground. This is not new to me, but actually spending a great deal of time in such spaces that summer stirred my soul in ways that started to grow. An image was emerging, and I had no idea what it meant. Now, as I stared at that corner where the east wall jutted back three feet, the image and the space began to speak to each other. Nothing concrete was coming forth, and it began to drive me crazy! Until...one day, just before I left for General Convention, I was praying in the St. Andrew's Chapel (a place I go often during work days to gather thoughts and offer prayer for my parishioners). Eureka!!! I got an image! The basement space was supposed to become a contemplative prayer space. Okay, fine. Contemplative prayer is a big part of my discipline. It is how an introvert priest feeds the soul and mind. I had always wanted something I could call a uniquely holy spot.
This summer, while at General Convention and on vacation the two weeks following the convention, bits and pieces of what this space was to look like began to take serious shape. When Denise and I returned from California, I had one week of vacation time left and several yard and house projects to complete. I gave myself a deadline: I would spend enough time on the prayer space project to complete it by the final Friday of my vacation. No excuses. Thus began the "Richard Dreyfus Obsession."
I spent hours looking through Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Lowes and other such places for just what I thought I needed. Plans? I didn't need no stinkin' plans! The vision was internal, and when I saw what would work, it literally lept out at me. What I started with as a potential vision took some interesting turns (and I drove a Home Depot guy crazy running about the store with him tagging along trying to answer questions and keep up with my rapid changes of mind and opinion). Then it happened. I had all the tools in one place.
A three-tiered fountain in the corner, sitting in a larger round rubber container, which itself was filled with small, smooth river stones. Various kinds of vine and bamboo grass (necessarily artificial due to the darkness of the specific area) created a natural feel. Four three-foot pieces of 1"x8" red oak, which I stained and coated with polyurethane. These created two small tables built with one board on the carpet and two columns of four antique red bricks with the second board on the top. The one table on the three-foot section of wall supported a small, glass shade lamp that could be activated by touch (3 way with a 60 watt bulb). the identical small table on the east wall had a candle, incense burner and a couple of tokens that are precious to me. Above that table on the east wall are two icons...one of the Holy Trinity (by Rublev) and the other depicting Holy Wisdom by a fourth century Byzantine monk. Back from all this, facing east, sits a foldable back-jack chair (sits directly on the ground with support for the back). I'm done!
That final Friday afternoon of my vacation...at 4:00pm, I sat in the back-jack chair, legs folded, candle lighted and prayed a blessing for this space. It was complete. The image and the space had finally come together in a reality, which is the extension of my soul's need for holy ground in which to find Peace and Presence in a busy world.
It is to this place I go to begin my days. I have a Bible and Book of Common Prayer for the Daily Office. I have a journal to jot what may come from my time of prayer. I have the icons and symbols of other holy spaces that are dear to me...which connect me to space and time...a sacramental context. The soft sound of the water cascading from one basin to the other in the fountain creates a sensory distraction and calms the mind. I love this space deeply. It is home inside my home. It is holy ground.