Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Our Little Oratory

In January 2013 I took a group of students from Bellarmine University's Master of Arts in Spirituality program to the state of Kerala in India.  We stayed at a vibrant Franciscan friary, and traveled throughout the state exploring Christian history and spirituality - tradition has it that St. Thomas evangelized Kerala in 52 C.E. - as well as the ways in which Christians in Kerala engage in dialogue with one another and with their Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters.

The most moving experience for me wasn't visiting sights associated with St Thomas, nor was it engaging in a discussion about interreligious dialogue at a Jesuit ashram.  It was, rather, being invited over to a family's house for supper along with two students.

The friary in Kerala
The hospitality was amazing.  The family walked us up and down the street and introduced us to their neighbours.  At each neighbour's house we were greeted warmly and were, of course, fed.  When we returned to their home, a carpet was brought out and the entire family - grandparents, parents, and children - knelt before a prayer altar on which were placed candles, icons, and statues.  The prayers were led by the mother and, though they were in Malayalam, I could tell that the family was reciting the rosary.

The prayers ended after twenty minutes - we were told that they shortened them for our benefit - after which we ate an incredible meal.

This image of the entire family knelt in prayer together moved me deeply, and continues to stay with me.

Our little oratory
While my family prays together, we don't do so as consistently as I would like, nor did we have a spot
in our house designated specifically for prayer.  It seemed to both Kim and I that this needed to change, and so we decided to create a little oratory in our dining room.  We found a little cabinet at the Good Will store, and we have plans to refinish it at some point in the future.  In the meantime, we put up some icons that we had throughout the house as well as in my office at work, and found some candles.

The little oratory is a work in progress; we plan to find more icons, statues, and candles.  But I'm loving how our kids are reacting to it.  All of them love the process of lighting the candles (and blowing them out), and I can tell that they realize that we've created in our dining room a sacred space, carved into our dining room a corner where one can focus one's attention and be still.

I'll put updates here and on Twitter as the space transforms.  And I would love to see any spaces you've created in your homes.  Send me your photos on Twitter, and tell me how you use it.

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