By Erin Lane, Communications Associate
When we met our host on a narrow street in Dublin, Kevin Downey was askew on one side, an evergreen pale hanging off of his right shoulder. "Where have you come from?" we asked curiously. "The hidden garden," he confessed. After we unloaded the mushroom-colored hatchback we'd been driving around Ireland for ten days, Kevin welcomed us inside his town home, converted into a bed and breakfast, and sat down with us to share a sacred story of turnips and transformation.
In 2009, the residents of inner city Dublin turned an old dumping ground into a community garden. You can watch part of the story below in a video made by Kevin's partner and fellow gardner, Garvan. Land was prepared. Vegetables were planted. Murals were painted. Children who had never seen such diversity of food twisted their freckled-faces and exclaimed, "It tastes gorgeous!" But what struck me most during the 12-minute video was the comment by one neighbor that being in the garden "was like going to mass." It was a place of peace, a place to gather your thoughts.
As a cradle Catholic, I understand something of her sentiment, something of her sense of the sacred amidst our mundane routines. It matters to me that my desk is straight before I begin writing each morning. It matters to me that my bed is made before I crawl in and fall asleep to a wandering prayer. For a long time I felt like the aesthetics of a thing shouldn't matter to me, that I should be strong enough to find my thoughts, my self in any environment regardless of its appearance. But I do not have such resolve. I need space to coral my attention and quiet my focus. Perhaps this is why I still feel most at home in a cathedral-like church with stained-glass piercing my eyes and incense wafting up my nostrils.
Part of the reason I have been drawn to working with the Center for Courage & Renewal is because of their commitment to creating spaces intentional in design and beauty. The first retreat I attended with the Center was at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in North Carolina; I was struck immediately on my arrival by its stonework, its elegant tin roof. I can breathe hear, I thought. I can gather myself here. I will be safe here in the clean corners of its walls.
It's not that we need to seclude ourselves off from the mess of "real life" in order to find peace. This is my temptation, it's true, but I know that sacred space is also found in the dirt and the worms and the slimy seaweed that help our gardens to grow. It seems inevitable that whenever we gather our thoughts, we will gather both grime and gorgeousness. We only seek space to help us sift and sit peaceably with these seeming contradictions.
Where are the spaces where you gather yourself? What is it about their design that is able to hold your soul? How do you create these spaces for others?