Driving around Bryan’s neighborhoods, my husband, Bob, would point out from time to time, “Catholic yard. There’s another one. That’s a Catholic yard.” Some of these lawns’ signs of Catholicism were obvious: a statue out front, a home made shrine. Some were less obvious but he was no less sure. I asked him how he was guessing. He said that Catholics tend to create places to “be” in our yards, out- door prayer spaces. He was right. I know we aren’t the only ones. But we do have a tendency in our outdoor arrangements at our homes and churches, toward outside prayer spots, and Holy Spirit hide-outs.
Around our house, there are several places to sit and “be.” Some of them have a religious symbol to enrich that environment, and some are simply pretty, quiet places to think, pray and be. Among my favorite spaces is the tree house. It is a very tall tree house, higher than the roof of my house. It has the added benefits of a porch swing, a light and electrical outlets. It’s a great place for a nap, or for reading or thinking, writing, prayer and meditation, or hiding from the kids for a while. (If you lay down on the boards of it’s floor it takes them forever to find you!)
Even when I was a kid, I had places where I liked to take my books and notebooks, to read, write, or just think. In our yard at the house I grew up in, there was an uninhabited corner that was overgrown with honey suckle vines which had formed kind of a bubble. So it was like a flower cave. I kept a small quilt there and a stack of books and writing materials. But I lot of the time I just sat in the in the green- filtered light, “thinking.” As a child, St. Therese built herself little places like this with chairs and sheets, as you probably did too. One of the sisters at the Carmel asked what she did in there, and she said that after settling down, “ I THINK!” Later, as an adult, she realized she had been doing Mental Prayer already, and practicing solitude and silence. I think I was, too.
It’s important to create these kinds of places for ourselves when we grow up as well. Our soul needs special places to be with God in nature, or at least for our spirits to quiet themselves and open to God, in Whom we live and move and have our being. At times we need to be alone with the Holy Spirit in a place that nurtures contemplation, so we can make this possible, even in our busy lives. There are places in my yard I go to just briefly sometimes: the Marian shrine my husband made on the shady side of the house with a little bench nearby, against a tree, is a quiet place to sit down and be recollected for a minute or two. Sometimes as I sit down I feel straightened out at once, and I sigh a peaceful sigh.
During the winter, I like to pray Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, in the green house, with a nice cup of hot tea. It was not built for prayer, but for plants. However, it is perfect for both.
There is a shrine in the back yard in the roses with a crucifix inside it that has a small bench in front of it. Roses hang from the trees and it is so lovely to sit there in Spring. When my husband was ill, he could see that spot from his bed, and he talked to Jesus all the time, the window open, getting as near to being outside as he could.
The front porch swing is a good place to be quiet and let the call and response chanting of the cicadas guide my inner prayer.
There is a little memorial fountain in the back yard to my first husband, Blaze, with a bench, a Dame de Couer rose bush beside it, a Madonna and Child statue within it. That is a good place to go for advice. I need advice sometimes.
I like stretching out on the fresh hay in the chicken yard, looking at the sky. My chickens walk over me and sometimes try to pull my nose ring out. But I don’t mind them. They make me smile and I pet them, or share an apple with them. Usually nobody finds you in the chicken yard for a while, either, and somehow the sky seems a deeper sky from the chickens’ point of view. It’s a good “thinking” spot.
Often something happens around me in these places that makes my soul feel nearer to God- like a kiss from a butterfly, or a gentle breeze coming at just the right moment, or seeing a hidden rose blooming beautifully without an audience, or the onset of dusk and gentle blue in my quiet place.
I have always loved hidden places, unoccupied space. I want to fill those places with prayer. Any out of the way place can be a Holy Spirit hide-out.
Don’t tell my daughters, but many a night, with them safely tucked in bed, I have climbed the Crepe Myrtle tree beside our front porch and star gazed on the roof with the Lord. I would not be surprised if they have done the same now they are older. Sometimes the cats join me, squeezing their eyes in contentment and meditating with me.
Everyone needs a Holy Spirit hide-out.