In search of a sacred space

Where does one find God: within or without? Where does one find a gathering of the “people of God”? I found such a gathering (my idea of what “church” is) at St Vincent‘s Church in Redfern, Sydney. Catholic, it is, in terms of its representation: people of varying social class and background, some Aboriginal, Anglo-Celtic and other ethnic background, one or two who have some form of mental illness, and very young children occasionally running around, oblivious of the liturgy.

 

From what one hears from the “Prayers of the Faithful”, there is an expressed concern for the sick, the dying, the infirm and victims of social injustice. The longing for peace and hunger for a more inclusive and embracing community is strong. I have found myself drawn to this community. My children in their mid and late twenties do not go to church anymore. My husband goes to another church. So why do I go to St Vincent‘s Church? Faith, it seems. Its source might be grace for I have not lost it. Faith in what? Faith in Christ, his love and his way. I feel that many of us have lost our way. Many of us are feeling displaced, seemingly losing the sense of the sacred in this dizzying pace of change we experience today. St Vincent‘s community helps ground me as I see people who are hurting and those who find time in making this world a better place, who are only too aware of our inequity, and who wish to heal and be “whole” and give without counting the cost Christ has shown us the way.

St Vincent‘s church is not a cathedral. It is rather run-down. Perhaps the community wants it to remain so to show that they identify with the poor and the marginalised. The building may reflect the load that they carry, their grief over the suffering of so many people around the world, including the refugees who have come to our shores. Our own Aboriginal people outside the gate of the church remind us, when they ask for spare change, that all is far from well. What prayerful life can one have with the painful awareness of so many people in dire need, even if we are told that Christ’s “kingdom” is not of this world?

Churches, temples or synagogues are not meant to be a place of refuge from a troubled world. They are buildings meant to be a space for reflection, meditation, communing, finding the sacred in the mundane. Finding that space is not easy, not even at St Vincent‘s Church. Too many words, hard to find the emptiness that fills.

I go to church not to go through the motion as a Christian nor to follow tradition or the all too ­familiar mass ritual, but to be renewed, to restore the self in communion with all. I see God not in a building nor in an institution but in the beauty of creation around us – the sea, the moon, the stars, the sun, the plants and animals around us and in people who have received the blessing of reaching enormous possibilities. The light of hope in people’s eyes, the belief that we can overcome our ailment and inequity, ascend from the ashes of the earth, love and care. Yes, all these draw me to the community of St Vincent‘s, to a people in exile looking for their real home. I hope that each one of us, like our Rabbi, will be a shepherd to the flock who are lost, and to each other.

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