Jesus said, “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (Mt 6:6) I wonder – as Jesus and his disciples traveled through the Judean countryside, where were they going to find this ‘inner room’? It’s not a stretch to think that the ‘inner room’ Jesus mentions could be both the place in the home where we usually pray as well as the place in our spiritual interior where God abides, the place Teresa of Avila calls our interior castle.
With this thought in mind, I recalled a recent trip to Saint Helena’s Island, near Beaufort, SC. I visited the ruins of a “Chapel of Ease”. I am thinking I might also call this inner room of mine a ‘Chapel of Ease.’ Here’s the reason.
The St. Helena’s Chapel of Ease was built in 1740 for the plantation workers who couldn’t make the trip to the Anglican parish church in Beaufort, SC. It was well attended in its formative years but abandoned in 1861 after the Union troops invaded Beaufort. For a while Methodists Freedmen used the building to educate and train the emancipated slaves. Activity in the chapel ceased in 1886 when a forest fire did considerable damage.
Like St. Helena’s chapel, my chapel of ease has been a well-attended and thriving spiritual center. I recall, for instance, my diaconal formation and later my formation as a spiritual direction. Good things were happening. Sadly, from time to time, my chapel of ease has also suffered invasion from the enemy forces that try to disrupt and quash my spiritual life. Too often these forces succeeded in temporarily shutting down spiritual activity. But then there have also been moments of desperation where my chapel of ease was the only place I could learn how to be emancipated from those things that were keeping me enslaved.
As I looked at the ruins of the St. Helena’s Chapel of Ease, I realized there has similarly been some neglect in my chapel. With Lent a few days away, it’s time to make this sanctuary beautiful again and a more vibrant part of my interior life. As part of my Lenten discipline, I plan to visit this Chapel of Ease more frequently, recall those times of vibrant spiritual growth, repair the neglected structures, and eliminate those habits that still keep me enslaved.
The Collect from last Sunday’s liturgy speaks of this renovation, and might be one I recite each day during Lent:
who teach us that you abide
in hearts that are just and true,
grant that we may be so fashioned
by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.
Blessings on your spiritual renovations this Lent!