For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a chapel where my family could pray together daily, as well as individually whenever a bit of quiet time with God was needed. I made a few attempts in our old house to make the “Back Room” into a chapel, but we always needed the room for something else – storage, guest sleeping quarters, play room, sewing room. We just did not have enough room for everything, and the chapel always had to be the loser. God stepped in, knowing that I needed to be near Him, and in time I was given keys to my parish church, where I could go sometimes to be quiet in His Presence. But the distance between house and church was far – almost an hour. That prevented me from going very often. I began, very slowly, to learn how to find quiet in my soul even with noise in the house. Still, every now and then I needed to go back to the church to recharge my batteries in actual, physical, tangible silence.
When Ian and I looked at this new house, I immediately saw where the chapel would be, and in my mind and heart I solemnly vowed that it would not be a multi-purpose room. This time God would be first. It did not even enter my mind that this room could ever be anything else. We would have to build walls eventually to enclose it and separate it from what would be the living room, and I really prayed that the walls could be built soon so that the chapel would not be lost to storage or clutter. Providence heard my prayer, and a wall had to be built right away. The previous owners of the house had removed a wall from just the place I wanted one. It turns out it had been a load-bearing wall, and the upstairs now had no support!
When told that this room would be our chapel, a visitor to our unfinished basement asked, “What will the room be used for normally?” I didn’t know what he meant, so he asked, “I mean, when it is not being used as a chapel.” I said it would be used as a chapel every day, but he did not seem to understand what I meant. Later, another person suggested that it could be a quiet place to go and read, and that we could keep all of our bookcases in there.
It never occurred to me that people would not understand what I meant by “chapel.” I did not mean a temporary place where sometimes we would gather to pray as a family and sometimes play board games. I did not mean a quiet place to read. One might as well ask,”What do you use your kitchen or bathroom for when it is not being used as a kitchen or bathroom?” I meant a place set apart all the time, where one can go and know that no one is going to be sewing or listening to music or doing homework. A place set apart to pray; that is, talk to and listen to God without distractions. One needs silence for that, and in a home with 12 people living in it, silence is hard to come by.
Now I can understand using space wisely, especially when room is tight and many tasks have to be done in one place. I know that I cannot at this time have a dedicated sewing room. I do not sew often enough to merit that (although one could argue that more sewing might be done if there were a place in which to do it). I understand that I cannot have a dedicated classroom, even though we do school every day. The dining table will have to serve as school desk for 10 children, and I will have to cook and plan meals at the the stove while I teach them.
For me, though, praying is different. I know I must pray always and make my life and every part of it a prayer, but I have to recharge sometimes. Now that we have moved, I do not have keys to the local church. I can’t drive the 3 hours to my old parish to find quiet. There has to be a place where I can go every day. I want to cultivate that inner silence in my own heart, and in the hearts of my children. I want them to know Who God is, and the only way to hear Him is in silence. I want the chapel to be the heart of our home. I want it to be normal and natural for each of us to go there separately or together every day, and as many times a day as we want to. I want this room to be available all the time, to encourage prayer and reflection.
Like that Providential wall that provides support for the main part of the house, prayer is the absolute foundation without which our lives fall apart. The chapel will be a visible reminder of that need in our lives, and, I hope, a place in which to find the One Who can fill that need.