I watched a movie a few weeks ago whose images haunt me. The movie was "The Secret Life of Bees". In it, Queen Latifah is one of three sisters. Her younger sister, May, is a fragile woman, one who has seen great sorrow, and one who bears the sorrow of others. May becomes very sad when he hears of any sad event. Her family builds her a "wailing wall", having been inspired by the Wailing Wall
in Jerusalem. It is their hope that May can find some peace by praying there and leaving her prayers behind her.
At the Jerusalem Wailing Wall, people write their prayers on bits of paper, and stuff the paper into chinks in the wall while they pray. May goes to her wall to pray out her sorrows. She, too, writes down names or prayers on bits of paper that she puts into her stone wall. This calms her, helps take away the sorrow of her grief.
As I watched the movie, I thought how much of a boon it would be if everyone had their own wall, their own place to "leave it behind". I thought how important it could be, how helpful to write down sorrow and physicalize the prayer.
For a while I thought about physicalized prayer -- about what it might be like to add a symbology set to prayer -- and I kept coming back to the wall.
Flash forward a few weeks. I am letting my dog romp in my backyard. We are both enjoying the first absence of snow in a long winter.
I bought this house a year or so ago, and have yet to do any real landscaping. One couple of friends have given me landscaping as a housewarming gift, so now I need to decide what to do. It is spring. Time to plant. And I do have a half-acre of fenced yard.
Off to one side is the old-fashioned clothes line, made from four pipes set upright into cement with crossbars of pipe connecting the short sides like two rectangular arches, blocking off a rectangle of approximately 18 x 8 feet.
What am I going to do with those
As I ponder what it would take to dig up the concrete at the base of the pipes, and the mess it would make, my brain flashed around a picture of what they could
look like, and the decision was made.
I will add crossbeams of wood to make a pergola, and will paint the poles and wood to match. I'll plant wisteria up the poles, which will hopefully cover the whole top as well.
Flagstones or cobblestones will make a floor, and running either through the middle or along the long side (or maybe 3 sides) will be a loosely formed low rock praying wall. The wall will be the height of a New England stone wall that might be used to mark out a border.
There will be one bench and some candles inside. And that is that ...oh, and some paper and pencils in a lovely weather-proof box. This will be a place for a person to come, sit, and pray or meditate in peace and silence.
One person at a time.
I'll open it to family and friends and anyone who needs the space. No questions asked. Need the space? Come on over and just use it.
I think we need more spaces like this in the world -- more places to just be
with the tough thoughts. We need more places to offer the dark moments up and out to God and/or into a caring universe.
I am going to ask a priest, a minister, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and an Muslim Imam to bless the space. I hope they do. There will be no overtly religious symbols there, because I would like all faiths to feel welcomed. There will just be candles, maybe some incense, maybe some plants.
The wall structure will only be used for prayer -- no gatherings, no reading books or sipping tea -- prayer and meditation only.
I've got a bunch of calls out for estimates, and am trying to be as cost-effective as possible, even though the expense is a gift to me. I can already "see" it in my mind.
As the young Dakota Fanning says in The Secret Life of Bees
-- "It feels right to be here, but I don't know why yet."
This may be the strangest thing I have ever done. I'm building a wall from nowhere to nowhere. In 2009 I am constructing a place for public praying.
Yet the idea has me so on fire, flames should be shooting out from my hair. I've already gone out scouting stone walls, looking at what sort/style suits me -- and it isn't the fancy, perfect ones. I like the walls that combine boulders and hewn stone in a non-cemented dry wall construction.
I like to think of the wall eventually becoming saturated with prayer -- almost having the stones hum a faint buzz of whispered prayers left behind in their open places, playing them into the wind like music, or having the vague murmur of past prayers tumble across my yard like leaves set free to dance in the dark.
Tell me what you think of this. If such a space existed in the yard of a friend, where you could unobtrusively come to meditate or pray with no one asking you any questions -- would you use it?