By Michelle Hiskey
When Lent begins Wednesday, so does six weeks of sacrifice that is supposed to help a person get closer to God. Another way there is to move your furniture.
That’s what Mary Carpenter and others in Atlanta have done after taking the course “Creating a Sacred Space in Your Home” at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.
Carpenter signed up because she had just moved into a home-office space that was becoming messy and unwelcoming. It felt more like work than her living space until she learned how to create a dedicated spot for prayer and restoration.
“In a sweet corner in my living room, several plants sit nearby, which calm my mind, as well as a window that gently welcomes the sunrise each morning,” said Carpenter, an Atlanta artist, designer and calligrapher. “And the corner has views of my recent artwork, which always brings me joy. I had all the right tools all along, but [now I] see the big picture, which is to have a space that brings me back to who I am.”
More than feng shui
The idea behind sacred space, said course instructor Pebbles Glenn Nix, is not an altar or shrine, or furniture positioned for maximum feng shui. Her definition is to assemble and arrange a place within the home for spiritual connection. Sacred space seamlessly connects to its surroundings so that a visitor might not even know it exists. It may be a piece of furniture, décor, lighting or atmosphere that serves as a portal to the individual’s peace, contentment, or positivity.
The inspiration came from a memoir, “Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community,” by Enuma Okoro, who seeks a way and place to worship that fits her multicultural identity. The book spurred Glenn Nix to “find God in the present, and peace and happiness.” For her that meant using her professional skills— the grasp of space, form, color, texture, proportion, unity and balance.
She had learned and taught interior design at the Art Institute of Atlanta and in 1997 founded Glenn Epting Interior Design in Buckhead. She had experienced the power of a comfortable space for working out personal conflict, praying and finding peace.
Until 2009, she lived alone at Cross Creek in northwest Atlanta, and her sunroom served as a sacred space for entertaining friends and fellowship. Occasionally it’s also a solace for processing doubts, anxieties and disappointments in her personal life.
“I would talk to my friends and cry there, wondering, ‘Am I going to be alone the rest of my life?’” said Glenn Nix, 45. “It was my comfort and joy when I went through an emotional ebb and flow about friends getting married and having babies, and I would go there to watch ‘Steel Magnolias’ or ‘Sixteen Candles’ and have some ice cream, chocolate and wine.
“After I went on a mission trip to the republic of Georgia in 2007, I realized that we have everything we need right here, and finding the right person in my life was not the cake but the icing.”
In 2009, she married Robert Nix; they and adopted son Guy in 2012, and bought their home in Peachtree Hills in 2013.
The expectation that a husband and child would make her life complete gave way to a new realization: a faster, frenetic life as a later-life parent required frequent spiritual rejuvenation. “Having peace and serenity is hard in this world,” she said. “We don’t stop and appreciate the quiet and hear God.”
Inviting inspirational memories
Light, color, and texture affect how we experience our surroundings, and there are many other aspects of interior design. A sacred space connects that experience with a person’s interior landscape and fosters an ongoing dialogue with God. Even more broadly, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again,” said comparative religions scholar Joseph Campbell.
Carpenter designed hers by following Glenn Nix’s instructions to “focus on our inner emotions when it came to color, texture, and light.” Her sacred space is “a place that invites me to retreat, to breathe, and to reflect… I was able to create a space where I can go and instantly feel restored. “
Glenn Nix created several sacred spaces in her own home. On a dressing table in her master bedroom, she set her grandmother’s lamps as a symbol of the great love in her family. “For me, that is a sacred space because the women in my family history are all there, and whenever I see it, it makes me happy.”
Another special spot is the living room, accented with her favorite color, pink. The childhood desk where she did her homework is within sight of the couch, where today she rests and chats with her mom by phone. “There’s tons of natural light and it’s cozy,” she said.
In her course, students pushed the idea of sacred space further. What if you do your best thinking in the shower?
“There’s no box you have to stay inside,” said Glenn Nix. “Any space you are in can be your sacred space…. My hope and prayer is that people can take that feeling of being at home with themselves and God, of love and peace and quiet and gratitude, into the world and feel it whenever they need to. We all have that peace and solace inside us.”