Contemplative by Design

Creating Quiet Spaces for Retreats, Workshops, Churches and Personal Settings

Written By Gerrie Grimsley and Jane Young

Contemplative by Design by Gerrie Grimsley and Jane YoungIf our first personal gift was breath from Creator to creature, then life itself is a powerful link between us and the Source from which we came.  Perhaps this explains what many experience as a deep longing for relationship—a yearning much like that of a child for the comfort and love of a parent.  Jesus felt such longing, and we are told more than once that he went off “by himself to pray.”  The invitation to set aside time and space in which to sense and nurture that relationship has been spoken about in many ways and in many languages through the centuries. 

Those who want to respond positively to this invitation can access countless writings about the spiritual life and can find guides for specific practices on web sites and bookstore shelves.  Our offering for would-be practitioners is  Contemplative by Design, Creating Quiet Spaces for Retreats, Workshops, Churches and Personal Setting. The goal of this book is to offer guidance for creating what are most often called prayer centers or quiet spaces—places intentionally designed to invite Sabbath rest while encouraging reflection on, and quiet awareness of, the Spirit of God. 

Why a specific ‘quiet space’ when we can pray anytime, anywhere?  In a world where many of us run through our daily routines at record speed, Jesus’ words to Martha, "…you are anxious and concerned about so many things…” seem to be spoken directly to us, as if he had called our name instead of Martha’s.

It seems, in fact, that even at an uplifting spiritual event such as a conference or workshop, it is still possible to become so busy going from one meeting or event to the next that we miss opportunities to hear and respond to invitations to renewal.  One of the greatest gifts a conference or workshop organizer can provide is spaces prayerfully designed to offer moments of rest and reflection. Such spots allow digestion of words that have been heard with ears or whispered into hearts in the rush of the day, and can heighten awareness of the sacred within the experience as a whole. Contemplative by Design was written because those who attended the first conference for which we designed quiet spaces found them so meaningful that they requested written plans that could be adapted to their own churches and gathering places. The book's suggestions also can be used to create simple, intimate space for rest and reflection within a home, yard or garden. 

Creating your own spiritual Quiet Space does not have to be difficult or particularly time-consuming.  It will, however, require prayerful forethought if it is to provide the atmosphere needed to allow mind, body and spirit to be revived and rejuvenated by the One who is Peace,even within the tension and demands of daily life.

Our quiet spaces are designed to be used by one person at a time, and, when set in a public context,  to be visited by a series of individual seekers.  In a home setting, a quiet space can be very temporary, created using the simplest of aids to help you turn your awareness to the sacred within this particular moment of this ordinary day.

You are invited to:

Clear a space on the surface where your computer sits.

Bring in a leaf  from outdoors or from a house plant, and place it on the surface you have cleared.

Place a blank sheet of paper and markers and/or a pencil or pen nearby.

Read the following, slowly and thoughtfully:

From Genesis on, the Bible calls us to awareness that the sacred is revealed through the world around us. Ancient passages speak of creation as praising God, and writers use nature vocabulary to poignantly image human experience.  Well-known examples of such are “shadow” and “valley” in the 23rd Psalm.  New Testament writings, too, resonate with images from nature.  Jesus, clearly an avid observer of the natural world, used trees, logs, splinters, seed, sheep, goats, and rocks to make his teachings clear and easy to remember. Through him, these everyday gifts have spoken to millions and helped them trek the centuries with a better sense of direction and a clearer understanding of themselves and their relationship to God.

Flowers, stones, leaves or other expressions of the ongoing process of creation are, therefore, commonly used to focus contemplative meditation. A single leaf can prompt vast considerations of life and death, our connection to our source, the beauty and complexity of our days, the significance of our place in the whole . . . and more. 

Precisely because nature is as common and essential to us as bone and flesh, it is easy for us to become oblivious to its revelations of the sacred.   Availability to such revelations requires mindfulness. 

Lift the leaf and hold it.  Turn it.  Feel it.  Let your thoughts roam freely.

After several minutes, use the following questions for further reflection:

How are this leaf and I alike?  How are we different?

What does the leaf reveal about God? What does it say about life and death?

Is the Creator speaking to me in some way through this creation?

When ready, move the paper and markers, pencil or pen onto your cleared space.  Write words, draw a picture, or simply use colors to express feelings or thoughts that came to you as you looked at the leaf.  

When through, place your paper on a nearby, easily-visible surface, and leave it there for a few days to remind you of your moments of reflection. *

Whether you create a small quiet space from a plan of your own or adapt a pattern from a source such as Contemplative by Design, your prayerful thought and attention to details will be time well spent.  The act of designing a space for personal retreat will result in a visual reminder to set the world aside for a few moments each day and respond to the Spirit’s invitation to enter into a time of quiet communion with God.  

Stop.  Listen.  There is something sacred in the moment, and it is calling your name.                                 —Karla Kincannon, Creativity by Divine Surprise

*The ending exercise in this article is an adaptation from Contemplative by Design – Creating Quiet Spaces for Retreats, Workshops, Churches, and Personal Settings, Gerrie L. Grimsley and Jane J. Young.  Used by permission. (Upper Room Books. ©2008) 

Help explorefaith when you buy CONTEMPLATIVE BY DESIGN or any other item from