CONWAY — For Hope Guidry, it started with a dream.
After a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a popular Marian site in Bosnia-Herzegovina, her devotion to the Blessed Mother grew. One night, she dreamed her husband’s workshed was transformed into a beautiful prayer space. Mary came to the window, holding the infant Jesus, who blessed the rosaries she was making inside.
Her dream became a reality in 2020 when her husband Jamie flipped his shed to create her Marian shed, a sacred prayer space set apart. A statue of the Virgin Mary holding her son is outside by the window.
“It’s just the silence and the space; it’s designed for the Lord, and that’s it,” Guidry, 57, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Conway, said. “... If somebody knocks on the door, I’m in the Marian shed; I don’t hear it. There’s no UPS distraction, the mailman, the dog.”
Though many Catholics find the most peace and connection to God at Mass or in adoration, Jesus calls us to devote time to him daily. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said, “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Lent is a time Catholics can create a sacred space for Jesus in their homes, no matter how small, and allow it to move their hearts closer to him.
A sacred prayer space is a place set aside for prayer at a person’s home. It can be as simple as a small table, corner, recliner or an entire room. Elizabeth Garrett, a parishioner at St. Raphael Church in Springdale, is a spiritual director and retreat master trained in Ignatian spirituality. She founded Infinitely Rooted, a ministry offering spiritual direction and prayer retreats. “Open the Door to Personal Prayer” is a half-day retreat focused on deepening personal prayer and discusses creating a prayer space (see sidebar page 9).
“As Catholics, we enjoy a lot of beauty in our churches, our places to pray and the beauty in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The thing that often gets left behind is that, ‘Oh, I’ve done my prayer and I left,’ or ‘I can’t pray until I’m in this place,’” Garrett said. “God is in all things and on some level all things are prayer if we’re open to that.”
Garrett’s prayer space is in her bedroom, with a comfortable recliner. She has candles, fragrances and spiritual images meaningful to her, like Pope Francis’ pectoral cross with the image of sheep. She’s drawn to sheep as the “call of Christ to me, the mission he has given to me” to help the faithful with their prayer lives.
All of those elements help transform an otherwise ordinary space. It’s also a place where prayer can start, but it doesn’t have to end. She’ll often take a walk to encounter God.
Garrett said she uses her prayer space daily, and devotes the full or half-day on Sundays to silence.
“I have grown and matured spiritually, deeply from that space. It doesn’t matter what is happening, how dramatic or how simple and easy things are, I can go to that space and know I am in a place where I can encounter Jesus and he is there to love me and hold me,” she said.
Gabriel Dority, 18, a senior at Vilonia High School, wanted a comfortable, enclosed space to focus on the Lord. With limited space in his room, he transformed his closet about four months ago into his “Icon closet,” with images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, candles and a relic crucifix carved in Jerusalem on a shelf.
“I can calm myself and my mind,” in his prayer space, he said. “The world passes away from me and I’m focused on the silence … It brought me closer to him and helped me focus more on his life and the spiritual aspects I’d been missing. It connects me more to my life to my faith as a Catholic.”
Dority is going through the mentorship RCIA program at St. Joseph Church in Conway and will join the Church at Easter Vigil. His interest in the Church was sparked by the most unlikely source — an anti-Catholic book from his grandmother. He is the only one in his family joining the Church.
Once he started researching things in the book he found suspicious, he became “invested” in Church history and the Church fathers. His Protestant parents have supported his unique faith journey.
In his prayer space, “I was listening to the Gregorian chants, and I felt a wave of grace wash over me. I found peace and comfort, and I looked up at the crucifix and said, ‘Thank you so much,’” Dority said.
While everyone can create a prayer space, not everyone can set aside a shed like Guidry.
The space has holy items with profound meaning, including an image of Jesus with a crown of thorns, found in her mother’s home after she had a nightmare about the devil. To this day, no one knows where the picture came from, but the colors match her mother’s kneeler perfectly — which is also in the shed. It has been a space for private reflection and hope, including when she suffered COVID-19 and pneumonia. She was diagnosed with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and given three to five years to live. Her lungs are now functioning at 100 percent, a rare, miraculous occurrence she said was the result of prayer.
“I think cradle Catholics like me get so wrapped up in going to Mass. Mass is very important, and so is the Eucharist. But it’s like we separate the Church from our home, and we think if we want to go to that sacred space, we have to get in our car and go to church,” Guirdy said. “But when you create a room in your shed or whatever type of room and put (holy) things in there … you can have a space that’s quiet, especially during the dark times when people go through a spiritual desert. God is everywhere; Mary is everywhere.”
Just like life, a prayer space can evolve. For Joe and Kathy Narens, parishioners at St. Edward Church in Texarkana and married for 45 years, it began as a prayer table. Joe, 65, said a neighbor wanted them to buy their house in 1988.
“I had no job, no income and no money. I had just left the railroad,” Joe said. “We told ourselves we were going to set aside a portion of our home to honor God for giving us this house.”
The prayer table had an open Bible, crucifix and candles.
Kathy, 66, converted to Catholicism in 1987 and started to develop more of a prayer life.
“It’s kind of been all over our house,” she said of her prayer spaces, with religious art throughout their home. “At first, it was wherever I could find a spot my kids couldn’t find me.”
Once their children grew up and moved, they converted a guest room to a prayer room.
The original prayer table is still there. The late Father James West once celebrated Mass on it in their home.
“There are always going to be angels hovering over it. That is our little altar there now. We have a Bible, crucifix, rosary, candles, pictures of all my kids, my family. It’s God first and then our family,” Kathy said.
It has also positively impacted their marriage, like if they need a space to cool off after an argument, Joe said.
“If you give a room dedicated to God, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, he will give you peace when you go to that room. That is the truth,” Joe said.
Taffy Council, 74, coordinator of adoration at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton, spends most of her prayer time in the adoration chapel, only six minutes from her home. But she still loves to pray in her home, in several spaces. In the dark early morning, she’ll sit near a big picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus over the fireplace in the great room. There’s also her dedicated Marian prayer room, refreshed with just the right shade of blue paint, set aside about 10 years ago. She is consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“I would go in there, and anybody at the house knew that was my prayer space. I got left alone,” Council said. “... Creating a Marian room to me was like a womb room. If we believe what our Catholic doctrine teaches us, as we’re called to holiness, she carries us.”
During the last days of her husband Tony’s life in 2017, she moved a statue of the Blessed Mother into their bedroom. It’s where he died, and where the statue remains today.
“There’s just a sacred nature to that space to me and it being united to my prayer. I don’t think of myself as a widow, per say, because we’re still living out our covenant. It’s part of who I am. If I pray, we’re praying together,” she said.
Council said there was initial guilt about moving around her prayer spaces, but she learned it's all in God’s plan.
“We live through seasons of our life, and God gives us what we need in a particular moment," she said. "And sometimes what we need in the next moment and the next moment is not the same."
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