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Sacred Space at Home

Sacred Space at Home: Architecture with Soul
by Anne Knorr
Boulder, CO: Home Design Publishing, 2012
164 pages
Reviewed by Teresa Di Biase

As a child whenever I wanted to be alone to think or to dream, I would go to my swing in the backyard. Shielded on three sides by shrubbery, I felt protected, even as I soared in the air. It was a place of enclosure, yet also of possibility. It was a space all my own, and it was sacred. “When creating a sacred space for our self, rekindling the wisdom from childhood is a powerful tool,” begins Anne Knorr in Sacred Space at Home: Architecture with Soul (11). A spiritual director as well as an architect, Knorr encourages her readers to connect with their deepest knowing to create soulful dwelling places. Using examples from her dual practice, she outlines the elements that make a home a sanctuary. Every richly illustrated chapter incorporates exercises that provide opportunities to apply the discussion to the reader’s own situation. A concluding “rules of thumb” section summarizes each chapter’s content in a concise and helpful manner.

Knorr chooses the Tabernacle of the people of Israel as the unifying archetype for her book. Originally a tent used for worship by the nomadic Hebrew people, it was divided into three spaces that included a large, public area known as the Court; a quiet enclosed, private space called the Holy Place; and an intimate room in complete darkness and silence that was the Holy of Holies. Applied to our homes, the Court becomes public spaces such as the entrance, front porch, or front yard. Private spaces where we gather with family and friends, such as the dining room, kitchen, or family room, are equivalent to the Holy Place. Our most intimate spaces, where we reconnect with our partner and with the wellsprings of life, may be a bedroom, a hobby area, or even a quiet nook where our need to retreat is honored by ourselves and others. Balance between these three types of space is important and will depend not only on our own personality but also on the needs of those who share our home.

Noting that common rooms are frequently the primary focus in home design, reflecting a societal emphasis on activity and achievement, Knorr gives particular attention to Sabbath time and how our physical environment can facilitate the experience of simply “being” with ourselves, with another person, or with God. As care is taken to honor the need for intimacy and soul-tending, we find ourselves becoming lighter, more compassionate, more grateful. Our world expands and so does our welcome of others.

Knorr introduces her readers to basic architectural principles such as proportion, scale, place, and form, and describes the importance of materials, light, color, and visual delight. Even the mindful placement of furniture according to principals of feng shui receives attention in this helpful compendium. What distinguishes this book from scores of decorating volumes is its consistent attention to matters of the spirit. Knorr’s understanding that our physical environment both mirrors our interior reality and is capable of transforming it is a profound insight with many practical applications in spiritual direction. For example, she suggests we consider whether holding onto things we no longer need or want or find beautiful may be a way of avoiding change or moving forward in life.

Knorr encourages her readers to view their home space in new ways, making her book a valuable resource for spiritual directors seeking to help persons in discernment. Concluding with a simple ritual of blessing, Sacred Space at Home will make any reader more aware of how even the most humble dwelling can become a sanctuary—a place where, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “you find yourself again and again” (80).

Teresa Di Biase is a spiritual director, historian, and university librarian. She teaches spiritual practices in parish and retreat sessions and is an Oblate of Tanglewood Monastery, Freeland, Washington, USA.

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