the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
Image courtesy of anaulin via Flickr


Two decades ago I spent a lot of time researching the architectural typology of the temple.  I really wasn't too enamored with the subject at first, because I thought it had already be exhausted.  But as time wore on, I discovered a great depth of love for the topic.

Sacred Places

One question that I have continued to ponder ever since is
"What makes a place sacred?"

This turns out to be a really extensive topic with many perspectives that I won't get into today...
But I will report that the results of my research revealed that the "highest and best use" of a sacred place is personal prayer & revelation.

The Short Answer

Sunrise Over Mount Sinai
Image courtesy of Thom Chandler via Flickr
What if you can't get to a temple for your personal prayer?   According to years of research, the top two* places are these for communicating with the Divine:

*You may be surprised, like I was, that church isn't at the top of this very short list.  A church building is primarily for the gathering of worshippers for fellowshipping and mutual encouragement as well as for group communion/sacrament/ordinance.  This use is quite distinct from a sacred place for personal prayer.  Having said that, some large churches do have small niches that are intended specifically for private prayer.

Prayer in our Home

In our home, prayer isn't terribly solemn.  It looks something like a group small of monkeys trying to be still & quiet and not poke the dog while mommy & daddy painstakingly ignore them.

Our family prayer never looks like THIS.
1903 portrait of the Manwaring family
Image courtesy, L.Tom Perry Special Collections,
Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, Utah

We try to teach about prayer, about the importance of

  • avoiding distraction (kneeling, folding arms or hands & closing eyes),
  • being reverent (focusing minds in gratitude to our Heavenly Father), and 
  • speaking our desires (help with struggles, blessings for others, guidance)
We usually do this on the living room floor (once it's been cleared of toys) or on the bed in the master bedroom (once it's been cleared of laptops & doggies).  And family prayer is a struggle pretty much every time.  So like I do with just about every problem, I started thinking about an architectural solution!

Domestic Chapels

Of course, having a sacred space in a residence is nothing new.  Royalty and even aristocracy often had private chapels.  Some, which were basically closets, adjoining a bedchamber.  Others were in the gallery (not visible to those below) of a larger church associated with the palace (see a panoramic view of the one at Frederiksborg Castle HERE, illustrated with paintings of the life of Christ).

But to be honest, these options are a bit out of my price range.

Prayer in a Home that is not ours

Image courtesy of Paul Mannix via Flickr
I was visiting Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana last week.  It's a wonderful cultural heritage park with transposed historic buildings and authentic Cajun music (we even heard Jolie Blon), crafts and food surrounded by cypresses and their little knees, drowsy swamp and a more deliberate bayou.  There were beware-of-alligator signs at the entrance, and the trees were drowning in Spanish moss.

One of the two-room, raised-above-the-ground-cabins we saw had the most lovely corner dedicated to private prayer.  There was a kneeler, about twenty small candles and a folk painting of Madonna and Child above.  I can
Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flickr
remember seeing these kinds of places growing up and thinking (from my very Protestant perspective) that they were too shrine-like, almost pagan.  

I saw it very differently this time.

First of all, I was thoroughly impressed that a home shy of 400 square feet had a dedicated place for private prayer, when most homes today do not (regardless of size).

John Wesley's personal prayer chapel
Image courtesy of bobgjohnson via Flickr
Secondly, that this quiet little corner achieved (architecturally) exactly what I was trying to teach my children!  
  • There are not too many other things you could be distracted by when kneeling in a corner.  
  • It's hard not to contemplate the nature of God when there is an artist's attempt at representation in front of you.  
  • A candle is lit to mark supplications, helping to focus on each one individually.  

Where do you pray?


Elizabeth Gaskell 1851
portrait by George Richmond
Elizabeth Gaskell was a writer and friend of Charles Dickens.  She wrote for his journal, Household Words.

In 1855's North & South (one of those novels you can read again and again), Gaskell has set her story in both the North and South of England... and the setting steals the show.

The South is a place of countrysides, gentry, gardens and church-based morality.  The North is a place of urban proximities, industry, hard conditions and business ethics.

Throughout the story, a young woman from the South is first accosted by and then eventually enticed by the ways of the North.  It is a story of modernity.

"North and South" Illustration by
George Du Maurier, engraved by
Joseph Swain.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

...and to eat it, too.

As modern people, we want both!

Prosperity and leisure.  
Urbus and countryside.  
Practicality and inspiration.  
Manmade cities and Godmade nature.  
Sophistication and an unaffected manner.  
Education and following the gut.  
Books/culture and money/smoke.   
Mercy and justice.  
Tradition and progress.  
Luck and hard work.   
Heart and “having a bit of spirit.”

Even as a kid, I used to dream one day of a having a place in the country and a place in the city.  I wish that for my kids now, to be able to experience both and appreciate the energies of both.  Urgency and peace.

Watch It

I highly recommend the read, but there's also an excellent 2004 BBC adaptation for film with Richard Armitage (a.k.a Thorin Oakensheild) & Brendan Coyle (a.k.a. Mr. Bates).  You can stream it on Netflix or Amazon.


TINY: a documentary

THIS movie (2013) explores an attempt to DIY a tiny house....
You can stream the hour-long movie on Netflix.

Check out the trailer below:

Tiny Stats: 

Hartsel, Colorado. Image courtesy of bgautrea via Flickr
  • located in Hartsel, Colorado
  • temporary structure on a trailer with wheels (to get around minimum square footage requirements)
  • 124 square feet
  • 19' x 7'
  • completed in one year
  • cost about $26,000
  • SolMan solar generator
  • composting bucket toilet
  • sailboat fireplace

How Tiny is a Tiny House?

Image courtesy of AtomicLlama via Flickr
At 4:15, Darren Macca (a tiny house owner) tentatively asserts for the sake of definition that a "tiny" house is be less than 200 square feet.  I'm going to disagree with that assertion a little bit, because I believe it matters how many people you're housing.  His home houses two, so maybe that's a good number.
My family has five people.  At 200 square feet, our house had better be a padded cell, because that's a formula for insanity!  Shafer reports at 52:15 that his family-sized "mansion" is 500 square feet.

What is a Home?

Image courtesy of anna gutermuth via Flickr
  • a place of attachment
  • a place to selectively surround ourselves with our stuff
  • not a consolation prize
  • a sense of home, a sense of place, a sense of belonging
  • a place where you spend time; not empty of family
  • = freedom (?)
  • where the inside draws you in and the outside draws you out
  • helps a person define what they want from life -- their values
  • livable, regardless of size
  • a self-portrait
  • people
  • an experiment
  • a collection of details that tell who we are and where we belong
  • a point of orientation

Image courtesy of nicolas.boullosa via Flickr

    Other Stuff

    • 10:57 & 41:20 check out the beautiful little fireplace heaters
    • Watching this, it occurs to me that when I build my tiny house I should build a patio or deck first, so that I can have a level workspace.
    • Tumbleweed Tiny Houses: ready-made or build-it-yourself
    • the erroneous idea that "bettering oneself" is more square footage
    • some crave the open space of the country; but by building on it, we change it.
    • be comfortable with you you are, because you are may be all you're ever going to be.


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