By Judy Walter At our Lake House of Prayer in Mwanza, Tanzania, one of the things we offer to our neighbors who come often to pray with us is a sacred space within which people can feel free to express prayer in a bodily way. Our little chapel is called Pango ya Eliya, Cave of Elijah.
It is a simple uncluttered space for prayer. There are no pews but mats on the floor for people to sit as comfortable as in their own homes, with space to give expression to body prayer. There are arm chairs against the walls for the elderly and those preferring to sit in chairs, or as an alternative way of “making oneself at home” in God’s House. The Altar is a low table that we gather around for Eucharist. Behind the altar an African Jesus hangs on the cross. The tabernacle is a symbolic native vessel for storing food. Our Madonna is African. There are icons on the walls. When our neighbors come to pray with us, the space they enter is both familiar and sacred. I am always very moved by the way our local neighbors use their bodies to express their prayer in our pango. A parish church is a more formal setting with gestures and rituals that are common to all. In a small chapel, a more intimate setting such as our pango, people feel free to express their prayer in a more spontaneous way, and for our local neighbors bodily prayer seems to flow so naturally. Their body prayer, for me, speaks of adoration, surrender, loving devotion and trust. Witnessing their prayer, I am drawn into a deep experience of communion with them in the silence and bodily expression of prayer that needs no words. We all need sacred space in our lives. It may be a special tree, a room we call our cell, a mountain top, a lake shore. Whatever that space is for us, it helps us open to another whole dimension of life that returns us to that sacred ground of our being. I believe that one of the gifts we offer to our people here at the Lake House of Prayer is this sacred space where they can come home to themselves and to God.
Judy Walter is a Maryknoll lay missioner serving at the Lake House of Prayer in Mwanza, Tanzania. She previously worked for five years at St. Patrick’s Dispensary in Mombasa, Kenya. Maryknoll Lay Missioners Photos by Jerry Fleury.