Main Courses are offered on a frequently changing menu. Here are words and images to ingest and digest for inner nourishment. We hope these hearty meals invite you to taste and savor, to muse, reflect and remember, to journal, to create art...that is, to feast on food for the spirit.
Pascha #2, by Archimandrite Kiprian,
Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY*
Our current main course, below, is just one of several Soul Food offerings. Please visit, also, our buffet of Guest Caterer Specials and, for lighter fare, our Desserts & Snacks counter. And, to sample earlier menus, we hope you'll check out the Soul Food Archive. Like all who prepare foodstuffs, we hope to hear from those we serve! Space to leave comments, or read others' comments, on our cuisine follows each Soul Food offering.
Let’s revisit a familiar—but always arresting—topic: sacred mandalas.* The center of a sacred mandala, as we know, is most often occupied by a holy image or some cosmic symbolism. And we’re also aware that such mandalas are said to represent ‘blueprints of the soul,’ the center being a home for that which is Other (or that non-personal “Something/Someone greater than me”). Many of us include quiet, non-cognitive gazing at such images in our spiritual practice, gradually internalizing a design until it becomes embedded as a “seal upon the heart.” This creates consciousness of a sacred interior space—an inner sanctuary or temple or church that can be a welcoming home for God/our Higher Self/whatever term we use. (This is not to negate, of course, the presence of the Holy everywhere else.)
Although this familiar exercise comes to us from ancient times and is found worldwide in several faith traditions, we know that one need not be intentionally religious in order to practice it. The ancient spiritual systems, however, do give us helpful language. The Christian scriptures, for example, include verses such as: Now…Christ lives in me, as well as Jesus’ promises to make His abode within us.* Here, from this tradition, are two contemporary icons illustrating this beautiful indwelling. One is a rendition of the much-honored Icon of the Sign; the other, a portrait of the 17th century metaphysical English poet, John Donne.*
We recall how Jewish history records the Almighty’s language directing Moses to build an ark (of the Covenant) “so that I may live among the people.” The rich details for this ark also suggest, by extension, a corresponding personal dwelling place of God within the individual.*
Muslims remember that Allah, referring to the qalb or heart, says, The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me; only the heart of my humble and faithful servant is expansive enough to contain Me.* The ‘Place of the Abode’ can and does refer to external sites in Islam, but also to the heart as mirror of and resting place for the Beloved, to use Sufi language. Similarly, many Buddhists imagine the Buddha or Buddha-nature within.
Traditional images of the inner sanctuary
Because pictures are the language of the unconscious, living with an image of the inner sanctuary can draw us back to that unchanging place even as our consciousness is entangled in multi-tasks. (Note: those more attracted to imageless reflection, or ‘emptying spirituality,’ may be well-content with a non-visual—that is, intuited—inner sanctuary.)
Images such as mandalas are among the most familiar reminders of the eternal dwelling place at the center of our being. And, as we see above, a representation of the immanent holy one is a natural choice to fill that space (just as lovers often carry photos of their dear ones over their hearts).
Poet Khalil Gibran wrote:
In my heart dwells Jesus of Nazareth, the poet who makes poets of us all.*
- Geometric Shapes ~ In addition to circular or square mandalas—we can also create our own abstract designs with diamonds, ellipses, mandorlas (an ellipse with points), or infinity signs (lemniscates), adding a center. (What was the earliest—or latest—geometric shape I doodled? Has the psyche already shown me its shape?)
- Territorial Spaces~the Pureland or Trueland, the Kingdom Within, the Holy City
- Architectural Spaces ~ a House at Rest, the Interior Castle, the Grail Castle, Doorway, a Bridal Chamber, an Inner Cell, an Upper Room, a Cloister or Courtyard, a Kiva
- Places in Nature ~ a Hidden Garden or Glade or Bower, a Vineyard, an Underground Stream or Lake, a Cave (of the Heart), a Secret Island, a Tree of Life, a Nest.
- A Light ~ the Living Flame of Love/Candle, Unchanging Light, the Sun or Star, a Bolt or Shaft of Lightning
- A Source of Nourishment ~ a Well or Fountain or Spring of Life-giving Water, a Banquet Table, a Wedding Feast
- A Heart ~ which could be beating, or flaming, or radiating…or just very still
- Precious Items ~ a Pearl of Great Price, the Jewel in the Lotus, the Holy Grail.
[Almost all the centering images above are multicultural symbols, showing up across time and geography. As C.G.Jung wrote, ...The archetypes keep changing clothes.*)
Of course, we hope to stay aware of our inner sanctuary, however it’s designed. Ideally, while driving, doing the dishes, teaching a class, sleeping—or anything—we increasingly become able to practice the presence of God (to use a classic phrase). In Hebrew, the word devekut is about cleaving to God; Sufis speak of dhikr Allah, the remembrance of God; the Vedic tradition proposes, as one of five niyamas (observances), constant awareness of the Divine.* As all seekers know, however, this ideal is so easily lost amid the busy details of daily life.
We ask—as have thousands before us—“Can I learn to pray always?” And the answer comes back from east and west, north and south: Prepare the inner space, and invite in the Holy, as you understand that word. We do our part…but also know that whatever happens depends, ultimately, on grace.
We can presume that, known or not-known, space for an inner sanctuary is potentially present in everyone—it‘s one of the ‘organs’ of the human psyche. Again, one need not be affiliated with organized religion in order to appreciate this practice. The symbolic vocabulary of the vast psychospiritual landscape (ancient and modern, eastern and western) is available to all, awaiting explorers to discover and introject the images which best express their hearts’ desires. Popular hip-hop/rock artist TobyMac, for example, is one of many clothing ancient spiritual vocabulary in today’s garb:
...You filled up the space and You never let me go— Bullseye to the center of my soul...*
Anyone who intentionally creates a heart-space for this always-present-and-waiting “You” can become an ‘earthen vessel.’ He or she will add sorely-needed seeds of consciousness to our world and, also, will discover like-attracts-like links to others in the invisible web of souls (think: beautiful cosmic spider web strung with jewels!).*
Those with religious affiliations who practice this path of remembrance—or any consistent prayer-way—find encouragement in the concept of “inner church” (temple, mosque, etc.) as a carrier of the heart of a faith community. That is, one who treads the hidden path of a religious tradition also bolsters its outward life. How? By quietly sustaining “the vision of the founder” (which can get lost by the collective). This is, surely, an important facet of devotion and service to one’s congregation. The individual and group paths are not exclusive but, rather, two faces of one witness to the same beliefs.
And when the outer church or spiritual structure flounders—as it surely will, because it’s a human institution—what a comfort to know that its interior life is alive and well, and can never disappoint us. Why not? Because the inner kingdom is not of this world.
The large elongated diamond or lozenge represents the psyche or soul of the artist—her inner world. The centermost diamond with the heart represents the dwelling place of the Holy (of course, the presence of God isn’t restricted solely to the inner abode). This inner cloister is enclosed in a background square representing the various activities of the artist’s outer life. And the backdrop for this life is the larger matrix or web of smaller “cosmic diamonds”—eternity. Diamond-Land is bordered by a “path of life,” with small scenes in cornerstones marking personal turning points.
There’s a sleek speeding train in the left border of Diamond-Land. Why do I think the mapmaker may have included this image? If this design was my ‘soul-scape,’ what might I put on the border(s)? And, where?
After all these words about the inner sanctuary, our friend Rumi sums it up in just a few ~
O People who have gone to pilgrimage, Where are you?
The Beloved is here. Come here, come here.*
Read Others' Comments..
Our ‘SOUL FOOD RESTAURANT’ is being renovated, so as to offer an even more diverse menu. Please watch this space over the summer for the new Soul Food Round Table. (Our past four years of meals will remain readily available in the Soul Food Archive.) May we all continue to cultivate appetites and sources for ‘fine dining!’
The Center Staff
Thank you, thank you for this Main Course. Sounds like it's the last of the series and that you have something new planned for us--each is certainly nourishing soul food. About the inner sanctuary, I think of the line from Ezechiel 36:27: "I will put my Spirit within you," says the Lord. (This comes right after God's promise to exchange our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. With appreciation to all of you,
Hello. I just found Joyce Rupp's book with wonderful quotes of names of God--some really fit your Inner Sanctuary ideas. Rabindranath Tagore wrote: "Precious gifts come flowing forth from your generous heart into mine." And from Rabia al-Adawiyya, "Like a diamond sparkling in sunlight, So are you in the center of my depths." Hearts, diamonds, again. Thank you, Center!
Beautiful! Thanks, Sandy. The fine book you refer to is "Fragments of Your Ancient Name" by Joyce Rupp (2011)--a day book (365) of names of God. Tagore, the mystical Bengali poet (d.1941) and Rabia Basra, from Iraq (d.801)--she's high among the Sufi poets. Joyce Rupp's book is a feast. Blessings,
The center of the Inner Sanctuary is so important, isn't it? As I keep reflecting on this, I am still with empty space, maybe bright or even with glitter, maybe dark. Either could represent God--the Unknown God of scripture, the God-beyond-knowing. I look forward to hearing how others imagine their center sanctuary. In friendship,
Thomas, Center staff
Thank you for nourishing my soul. I will eagerly recommend this place to people so they too can be replenished.
* Credits for this page:
~ Pascha #2 by Archimandrite Kiprian, Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY
A family in old Russia welcomes visitors with special Pascha (Easter) treats. Gratefully used with permission from Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY, 13361. This excellent website is the source for inexpensive traditional icon prints and mounted icons.
~ The well-known Sanskrit word “mandala” can be defined as “possession of the essence”—and refers to a symmetrical geometric design with a clearly marked center. Of course, not all mandalas are sacred.
~ Sources: Galatians 2:20 and John 15:4. The details for the Ark of the Covenant are found in Exodus 25:8. Allah’s words from the Hadith Qudsi. Familiar to students of yoga is Ishwarapranidhana: remembrance of the presence of God.
~ Iconographers: Terrance Nelson’s Icon of the Sign; Robert Lentz’s John Donne. Both icons from Bridge Building Images, Burlington, VT. For an endless array of ready-made mandalas see doverpublications.com, especially their Creative Haven™ Coloring Books, intricate patterns especially created for those who color to de-stress or as a meditation.
~ Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet and artist; Jesus, the Son of Man (1928).
~ The archetypes keep changing clothes: For example, The lightning bolt or shaft (of grace) is found from east to west—as the centuries-old Buddhist vajra or dorje, and also as an Indiana hermit’s centering image, as reported in the hermit’s newsletter Raven’s Bread: Food for Those in Solitude, Vol.17:1, February 2013 (ravensbreadministries.com). Also, “Diamond-Land” not only spoke of the sacred at the soul’s center for ancient Tibetans, but also showed up much later, halfway around the world, in the guise of stunning Amish quilts, where the diamond represented Christ the Cornerstone. Even later, the diamond found yet another fan in the 21st century collage above.
~ From “Yours” in TobyMac’s 2001 Momentum album from ForeFront Records.
~ Indra’s web is the beautiful eastern concept of souls united in the Creator’s network, each soul reflecting all the others. Search the web for descriptions, poetry and artwork of this ancient image.
See also The Holy Web: Church and the New Universe Story by Cletus Wessels (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), and also Alice O. Howell's The Web in the Sea: Jung, Sophia, and the Geometry of the Soul (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1993).
~ On “inner church,” see Richard Smoley’s richly researched and readable Inner Christianity (Boston: Shambhala, 2002). Each religious tradition has a wealth of comparable studies. See also the website worldwisdom.com.
~ Jalal al-Din Rumi, The Illuminated Rumi, Coleman Barks and Michael Green (NY: Random House, 1997).
~ Diamond-Land is borrowed from our eCourse: Maps & the Cartography of the Soul.