In Godly Play, a contemplative church school curriculum rooted in storytelling, the underlay is an important part of the story experience. Stories are told using objects to help anchor and invite all listening into deeper experience. Those objects are placed on an underlay that changes depending on the needs of the stories, or the seasons of the year. The holy family sits upon an underlay that changes with the season, the parable stories sit upon mysterious underlays that give clues-a large white circle for The Great Pearl, a green square for The Good Shepherd. And the underlays for some are just a nicety, let’s put something down to help us know we’re telling a story, to set the table for the communal experience of enjoying a story together.
For sacred spots at home, the underlay does all of this. As the sacred spot at home concept for me flows from the focal table concept of Godly Play, the underlay serves all the above mentioned roles: bringer of seasonal color, clue-giver and stage-setter for a special place.
I like to use batik printed cloth for this because it is full of color variation and complexity and that simple feature reminds us of how life is life no matter what season we are in. The church may be in a solemn season of lent, but there might be a wedding day. The purple cloth has it’s yellow and pink peeking through. The church may be deep in the joy of eastertide when a loved one dies or personal sadness feels strong. The grays are real in all that white and gold. Sometimes I layer the cloths, sometimes I do use plain cotton broadcloth in purple, white, red or green to be the underlay of underlays. Layering small pieces with more variation.
The underlay also delineates the space. This helps when the sacred spot is on a long shelf with other things, or on the dining room table. It makes a space for your space.
As the first step of the storytelling, it is also the first step of building the sacred spot. Laying out the cloth or changing the cloth can be a meditative opportunity to reflect on the season, the moment and the concept of literally making space for God in your home.