I’m not a religious person myself, but on my travels I have found the grand sacred places of the world to be nodes of tranquillity and majesty, places where the spirit soars and one might reflect on one’s place in the cosmos. Ayasofya, Sagrada Familia, the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Kinkaku-Ji Temple in Kyoto; all sublime and uplifting.
But even a modest chapel has a peace about it. I visited a tiny synagogue in Hamadan, where the scant remaining Jewish population came to worship each Sabbath. It invited contemplation and respect, its decorations and furniture inviting the traveller to pause a moment out of the rush of everyday life.
Professor Wendy Cadge of The Conversation writes about the history and nature of airport chapels in the States of America. She goes into some detail about the origins and development of such spaces, from Catholic chapels intended for airport staff to today’s more inclusive “Reflection rooms”. She gives links to sites for more information and provides a few photographs to illustrate the changes over the years. Early prayer rooms were in black and white, for example.
My own travels teach me that such quiet spaces are now almost universal in large airport terminals and that nowadays they cater for all faiths. Prayer rugs and a direction indicator are provided for Muslims, and there is generally a range of sacred texts available, but an explicit devotion to any particular faith is rare.
Those who seek out such spaces will find them quiet and comfortable, an island of peace in the often rushed activity of the terminal. For me, a person of little religious faith, but enormous spirituality, the chance of a place for a good meditation is golden.
Those who are troubled or grieving – and isn’t it often the case with air travel that there is some bad news involved? – can find peace in these rooms. And if, gods forbid, there is an aviation disaster, the shocked friends and relatives will need a space out of the public gaze, away from the intrusive news cameras, to deal with their grief.
I am grown rather cynical nowadays that airport terminals are becoming shopping malls for a captive audience, and I am glad that there are some spaces provided where the act of waiting for a plane is not made expensive or unpleasant.
On your next trip, take a moment to look into the prayer room. If nothing else, sit yourself down and pause mindfully for a minute or two. Trust me, a moment of calm will help you deal with whatever awaits.
My interest in airport chapels started as simple curiosity – why do airports have chapels and who uses them? After visiting a few – including the chapel at Logan, my home airport here in Boston – I have concluded that they reflect broader changing norms around American religion. —
Read more at: As you travel, pause and take a look at airport chapels
Image credit: Shankar Musafir