Altars: A Sacred Space

“Altars can be very powerful…We acknowledge an incarnate God who speaks through symbols and the things of our everyday lives, and responds to our longings. A personal altar is a sacred space where we can re-center and reconnect with the Holy Presence dwelling in our midst–a place to honor the desires of lives with beauty. Altars help give voices to the longings bubbling up within us, long before we can put them into words.” ~The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Paintner


I have to confess that having an altar was not my idea. It was a gift of love from my daughter, Jessica, and my friend, Joyce, when I was going through a difficult time. I came home from school one day to furniture rearranged and an altar created with some of my favorite sacred objects, as well as some new ones. They weren’t sure how to help or support me, so they created a space to nurture what I needed most—a place to calm and center myself, to meditate and pray, to rest in peace, to be comforted. Having that physical presence of an altar became a reminder for me to take time to pause, breathe, pray and surrender.

It’s been two years since the altar found its home in my study, a room that holds many special books and my SoulFully You supplies. My study is in the center of our house between the bedrooms and the rest of the house, so I walk by it every day. I used to sit there daily, when the altar was new and needed. I want to get back to that daily practice of contemplative prayer. I wonder why, when something works so well, why I don’t keep practicing?  But I will save that for future blog (Coming soon: the power of contemplative prayer and why we don’t do what we know we should.) (I do not have the answer to why we don’t do what we know we should, but I commit myself to giving this some serious consideration.)

For now, I encourage you to create your own sacred space or altar. There is power and beauty in the symbols that you select. Occasionally I add something new, or take something away, rearrange—even that can become a prayerful act.

It isn’t about the object itself, but what the object represents—perhaps a special person that gave it to me or the place that it came from. Some of the objects I have on my altar: a cross, at the center of the altar, as the center of my faith; candles, crystals and meditation singing bowl, gifts from Joyce; a mother/daughter figure and rosary from Jessica; meditation clappers crafted by my brother-in-law; a cross with the St. Benedict medal from my German friend, Sabine; and other special items that could require a blog entry all their own to describe. I’m not into stuff for the sake of stuff, so each of the objects has a story, even the altar table. Before Cece, our neighbor of 15 years passed away, she made it known that I should have her table and chairs because I had admired it on so many of our visits. So the table is more than a table; it is “Cece’s Table”. Cece was very fond of Rosie, one of our dogs, so she would appreciate the contemplative prayer efforts of Rosie and Bailey. (Pictured with their special green fish toy)collage

Recently I added something new to my altar—the rose table scarf that all of the objects sit on. It came from a small Thai village and took two days to weave using a backstrap weaving-loom. It is a work of art and a labor of love. I love it because of what it stands for. I knew immediately it would become a part of my altar.

Brooke Mullen, a former student, started Sapahn, a business with a story.  She has designed products and created markets for artisans in small Thai villages who might not otherwise be able to find work or practice their native arts; she has helped them get a fair price for their work; and she has helped raise scholarships funds for young women who otherwise would not have been able to go to college. Brooke, through Sapahn, realizes that objects tell a story. She sees that our work means more than collecting a paycheck. What we bring into our lives and what we do with our lives must have purpose.

Visit the Sapahn website to learn about their mission and why they belong on my altar.  “We know beautiful things do something beautiful…Sapahn, the Thai word for bridge, is the perfect word for what we are about. We set out to connect places, ideas, traditions, artisans, and people like you with the goal of creating sustainable, economic opportunities. For us – fashion is an extension of who we are, not just what we want to look like. We want the beautiful things we wear to have a deeper meaning and tangible impact.”

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