Friday, January 4, 2008

Feeding the spirit: Altar your abode

By Lori Hall Steele

Since ancient times, homes have been holy havens — Mayans and Toltecs built altars to deities, Egyptians displayed household gods like ferocious-looking Taweret and Mexican altaristas (altar builders) bedecked the Virgin of Guadalupe with bright flowers. Buddhists, Hindus, and Santerians also worship at home altars.

Until recently, however, many Americans shied away from such down-home manifestations of faith. Not so anymore. Sacred spaces are being created in homes from coast to coast, with closets, corners, and bedrooms converted to prayer and meditation spaces-—places that often serve as soul-quieting antidotes to modern stress.

Make your own sacred space — even if it’s in a nook — by first clarifying your intentions, says San Diego spiritual coach Kamala Devi. What do you want? A place to pray? A safe haven for peace and quiet?

From there, you’ll need to think about a few things:

Location: Altars can be in bedrooms, attics, backyards, closets, or corners of rooms. Shy away from high-traffic and work areas.

Direction: Religious traditions like Vastu and Wicca suggest altars should be north- or east-facing, while Muslim altars, which are generally sparse, face Mecca (east-southeast for most of the United States).

Surface: Pretty much anything will work—a tabletop, dresser, or corner shelf. Often altars are covered with fabric, and some religious traditions prescribe particular colors or materials.

Objects: Candles, flowers, and images that are sacred to you—a cross, Buddha, Hindu gods—adorn altars, often along with objects that are personally symbolic. Devi brings new objects—a love letter, herbs, inspiring quotes, candles—to her altar.

Initiation: A prayer, burning sage, sprinkling salt water, or ringing bells can initiate your new sacred space.

Using your altar: Pray, meditate, daydream, write in a journal, or practice yoga.

Tell the kids what you're doing, and see if they want to participate -- this teaches them to carve out time and space for calm, quiet reflection. Tweens and teens can make their own prayer or meditation space in closets and corners in their rooms.

This story has appeared in a number of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, Utne, Yes! and Washington Times. Lori Hall Steele, publisher of You&Me Kid, is an award-winning journalist who writes for national publications.

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