Have you ever lit a candle with your morning prayer, pinned words of inspiration to a bulletin board, or gathered an element from nature that appealed to you and displayed it in a prominent place?
If so, it’s likely you’ve been creating mini altars of your own whether you were aware of it or not—little vignettes that house hopes and express longings. You’re not alone, after all; Seekers of the Sacred have been creating altars to mark experiences of Sacred Encounter and symbolize their Sacred Search for millennia.
The word “altar” literally means “high place,” and it is these high places that we as pilgrims journey toward, whether we’re walking the storied road to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela or journeying to new places of awareness right at home.
For the pilgrim at home, altars are representations of the Sacred stirrings that are happening within. Just as the altars or Ebenezers created in Biblical times were expressions that “something Sacred happened here,” the altars we create today remind us that “something Sacred is happening here”—both in our travels and in our everyday lives.
Creating a mini-altar at home to accompany you on your journey can remind you what it is that you seek and hold your intention on your behalf as you go about your day. Create your own home altar by following these three steps:
1. find a place
There’s no need to make your home altar grand—unless, of course, you feel so inspired! A simple shelf will do or the top of a corner table. There’s something intimate, too, about creating a home altar inside of a cabinet, like stepping into your inner world when you open its doors.
2. add objects
Add objects to your altar that inspire you and resonate with your current season and quest. Candles are always a great place to start, as well as images, words, and objects of personal significance. From there, simply build on your altar day by day, adding objects that draw you in or items that you want to spend further time with, such as poems, images of loved ones, and pieces from nature or around the house. Some of these items might already represent an intention, such as a pen symbolizing a writing practice or seeds encouraging new growth. Other objects might appeal to you and yet take a while to reveal their meaning. What you can trust, though, is that there’s a reason they call to you; knowing this, follow the invitation to spend more time with them in order to learn more. As you add objects, consider this process a practice of prayer—an outer representation of what is stirring within.
Altars are also great places to hold your worries and lay your burdens down. If you find yourself wrapped up in concerns that are out of your control, consider taking an object that represents your worry and leaving it on your altar trusting that just as the altar holds your object, the Divine has space enough to hold your questions, worries, doubts, and fears.
3. visit your altar
Like a pilgrim journeying to a Sacred Site, visit your altar regularly—whether during a brief pause in the middle of your day or for an extended period of reflection and prayer. As you spend time with your altar, begin to wonder where the Sacred Guide is leading. If a theme begins to emerge, continue to develop your altar to reflect that theme as a way to keep vigil with the journey as it unfolds.