Creating a Personal Altar of Remembrance
By Sharon Callahan

"To find your peace, your integral security, you must take time alone,
time to go in to the light
and return
to the soul of your soul the heart of your 
heart."
Elise Nivens Morgan

     For many people life has become so busy and chaotic that they feel a great emptiness, a void of spirit, a disconnection from the Source of Life. How do we integrate a sense of Spirit into our daily lives? How do we gather together our fragmented selves? How do we acquire a feeling of being companioned by something or someone greater than ourselves, and greater than the mundanities of our everyday lives? Where do we go for renewal, to re-charge our batteries and restore our relationship to the divine? We can go to a church or a chapel. We can take a vacation "away from it all" and spend time in nature. We can go on a retreat - - - but what about the times in between? Between brushing our teeth in the morning and leaving for work; between lunch hour and the rest of the afternoon; between grocery shopping and the laundry; between eleven p.m. and six in the morning when we are unable to sleep.

     Many men and women are making sacred spaces in their homes and offices for the purpose of attunement to the Divine. The focal point of these sacred spaces is often an altar, an altar of remembrance on which are placed sacred objects and writings as well as photos of inspirational figures, saints, sages and loved ones. Some people include relics, pieces of rock, shells, feathers and other representations of the natural world. Anything of inspiration that serves to uplift the spirit and to "bring down" the energy of the higher realms can be placed on an altar . . . for an altar is a place, a space, where heaven and earth come together.

     I believe we all have a natural instinct to create altars, though we may not call them that. Who of us hasn't returned home from an outing with a seashell, rock or dried flower and placed it near a picture of a special person or a blessed object of some kind? Who hasn't arranged a collection of favorite objects on a table or night stand because looking at the particular grouping of objects elicited in us feelings of love, harmony and beauty? Children naturally make altars of beloved toys and relics of trips out of doors. Many people have a sacred place in their heart where they file away memories of cherished friends, experiences, sweet words and kindnesses that uplift them. These, to me, are a kind of interior altar. It is often on the altar of the heart that our most cherished hopes, dreams and feelings are kept, as well as our deepest feelings of love for God, nature and the people who are the dearest to us.

     The creating of an outer altar is a way of exteriorizing our deepest longings and our deepest feelings of love. By exteriorizing them in such a way, we give them a power, a place in time and space in which they can meet us in the here and now; in the world of form. By exteriorizing in some representational way our deepest spiritual longings, we bring ourselves closer to the possibility of having them actualized in our lives. A spiritually oriented altar in the home can be a place of peace, renewal, hope and inspiration. We can go there anytime we have an extra few moments and have our sense of the sacred restored.

     I was born into a Catholic family. At the age of six, I silently rejected the teachings of the church after I was told by a priest that animals didn't have souls and that they didn't go to heaven. I knew that it wasn't true. At six years old I remembered coming from heaven and I remembered all of the animals that were there. The one thing I did retain from Catholicism was a strong fondness for altars and shrines. I loved churches; especially when no one was in them but God and me. In some of the Catholic churches there are shrines along the side of the church. Each shrine contains a statue of Mother Mary or one of the other saints. There are places to sit or to kneel and there are often candles that can be lit and left burning as silent prayers that continue long after one has left. When I would sit in these shrines I could feel that an energy came down from heaven to meet the energy that had been created by the people who lit candles and said prayers there.

     My grandmother had a statue of the Divine Mother on her dressing table, along with a rosary, a candle, some flowers and pictures of her other grandchildren. An energy "came down" on that dressing table, too. An acknowledgment from the Divine Mother, I thought. Just as I would acknowledge a friend who honored me in some way. My favorite shrine of all was the shrine to St. Francis of Assisi the patron saint of animals. Whenever I was sad or feeling lost, I would go into the garden and sit near the shrine of St. Francis. To me he exemplified a way of living in harmony with all of God's creatures and creation. He inspired me to keep going, and I knew in my heart that someday I would live such a life. The longer I sat in that spot the more I could feel the energy of St. Francis himself. I didn't think for a minute that the statue was St. Francis, but I could feel the energy of St. Francis as he responded to my sitting in that spot thinking of him. Over the years the energy in that particular garden spot grew and grew from all the love that I and others invested in it. Any altar that I make today contains an image of St. Francis and animals.

     When thinking of an altar some people think of an altar of sacrifice or of worship. To me an altar is a place of remembrance. The only thing that is sacrificed at an altar of remembrance is the small or ego self. Sitting before images of saints and loved ones, books containing sacred writings and objects from nature, one's vibration is naturally raised to a higher level than that of the individual or ego self. One is not worshiping the images and objects on an altar of remembrance, but rather using them as reminders of our higher nature; we place them before us as inspiration. As our vibration is heightened by praying or meditating before an altar, the vibration of the heavenly realm comes to join us - the meeting of heaven and earth.

     If you have a large enough home you will probably want your altar to be in an out of the way place that is undisturbed by daily activity and foot traffic. In this way it becomes consecrated to one purpose and can be your personal place of retreat. If your home is small and doesn't allow for a separate space, use the corner of your bedroom or den. An altar can be made on a small table, a lower shelf of a bookcase or a night stand. It is nice if the altar is at such a level that you can look at it when seated before it on the floor or a special chair. I have seen beautiful, creative altars in friends' homes over the years. One friend has an altar on a shelf below the mirror in her bathroom. She says that this way the first thing she sees in the morning are sacred objects and divine images. It is a wonderful tone on which to start the day. Another home I visited had an altar on the ledge around a large bathtub. This altar contained spiritual images, rocks, seashells, a collection of stones from different places in the world, and candles. Several women I know have an altar on a window ledge or shelf over a kitchen sink, as they spend a great deal of time in that spot. In good weather an altar can be created in a special spot in your garden. A busy doctor I know has a private meditation room and altar adjacent to his office where he can go for a few minutes between patients. Altars are meant to remind us of the sacred in our everyday life.

     Animals love altars too, particularly cats. Cats have a way of seeking out the best spot of energy in any home in which they find themselves. As you frequent your altar over time, the energy will build in that place and you will probably find that your cat has found a way to gently position herself so that she can nap amongst the pictures and candlesticks - take this as a compliment!

     What do you do when you sit in front of an altar? Many people use their altar as a focal point for meditation or prayer. Some play a musical instrument, sing a sacred song, say a mantra, or pray the rosary. Others read the scriptures or passages from sacred writings and inspirational texts. Or, like the cat, you might simply rest there doing nothing in particular other than soaking up the wonderful energy. Use your imagination. Make the sacred a part of your everyday life. Create a sacred place in your home, office or garden where you can go to start your day or to unwind at the end of a busy day; a place that gives nourishment to your soul. The kingdom of heaven is within, but a sacred place serves to remind us. The heavenly hosts will bend low in your special spot to bless you and remind you of who you really are.


"If your thought is a rose, you are a rose garden . .
If it is a thorn, you are fuel for the bath stove."

Rumi

"Retire often into the silence . . .
Problems that have seemed insoluble will unravel their mysteries
In the nook of solitary thoughtfulness".

Yogananda

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