Sunday, August 21, 2011

Personal Altars

This morning at breakfast a few of us were discussing the value of personal altars in our rooms. Some of us found them important for our prayer; for others they seemed unnecessary. For me they are helpful although I have to guard myself from getting them too cluttered. I frequently change the symbols or icons on my altar to emphasize a new piece of growth that has happened in my life, some insight that has ocurred or something that is trying to get my attention. At this time in my life, God seems to be calling me away from a lot of words. Two of my favorite words are DWELL and ABIDE. These words help me remember my desire to just BE. The Holy One, Source of my Life, is always present and so nothing I place on my altar actually renders God more present. The altar space suggests a sacred presence that is always in my reach. God doesn't need my altar. My altar reminds me that even in the midst of my distractions I am in the presence of the Holy Mystery. This morning I picked up an old tattered copy of my book, Seasons of Your Heart and read a selection that fits with my desire to keep my altar more simple. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~"In our search for the holy, there are times when our restless preparations smother the very truth for which we are searching. We decorate our rooms and make elaborate preparations for prayer, when a single flower and a moment of waiting are all we need to meet the One Who Comes. In our restlessness, our futile search sometimes becomes the only god we ever meet."

A moment of waiting! A single flower!

Those words hold special meaning for me as I try to simplfy. Now I sometimes begin my personal prayer with an empty altar. After my time of reflecting on the Scriptures I ask this question, How did God visit me during my hour of prayer? What is Christ asking of me for this week? Then I place on the altar a symbol, word, or picture, --a reminder of what went on in my heart and mind during this time of prayer. I use that as a prompt for the next week. I recall, too, our biblical ancestors who would sometimes pile up stones and pour oil on the stones as a memorial of God's visitations. [Genesis 28:16-19]Call to mind events in your life where God seemed absent; it is never too late to discover presence in what seemed like absence. Perhaps even now you are being invited to cry out with Jacob, Truly, God was in this place all the while and I never knew. I didn't know you were there, until now! Until now! Sometimes a backward glance uncovers a grace we almost missed.


  1. Amen!!!! My Seasons of Your Heart is tattered too.
    Would not give it up for anything. I shall savor a word or two of it as I lay me down to sleep.

  2. A beautiful post. Thank you.

    I will take the word 'Dwell" with me as I walk from Sevilla to Santiago these coming weeks.