Sacred Corners

Being home indefinitely can be rough, even for introverts! There are some easy and enjoyable ways to adjust home space so we can break through the sense of spacial monotony—and the monotony of dejection, too. The idea is to create zones that are distinct, by using all our senses and all our best associations for the purpose of each space.

Consensus in Wisdom

Many businesses are sharing tips for working from home with their employees. The best counsel I found on this idea has been from leadership coach Jackie Gaines, who suggests everything from having a distinct space and routine to turning off all tech connections from time to time. These ideas are pretty much what you want for a sacred space, too.

This kind of distinct space is what experts suggest for anyone seeking to improve their sleep. One of the best articles on evidence-based steps to improve sleep can be found in HealthLine. Other articles chime in with great ideas. Simply: set boundaries. Keep work out of the bedroom. Keep conflict out. Keep electronics out. Bring in soothing colors, light, sounds, and smells. Create a sanctuary.

A range of home-life movements, like Marie Kondo and Christian Minimalism, are all about simplifying spaces before organizing so that keeping spaces organized stays simple. These build on the idea that home space reflects what’s going on within us. They also look to how the external world can and should not invade that space, too.

Our lived experience confirms this. Just ask anyone who has wrestled with depression or anxiety about how living space can reflect one’s interior life. I’ve been there. Or, ask anyone who is enduring a worldwide pandemic how the peace of home space has been. I’m here.

The Healing Voices has written about a healing garden and restored chapel, the quest for the holy space remembered, and even a prayer labyrinth. In the Spirit Fire Global Conference on Abuse and Faith (January 2021) will be featuring survivor artists in a gallery designed for new ideas in healing gardens and healing labyrinths.

Home Altars

But this article is closer to home. It is about the challenges of now. It is about creating a sacred corner to help balance connections with the external world, with our interior well-being, and with God by welcoming His Spirit to abide with us. In an era when the external world is full of anxiety and fear, this little corner has never been more important.

Home altars are part of our Catholic tradition, but beware. Often the idea of the May altar or home shrine presents a complicated emotional challenge for associations with past hurt. It all depends on your story and the stories of loved ones who will share this space.

It’s really important not to expect your sacred corner to measure up to some idea. Or, to recreate or fix the past. Be sure that the altar is about now and the future only. Don’t let it be a portal to past hurt. Let it be a space that reflects your work to recover to this point in life–and your trust in the grace to continue flourishing even in dark times like we all share now. In other words, it’s important to create a sacred corner that helps you be present, now, as God continues to create you.

Another caution: Don’t judge your sacred space. Don’t use it as a way to criticize yourself. Be mindful of the shame it may wake in you and use to make you recoil from patching one together in a tiny spot somewhere.

Take measures to develop a place where no judgment was part of making it. Protect yourself from echoes of judgment. Try to make your sacred space as imperfect as you can. It is an exercise in humility and the health of humility. There can be no “should” be in sacred space, because there is no “should be” when we draw close to God who so loves us. Our sacred corner will be where God’s Spirit blesses us with so many gifts that will help us heal and thrive. That begins while imagining and making our sacred corner.

In all of this, the space is secondary. It’s not intended for a feature in a magazine. It does one thing. It serves the primary relationship in our lives, even our isolated lives. It serves our relationship with God, even when we doubt or rage. No matter what, we have God with us, beside us, within us, and in our homes. We’re also human, and that means what we know can be easy to forget. Here’s where sacred corners come in.

Elements & Suggestions

Home altars might include religious words or images, or might not. God will find you in any place where you are. This space is to help you feel safe and find peace so you may be more open to God.

Here are some ideas:

  • Images of holy places or things with special history for you, including loved ones
  • Pictures of God, Mary, saints, or statues
  • Safe remembrances; e.g., photos of loved ones, items linking us to loved ones, items that honor those who have loved us and helped us
  • Special tapestry, lace, leather, burlap, ribbons, or a linen cloth
  • Bible, devotional books, holy cards, a journal
  • Paper decorated or with your favorite Scripture or saints’ saying handwritten
  • Creation items; e.g. stones, plant, sky or stars, creatures, flowers, water
  • Candles, small decorative light, plant lighting
  • Incense, perfume, sachet or potpourri
  • Chimes, or a bell, or music specific to time in this space.

Enrich your sacred corner with routines. Open the time you spend there by lighting a candle, pulling on a lap blanket, listening to a sacred song. Or, ringing a bell or bells a single time to listen to the reverberations fade.

If you like tending something daily, you might have a plant or a vase for fresh flowers. I’ve found it very helpful having a small dish where I place a paper with the most troubling parts of my day written.

A sacred corner can be on a windowsill, cabinet top, corner stand, shelf, off to the side or the center of a room. Are you a gardener? Your sacred corner might be in your yard, or front or back door, It’s a place where you may sit at times in prayer wherever it may be.

Just-Right Spaces

There are no just-right spaces. When I used to live in large houses, I had a prayer room. I painted an entire wall gold and filled it with Eastern icons. Over the years I gave the icons away piecemeal to special people for new sacred corners which they were inspired to create in their homes. Now, my sacred space is connected to each one long after my icon wall is gone.

Small sacred corners can be compelling, too. What matters is how a space connects to and reflects our hearts and souls. Year after year, I continue downsizing. My sacred corners have become smaller. They are not the only place I sense God near me. They are not the only place I pray. But they are a distinct place of peace where I’m conditioned by practice to fall into a calm that can welcome God into my heart and mind despite whatever may be numbing my heart and mind. It’s a place I imagine being when I travel and am in strange and sterile hotel spaces.

My Next Sacred Corner

Most recently, the pandemic stop everything in its tracks and grounded the world, including me. I had a chance to look at what had been my peaceful sacred corner. It was a disaster, stuffed with clutter, suitcases, laundry, things to fix, things to file. It was disorder. Until February, I had traveled almost nonstop for Spirit Fire. There never seemed to find enough time to unpack completely. The sacred corner now held not peace but a challenge to face all that remained undone. It was a spiritual wake-up call.

Seven months in, I am making progress. It’s time to rethink just what my sacred corner might become. More important is this sense of adventure I feel about creating that space. Our sacred corners wake up our creative selves. They offer us a sense of joy in this sorrowful and fear-filled era. That adventure is the spiritual tenor of a thriving prayer life.

I’m not sure what my sacred corner will be, but it will include images and little bits and things so many of you have given me as gestures of love. We take to our sacred corners all the lessons of grace given us by others. One lesson for me has been the habitual routine someone very dear to me who is not a believer. She gets up very early each morning, before her husband and children, to start the day alone at a rustic table in a sunny bay window, pouring two cups of coffee—one for her, and one for God.

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