Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Consecrating Space

The problem isn’t missing the sacred when it rears up and smacks you in the face. Well, wait a minute, yeah, that’s a problem too, but it’s another problem. The problem is making a home for the sacred in the midst of the daily and the ordinary. The five minutes in the morning when it wouldn’t cost all that much to stop, sit down, be still, read a short meditation, focus on what anchors and sustains your life. The gatepost in the garden, if you have a garden, just wide enough for a small bronze Buddha on an improvised ledge. Or else next to the door of your walkup on Avenue B. In the bedroom, a spare corner that could hold a modest altar. An icon on the bulletin board between the office wall and the computer monitor.

I’ve never found it easy to hold for more than a week or two onto a daily spiritual practice of any length or complexity: it’s almost impossible for me, as easily distracted by shiny objects as I am, to set time aside as sacred without setting aside space. I need something tangible to help me focus on the Presence that otherwise I might ignore, or just take for granted. I need an address I can visit, and shiny objects to hold my attention. Any daily prayer or meditation that I can’t associate with this spot that invites me in as I pass will likely spring up like grass on the wayside, then wither in the next drought.

It’s not a mere matter of installing these objects and then leaving them to themselves. It needs an act of focused intention. A shrine is only a shrine as long as you tend it: with the windblown flower laid at the feet of the Buddha in mindfulness that all things come into being and pass away, and are no less glorious for their mortality. With the nod of reverence to the icon before booting up for the morning. With a blessing to consecrate the corner altar, perhaps like that of the Havdalah service at the end of Sabbath, addressing God as somehow at work, alongside human convention, in the division of sacred from profane, of light from darkness, of the rhythm of ordinary time and hallowed time–and of this one small corner of the bedroom from the tangle of dirty laundry on the futon four feet away.


  1. This comes at a perfect time. Only yesterday, while visiting a new local "New Age" shop, for want of a better description, I bought a small book of daily readings in order to stop for just a moment on a regular daily basis to refocus. I know that the "altar" where this book is placed may not be one of the most precious spots in my home, but rather a spot where I "commune with nature" every day. A room where the only furniture to sit on is made of porcelain. And now certainly a space where body and soul can cleanse.

  2. If you need a berukah (blessing) for using the toilet, there's one of those, too...