Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Part of Your Soul, on a Table: Christopher's Altar, in His Words
My Personal Sacred Space
David introduced me to the idea of a personal altar a number of years ago. It is an idea that tucked itself away in a corner of my brain. Occasionally, it would pop out of the corner, and then return. Last summer, I moved into my own apartment. It is wonderful to be in a space that I can call my own, and into which I can set up my own processes.
After a brilliant time last summer at the StoneSong Retreat, the idea of a personal altar pushed forward with increasing frequency. Perhaps it was the gift of a Ganesha at the beginning of the retreat that helped me to entertain this idea more concretely.
Through contacts in my hometown, I was introduced to a local carpenter – a home renovator by day, and artisan woodworker by night. As I described my idea, JK became more intrigued and excited. I left the idea with him for a few weeks. A call came. He had found a piece of wood he thought might work for the top. And so, I met the quilted maple that became the table. I wanted a “live edge” and the slab of maple had a beautiful one. There is a knot from a branch that is actually light rather than the usual dark interruption. There is spalting to add more texture. While it said “ah, yes” in its rough state, when it was finished this wood now sings. As we talked in his workshop, JK became truly engaged in the idea and suddenly, a wood called Purpleheart from Brazil would become the legs, and dark walnut would become the shelf I hoped for. JK would detail the mortise and tenon of the shelf into the leg and wedge it with maple. We agreed to finish it with beeswax so the wood could continue to breathe. All agreed, I left JK to his work. The result is more than beautiful than I imagined. This was a first project of this kind for JK, and I think he was inspired. David has written that sometimes we find Life in unexpected places. I think this is one of those moments – for both JK and me. I feel blessed to have met this excellent young craftsman.
So now, my altar sits in my dressing room. This is the room deepest in my apartment space, and furthest from the living room and kitchen, and murmur of street traffic below. It is quiet and can be totally dark when I close the door. It is where I dress, and truth to tell, am most often naked. I am starting to spend some longer time in this space (thanks to a small chair that I have placed there – creaky old bones need help!). I can breathe and be open, and stand (or sit) naked in front of my altar, and sometimes I start my edging there in front of my altar. It is a place where I try to bring my spiritual self and my sexual self into closer connection.
There are two levels to my altar. I am working on the interplay between the upper and lower levels – some things below are deeply important and formative, some are things that I am still unpacking. The shelf is important. There is a mala that was gifted to me by a wonderful woman when I retired. The amethyst geode and necklace remind me of the earth and are my birthstone in different forms. The Icon of St Christopher is partly a reminder of my own responsibility as a man. The inukshuk was a gift from a spiritual family when I retired and moved to my new town and life. As an inukshuk is composed of many stones and is a guide post, this one grounds me in a sense of many “home” places, and so guides me back to a centre. The table has two crucifixes – one was a gift from Oberammergau, the other is one that I acquired while studying in England. There is a lingam and yoni that I have been blessed to have anointed with a dear, dear friend who lies deep in my heart. The singing bowl and candle are there as light and sound. A small Buddha meditating, and the Ganesha rest on the top as aspects of spirituality that are new and intriguing me.
This is my altar as it stands now. I like to think of it as dynamic and growing more sacred as I use it. It will change as I do. The Rublev Icon is new. I am learning to think of the Trinity as a positive dynamic force in the world calling me (and others, I hope) to be positive and dynamic too. I pray this altar will help me to become a small part of that energy.
This post is part of a series in which men share the personal sacred spaces they've created, how they use them, what they mean. I invite you to share a photograph of your own altar or sanctuary, and your words describing it. -- David