Updated: Feb 23
How do you create sacred space? What is a sacred space?
Sacred spaces are some of the clearest examples we have of humanity’s active involvement in cultivating the Sacred. Within sacred spaces, the lines between “what is ‘just people’ and “what is ‘purely divine,'” are, blessedly, blurred to indistinction.
For example, when humans build temples, they often believe that holy presence resides within it. However, there is no delusion that the temple was not built by human hands. That reality is in fact celebrated! Within sacred space we are free to relish in our participation, or co-creation, of divine presence in our world. This power we possess does not detract from the mystery of sacred space, but is something to cherish. If we have the power to construct and nurture sacred space, that says a lot about our standing in the universe.
So, what constitutes a sacred space? The answer could include many possibilities: perhaps you have a favorite quiet spot in your place of worship or out in nature. Maybe you grew up with a shrine or altar in the home, or you may be seeking to curate and maintain a space for yourself. The space may be hidden away where only you can access it, or out in the open where you spend most of your day. There may be objects that represent deities, loved ones, prayers or intentions present. It could be a clear, clean space, empty of clutter, where the mind and spirit feel free to declutter as well. Your sacred space may simply be your own body. While the size and structure of a personal sacred space may vary, the core is the same: a place that has been set aside for contemplation or communion with the divine. The beauty of a sacred space, like many facets of spiritual life, derives from the meaning it carries for you.
To help illustrate the many variations and nuances of a sacred space, Fratres Dei Spiritual Direction Contributor Saint Gibson and Communications Manager Caroline Crook (yours truly), have each shared a picture of our own sacred spaces and described the contents therein.
There are a number of sacred spaces scattered throughout my house; the rose-scented Our Lady of Guadalupe candle and collection of crystals in my bedroom, the shelf where my fiancé and I remember our departed ancestors with little photos and trinkets, and the font of holy water affixed to the wall by the front door. But the most prominent sacred space in my home is the altar table set up in the living room, underneath a gilded icon of the Madonna and child.
On it, I keep all my candles and figurines representing the saints and angels, and some beloved keepsakes, like dried flowers, gifted rosaries, and letters from friends. The plate in the center of the altar features a painting of the last supper and is used for offerings: generally water, and sometimes alcohol or milk depending on whether or not that's appropriate to the petition or the day on the church calendar. My household celebrates both the Christian holidays and the pagan wheel of the year, so the decorations on the altar change out with feast days and seasons. The candles around the offering plate change, but there's always a sacred heart of Jesus and a Mary mother of God burning away, and usually a Saint Jude and a Saint Joseph as well. I burn a rainbow candle to remember the queer saints of the church both known and unknown, and to ask for God's protection on LGBTQ+ people worldwide.
My patron saint is the archangel Uriel, patron of confirmation in the Episcopal church and of poets and scholars widely. My golden Uriel figurine presides over his side of the altar, along with a figurine of the archangel Raphael, my fiancé's patron. We've got all sorts of talismans and charms representing the four archangels, and we have a fiery red candle for the archangel Michael that stands looped in a necklace featuring a ward against the evil eye. A golden pietà, my fiancé's greatest thrift store find, watches over all the candles. We've also got a colored figurine of the Infant of Prague standing proudly over a photograph of my fiancé and I. That's because the very first letter my fiancé ever sent me was a photograph of the Infant when he was traveling abroad, and we like to think he watches over us.
There are prayer cards littered about, and I often find myself reaching for Saint Ignatius of Loyola or Saint John the Revelator in times of need. We also usually keep incense burning in a metal cauldron that's always stuffed full of salt and ashes. Frankincense, rose, and lemongrass are my favorites. There are also many taper candles that I've saved from trips to other churches or from sung masses on Michaelmas and Christmas Eve.
I've been curating sacred space in every dorm room and apartment I've lived in for years, and this is by far my most favorite space yet. There's enough room to stand while you pray and move items around, but it's small enough that I could pack up everything on the altar into one box if I needed to. The table stands right between the living room and the kitchen, in the heart of the home, and it makes me feel like blessings are being disseminated from the altar to every room in the house. It's a way to keep a little bit of divinity always within arms reach, incarnate in rosaries and candles and bottles of holy water. With my altar nearby, I feel prepared for any spiritual celebration or crisis, and I know exactly where to retrieve up my spiritual tools when the occasion calls for it.
Saint offers tarot readings that are affirming, insightful and welcome to all. Check out Holy Roots Tarot to learn more.
Let’s call my sacred space an acoustic version of what a sacred space can be. It’s only a few months old; yet another quarantine project. Cluttered? Yes. Often mistaken as just a shelf for all my candles? Also yes. But it serves my spiritual life in ways that I personally find intuitive and accessible.
Of the three bookshelves in my apartment, this one is in a central spot in the living room, facing the couch. It’s part of the space and rhythm where most of my daily life takes place. Especially during quarantine when my brain fog is even worse than normal, it’s nice to be able to naturally glance over at this shelf and quickly check in with its contents.
Said contents are 95% candles. Whenever I need to set aside some time for an intentional, spiritually fulfilling practice (whether prayer, yoga, reading, writing, or just a break from social media) I light a candle. On days of significance (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) or to pray for a loved one, I’ll light a smaller tealight candle in the centerpiece and let it burn for the day.
The remaining 5% is all gifted, bought or found objects from friends and family members. The centerpiece is a candle/incense holder one of my oldest and dearest friends gave to me. There is a glass dish of crystals, shells and sharks’ teeth, all collected over the years between Florida and DC, with family and friends. The glass bottle in the corner was a gift from a friend’s wedding last summer, and I keep that filled with rainwater or holy water, depending on what’s at hand. There’s a crystal seashell towards the back that was a gift from my late grandmother. Each of these objects, to me, represents the many connections, joys and loves in my life. I’m also part magpie, so it’s nice to have a place where these odds and ends I collect can be 1) on display, 2) out of the way.
Other objects come and go, as I like to place items on this shelf that symbolize what’s on my heart at the time. Coins, written turns of phrase, scraps from old clothes, photos of loved ones, etc. Occasionally the odd tarot card, if I’m looking for a stronger visual.
For years this surface was just part candle repository, part please-God-do-not-forget-to-return-these-library-books shelf. It had a vague purpose, and certainly held things that are important to me, but not in an especially meaningful way. The act of curating this space -- choosing that shelf, cleaning it up, deciding what to place where, and maintaining it over time -- has been a source of calm, inspiration, and reflection. It’s still a work in progress though; I have a holly wreath I place around the centerpiece during the holidays, and am looking into getting a wreath to celebrate each season in the year. To, you know, help me remember that time is still passing in quarantine (I want to say April was… two weeks ago?)
If you feel so inclined, we would love to hear from you as well: what does a sacred space mean to you? What sacred spaces have you cultivated or visited?
February 18, 2021 | Denver, Colorado