Posted in Essay, General Interest, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Creating Sacred Space Wherever You Live

When I first started seminary, I was totally taken aback by two things. First, they start class in prayer. (Shocker! From a secular world to this!) Second, all the professors and administrative personnel seem to have an altar of some sort in their workspace. I never thought of having an altar before that–unless it was books. Creating a place in the home or work where your sacred articles live was a new idea to me. Especially since I came from that strain of protestantism that has all “things” as mundane, therefore personal altars were simply not a thing to be done.

Thank goodness for ecumenical seminary! This exposed me to new thoughts, broader ideas about who and what other people were, and broader ideas, and yet more specific, about who I am. I went about creating an altar at home. It is a little side table with a crystal bowl of rocks with an angel in it. And on the shelf of the table, there are books I love and find inspiration in…a book on hymnody, devotional books, prayer books, and about 10 children’s books ranging from “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak to “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. Over time and in a busy household with youngsters, the altar and items dispersed around the home. Occasionally, I rope them back together. But there is also a gift in seeing them spread all over the place. “Oh, look! A piece of the sacred right there!” or “Oh, that is a beautiful rock, the world is an amazing and holy place!” I suppose, I am not very good at being in one place, so scattering it willy nilly ends up working and becomes an odd kind of altar. I often wish I could build beautiful altars like my friends and colleagues do, but I know! The pieces will be everywhere. Maybe someday. (Said in a wistful voice!)

Today, for our sacred space exploration, I thought we could do an exercise about altars, creating personal altars, and whatnot. However, I had a better idea just typing that paragraph above! Let’s create a virtual altar together! Everybody offer a word, picture, poem, link to something or other, that you find to be inspiring, sacred, holy, or completely whole, and next week, I will bring back a virtual collage. At the same time the offerings are made, please visit the places that other people find sacred space in. I am confident that people will leave a word or two (or more!). You wouldn’t leave me hanging, would you?

Are you ready to do this together? After all, above and beyond having a personal altar, the altar of a community – whether it is in the Christian Church, a Jewish Synagogue, or a Pagan Altar – conveys that which the community finds sacred or holy. Or maybe just important. Maybe a quick examination of the words sacred and holy is in order (from the online etymology dictionary).


Primary (pre-Christian) meaning is not possible to determine, but probably it was “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated,” and connected with Old English hal and Old High German heil “health, happiness, good luck” (source of the German salutation Heil). Holy water was in Old English. 


late 14c., past participle adjective from obsolete verb sacren “to make holy” (c.1200), from Old French sacrer “consecrate, anoint, dedicate” (12c.) or directly from Latin sacrare “to make sacred, consecrate; hold sacred; immortalize; set apart, dedicate,” from sacer (genitive sacri) “sacred, dedicated, holy, accursed,”

What do you find holy or sacred? What word, image, poem, thought would you offer to a community altar? 

I offer one of my favorite photos of sunset from the top of the mountain, Haleakala on Maui. Why sunset? It is a liminal time when possibilities expand as we hold together both the end of a work day and the gestation of something new. In the Book of Genesis 1:5, it says, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Evening first. Gestation first. Darkness first. Sunset, first.

Haleakala Sunset by Terri Stewart
Haleakala Sunset
by Terri Stewart


Terri Stewart

(c) 2013, post & photo, Terri Stewart

REV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at ,, and  To reach her for conversation, send a note to


As a chaplain to chaplains, I find myself in the deep listening work of attending to the dreams of hope-filled people whose true calling is to serve and uplift incarcerated youth.

4 thoughts on “Creating Sacred Space Wherever You Live

  1. I like your idea, Terri. I am reminded of the time that my husband went through his double bypass surgery. He was 31 and our oldest child was 6. She spent the day at her Sunday school teacher’s house and constructed an altar in some bushes in the backyard. When I came to pick her up, she talked about how she had spent her day thinking about her dad. The whole idea seems very elemental when viewed at a 6 year old’s level. There were rocks and leaves involved, but I think the thing that altar contained was a child’s love and the weight of it being present over time at a moment in the universe when things affecting her were far removed from her control. And isn’t that how we all live every moment?


  2. Terri, a wonderful idea and let’s do hope folks will participate and add unity to the sacredness of this exercise. I love Priscilla’s story as well as yours …


    Sacred word: Numinous-from the Latin numen- the presences of the Divine

    Music: Gregorian Chant

    Statue: Quan Yin or the BVM or any goddess of any faith

    Saint: St. Francis and …


    out of the threads of your sacred languages
    out of the spare sculpture of your homely wisdom
    we formed clubs and built ironclad canon
    we spawned conspiracies of hate –
    now we are goose barnacles clinging to the rotting flotsam of old boats,
    we are weighted with the dust of fear and the mold of suspicion

    though we bluster and grandstand our way through time,
    the original purity of your intentions is still rooted in Eternity,
    your guileless simplicity is stronger than the dogs of war,
    it is the calm light at the center of our frenzied dark
    it is the grace of the gazelle,
    the rivers of compassion that flow as tears

    sometimes we hear your spirits whispering
    in the mindful pleasure of our morning tea
    in the rhythmic stirring of a pot of oatmeal
    or in a fresh dawning after a tide has turned
    and the wind of rectitude has cleared the air
    (c) 2013, Jamie Dedes

    Prayer: Prayer of St. Francis (the ideals are real and they challenge me)

    Nature: the sky, the wind, the rain, the sea, the trees, stones and mountains, and the human and nonhuman animals

    Thank you, Terri. Happy Sunday!


  3. This is so lovely. Thank you. An alter being sacred space to “to me” you have just made more holy by asking others to share theirs and bring them together. I used to keep an alter. There were crystals, all sorts of pieces of nature and more than likely a picture of Jesus. Looking back, at that time (probably my late 30s early 40s) I believe that I was filling out or rounding out my spiritual self. You know, finding out who it was. I was not searching for I was already there. No, I was filling out the spiritual within. So what would I put upon that alter today? Animals, just lots and lots of animals and I am NOT speaking of sacrifice. Yes, they are to me God’s holiest creatures.


Kindly phrased comments welcome here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.