Creating Sanctuary at Home

Earlier this week, I came across this article, posted by my friend and colleague, The Reverend Janet Zimmerman of Grace Church in Great Barrington. The premise was simple: in this time of physical and social distance from friends, family, and community, our homes will need to serve multiple purposes. In order to make space for prayer, reflection, and peace, the article suggests creating a sacred space, or an altar at home. The author, Sharon Ely Pearson, suggests finding “a surface in a low traffic area such as a window sill, small table, portable tray table, or book shelf. I find it helpful to have it in a quiet area (usually this is on a shelf above my desk so it is always in sight) where there is little “action.” She goes on to describe the various items that she would gather to create this sacred space in her home— Pearson is a Christian Formation Specialist, and so those items are unique to her faith tradition.

The article made me think: what would it be like to create a sacred space in our own homes, right now? What would the altar in our own homes hold?

Just a few weeks ago, we read in parashat Terumah the following instructions from God to Moses:

“And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:3-8)

The items that God instructs the Israelites to bring for the Mishkan (the sacred dwelling place) stand out– they’re so sensorial! Vibrant hues, rich textures, beautiful light…

And so, perhaps this is a practice that will resonate for you as a way of creating order and peace for you in your home right now: a physical place to go to for reflection and meditation (perhaps even the spot for you to set up in when you join us on Zoom for Shabbat and other virtual gatherings in the days and weeks ahead).

A few suggestions for what your sacred space at home could contain:

  1. Light: as one of the first Divine acts of creation, we know that light is one of the most powerful ways we have to transform time and space. Consider placing heirloom candlesticks, a favorite candle, or even, a favorite lamp in your sacred space.

  2. Material: texture matters; the ability to touch is powerful. Remember: amongst God’s first instructions to the Israelites is to bring linens and yarns (and dolphin skins! ) to the Mishkan… do you have a tablecloth or handkerchief that belonged to your parents or grandparents? Set it out on your altar, and see how it transforms the space.

  3. Color: The world needs beautiful things, now more than ever— make your sacred space one of beauty: flowers, art… be creative! Set out whatever brings you a sense of peace and order.

  4. Torah: Whether capital “T” Torah, or the books and texts that bring you meaning and hope, fill your sacred space with reminders of what you know to be true and important in your life, and in the world.

  5. Prayers: If you have a prayerbook at home, place it on your altar, and see what emerges when you are in that space… or, check out some of the original liturgical poems and prayers written by Alden Solovy at tobendlight.com

  6. Tzedakah: Whether you have a dedicated Tzedakah box at home, or want to set aside a container— the practice of setting aside some money each day for those whose need is greater than your own may be a powerful way of staying in a place of gratitude.

  7. Pen and Paper: Let your sacred space be one for quiet and reflection. Journaling can be a powerful way of processing and making meaning of our lives, especially in times of tumult. Why not try a new practice of writing “morning pages”– a practice taught by Julia Cameron of The Artists Way? Morning pages are three pages of long hand, free form writing. My experience with this practice is that it often is a way of writing my way toward clarity and self-understanding.

I hope that however you find peace and order in your lives right now, that connecting with your Hevreh community will be a source of joy, meaning, and solace as we make our way through the days and weeks ahead.

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