Monday, May 11, 2015

Ordinary Objects, Sacred Space

[An earlier version of the following was first posted in a course called Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life, which I took from Hamilton College through Edx.  The professor was S. Brent Plate, author of A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses]

Have you ever thought about the kinds of items we use when we worship? It seems that going to church or wherever we go to worship our concept of the Divine, we just arrive at a place, do some things, feel something nice, and go home, hopefully to bring the inspiration of that experience into the world. I've found, however, that there are many different things that together make the worship experience so much more than the place and the activity in that place.

I have been given the opportunity to experience many different ways in which objects are used in religious settings. From the tactile pleasure of holding a book in my hands while singing (though I don't read music and can't carry a tune in a bucket) to the lovely sounds of crystal bowls, drums, acoustic or even electric guitars, the way objects are used in worship or meditations can increase the level of spiritual movement in a religious experience. In particular, the way sound is created and used can enhance an experience to amazing heights for me.

While I am not a huge fan of the organ, I appreciate certain ways that a good organist can speak to my spirit. When I think about my not being a fan of the organ I realize that it is hilarious that I AM a huge fan of the bagpipe. A well played bagpipe at a memorial service is extremely moving to me. There is something thick and nourishing about the pipe and drums. Musical objects can create a religious experience out of an experience others might see as mundane. An afternoon at the Renaissance Festival, spent watching belly dancers move to doumbek and tambourine, can be almost religious to me. It is no doubt a spiritual experience for me. The sounds, the sights, the smells that go along with the experience create an atmosphere that moves me beyond time and space. I am moved to become one with the music; my mind expands into the ether.

Statues, iconography, small bits and pieces of the world around us placed on altars or around the periphery can make a place sacred. Incense or candles, flowers or green boughs can bring such olfactory delights that one can imagine oneself outside the bounds of time.

Think about the space where you gather with others to connect with the Divine. Notice how the smallest things placed around a table become metaphors for the connection between us and that which is transcendent.  Notice how the simplest of objects can transform an ordinary table, an ordinary room, an ordinary building or back yard, or even just a tiny shelf in an entertainment center into a sacred space.

My tiny prayer altar - on a shelf.

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