The altar was not for particular spirits, but honored all the ‘spirits’ we brought with us to share: the spirits of the women and men in our stories, the memories imbedded in the items we gathered together and the spirit of every person present in the class that day.
Last week my students and I created a non-religious altar to conclude our class, Women, Religion and Spirituality. We read about different feminist spiritual traditions in which women created altars to honor their ancestors, spirits or deities; and I thought it might be fun to practice our own form of literal physical creation. I asked students to bring in inspiring items, pictures of people who’d helped them to grow or anything that honored what they considered sacred in their lives. I also asked them to bring food to share, as no altar seems complete without food of some kind. However, asking my students to participate in a course ritual, I also felt it was important to respect their very different beliefs… which resultantly, left me wondering how we would create an altar without God.
My religious experience taught me that altars were a place to surrender gifts in return for a greater gift of God’s blessing or love. The church I attended as a child did have a literal, physical altar; but this raised table was only used monthly to present the communion bread and grape juice before it was passed through the pews. Otherwise, I came to understand, one’s heart was the altar and we needed to present our sacrifices there. Financial gifts needed to come from the heart, then put into the offering plate. Gifts of time or action had to start in the heart, even when required by the youth group or spiritual authority; and resistance to giving these gifts also required sacrifice. My resistance or lack of desire to sacrifice required that I leave my unwillingness at the altar so that I might become appropriately grateful.
At some point I started leaving too much at the altar; and like Abraham’s Daughter I said enough is enough. I recognized myself in the sisters and brothers lying under the sacrificial sword, and I took back my heart. My heart, I realized, hadn’t been the altar; it had been the offering and sacrifice. Continue reading “AN ALTAR WITHOUT GOD? A “PLACE” FOR THE SACRED by Sara Frykenberg”