A Personal Altar
One of the daily devotional materials I use comes via email and has some looped music playing in the background. Sometimes it is soothing because it is calming and helps ease the tension I may be feeling. However, they have it on such a short loop that it usually has an awkward cut-off/restart moment which completely kills those good feelings.
Recently, on a particularly annoying morning when it cut off at an odd place, I decided to mute it vowing never to return. In that moment I remembered that I have the perfect thing in my computer already. I have used this in the past when I would work at a coffee shop (aka Java Office). It is a one-hour recording of a sea shore. There are no kids playing or people walking by or joggers with their dogs. It is just the sound of the waves coming in to say hello one at a time, accompanied on occasion by a passing seagull or two.
This is one of the most relaxing sounds I know in life that takes me to the shore in my mind’s eye and presents me the calmness I need. Additionally, when I am in one of my Java offices, it also increases my focus somehow. I really don’t know how that happens because with all of the noises and distractions surrounding me it should be hard to concentrate. Yet I can in spite of people’s names being yelled to come get their orders or people laughing at the table next to mine or the constant motion in the space in front of my view at the day’s location.
Ocean sounds both relax and inspire me. Now it is part of my morning routine as I set up each devotional so I can read or listen to them in my preferred order and glean words or phrases or ideas from above and then email my reflective thoughts to my closest humans.
Recently, as happens once in a while, the words I have read or heard did not sink in beyond brain level. Nothing really hit my heart and it bothered me this morning more than usual. There are always occasions when nothing gets through, that’s normal. But what hit me that morning is that I had
not been setting the mood fully in a way that strokes my soul and softens my heart even more to prepare it for a word from God.
It’s the lights. In my devotional time, I prefer to have at least one candle burning, several if possible depending on my setting. This is a habit I picked up 20 years ago from a small group material I used back then. Each meeting would begin with the lighting of a candle to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit, lit while the group members would recite a mantra that goes something like, “Holy Spirit, light our path. Illuminate for us the way to the heart of God.”
Every time I light a candle in any setting, words like these travel from my heart to my head. It is a most pleasant invocation to welcome God into this space of my desk or table along with both my head and heart. It is saying to God that even if that day’s devotional lessons are duds to me that I still want to encounter the presence of the One who ushers peace into my spirit. Even if nothing inspiring comes from the written or spoken words, I know that I have experienced God first-hand anyway.
But the one step that I recalled this morning at the end of my reading/listening time makes an even bigger impact in this setting. I can hear the ocean through which God speaks to me often. I can see the candles that remind me of Jesus sitting right in front of me with knowing eyes helping me feel loved by God. It hit me that there was one last step that puts an exclamation point on my silence.
Turn off the lights. When the lights in the room are on, everything is illuminated. Even the candles lose a bit of their dynamic opportunity to fill the room with their light because the overhead light has already provided plenty of brightness to go around. The room light presents distractions. I can see more than the candles, more than my laptop. I can see the book I have sitting propped up and ready for the next lesson I’m preparing. I can see the bill that I know I have to pay later this morning. I can see the clutter over there that I must deal with today before I forget what actions are needed to eliminate that pile. I can see so much that it makes it difficult to see my table-mate.
This morning, I arranged my devotional materials as usual. I called up the ocean sounds. I lit the candles I have carefully arranged. I turned off the lights to finish setting the physical mood of the room.
I am now at my own personal altar. I place myself before the Lord in a far more open posture to receive whatever it is God has for me to meditate on, ponder, or imagine. I am wide open, mind, heart, and soul to receive all of the thoughts or period of nothingness God wants me to encounter for the morning. I have prepared myself for the movement of the Spirit and can now say with joyful anticipation, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
What is your favorite setting for a time of personal worship?
What resources do you use to "set the mood?"
What is it about that setting that makes it easier for you to encounter God there?
If you do not have a personal devotion time, what would your ideal place be?
A personal altar is not necessary to worship God. If you had one, it could create wonderful insights into your connection with the Lord. How would your life change if you spent more intentional time with God?