A growing trend where Shri Buddha, Jesus and Ganesha meet at a quiet place

  jagbir singh <
Date:  Mon Sep 13, 2004  10:36 am
Subject:  A growing trend where Shri Buddha, Jesus and Ganesha meet at a quiet place

September 11, 2004

Barbara and Robert Casey have created an altar along the wall of their meditation room, which also features statues of Buddha and Jesus.
Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli

A quiet place

Rogue Valley residents join a national trend toward home altars as a tranquil haven from life's shocks

for the Mail Tribune

When John Miller wants to explore life's meaning, he doesn't look to a church or a book or even nature for guidance. He heads to a bedroom-turned-sanctuary, a room he has outfitted with three altars, wall tapestries, music and a simple cot-like bed.

Its purpose? To "relax me if I'm stressed and worried," said Miller, of Ashland, "and otherwise to explore my life and inspire me.

"It's the most important room in the house."

Home sanctuaries — quiet spaces devoted to everything from reflection to meditation to worship — may not yet have the cachet of, say, a home theater, but they are laying claim to square footage in a number of Southern Oregon homes. It's a trend that's evident nationally as well, say religious scholars.

Barbara and Robert Casey of Jacksonville made one of their three bedrooms into a meditation room. It has a table for an altar, featuring a statue of Buddha flanked by candles. Another altar honors ancestors and has a statue of Jesus.

A sign on the door says, "Entering this room, I see my true mind. I vow that once I sit down, all distraction will stop." When they enter, they set the tone by bowing, an act of humility in Eastern religions.

"It's our favorite room in the house," said Barbara Casey. "People want to come in here, not the living room, and just sit in the peaceful energy. What the room does is it centers you. It's very nurturing and shifts your consciousness when you come in here."

Such rooms often feature an altar, set in a corner and covered with altar cloths and thoughtfully arranged with sacred images and regalia.

On a living room altar where the TV used to sit, Kathy and Keith Black of Ashland have placed feathers, plants, pictures of saints, a statue of Christ, a statuette of the Hindu god Ganesha (an elephant-deity known as the "remover of obstacles"). Together or singly, they meditate before it.

Arranging or adding to the sacred objects is a powerful meditation in itself, and contemplating the items stimulates a devotional frame of mind, said Kathy Black.

"It creates a focus in the house and is, in fact, the center of the house," said Black. "It's an incredible presence and when people walk in, they comment of the quality of peace here, despite the dogs running up and jumping on them.

"Meditating with my altar is like charging my battery for the day, so when I do run into challenges, I will draw on that instead of frustration and fear. I can use it two or three hours a day on good days, but most days, if I spend five minutes there, I'm thrilled to death."

While still remaining Christians, Beth and Dann Hauser of Medford created a Buddhist altar in their living room, with small gongs, candles, incense and a statue of Buddha. They chant and meditate an hour in the morning and again in the evening, producing a "warm and fuzzy feeling" that lasts through each day, said Dann Hauser.

He recently found another unexpected use for the shrine when members of a religious group came to the door and asked if he'd like to pray with them. He said yes, let's both pray in each other's religion. They agreed. He prayed with them, but when they saw his altar turned around and left, he said. A picture of Jesus they gave him now sits on the Hauser altar.

A tradition in ancient cultures, the home altar has flourished in recent years among Americans who find that it powerfully expresses their intensely personal spirituality, scholars said.

John McGuckin, an Eastern Orthodox priest and professor of early church history at Union Theological Seminary in New York, said he has seen altars that combine figures of saints with running shoes and photos of boyfriends.

In rural parts of medieval Europe, home altars were kept by Christians who could not easily travel to church for communal worship, McGuckin noted. But in modern times, the altars' popularity has less to do with physical distance than with the spiritual gulf that separates many people from organized religion, he said.

"Today it's not so much that they can't walk to church. There are intellectual problems," he said. "They've retreated back to their little village. It might be a 14th-floor apartment, but it's their own little village."

Peter Kowalzik, whose online business, Sacred Source, sells devotional items, said he has had a steady increase in interest in home altars, and the Web site features photos of dozens of altars that customers have set up.

The store carries more than 500 "multicultural Goddess statues and sacred images," according to the Web site, and is organized by religion, with a menu that includes links to "Gnostic," "Norse" and "Wiccan and Pagan," among other categories.

"A lot of your pantheist customers — Wiccans and Pagans — are centered around the Celtic Wheel of the Year," Kowalzik said, and they change their home altar according to the season.

Nancy Brady Cunningham, author of "A Book of Women's Altars," one of several books about altar-making, gives lectures and consultations on the subject. Cunningham said the impulse to create an altar is not so different from a sports fan's desire to arrange posters and memorabilia of a favorite player or team in a certain way, or an office worker's need to put an inspiring photo and fresh flowers in her cubicle.

Miller, the Ashland man who turned a bedroom into a meditation space, maintains three altars for specific purposes: one to focus on and manifest goals and dreams, one to meditate at and the third simply for "personal stuff" — mementos and photos that bring joy to his life, he said.

Like most people who maintain a sacred space, Miller isn't bashful about describing the feel of the place — "a very open-hearted, unconditionally loving atmosphere that helps me realize what's really important in life and what connects me to a vaster universe."


John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland.E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org. The Washington Post also contributed to this story.


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