After a journey to the Mojave Desert, I knew that I needed to create sacred space in my life, not just observe it occasionally. At the time, I couldn’t articulate what that meant for me or why it was necessary...
“I believe in everything; nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing; everything is sacred.
Ha Ha Ho Ho Hee Hee.”
Before typing the words you are now reading, space was created at my desk, in my mind and in my heart for the words to appear. I prepared tea in one of my favorite cups. Ambient music radiated from the speaker. A candle was lit and a word was randomly chosen from a sandalwood box: ‘tenderness’. To capture the moment in a photo, I fussed a bit. Some items that had been distracting me for weeks were removed from the background. The image was cropped and a filter chosen. Out of frame, the tasks and commitments for another day were set aside in neat piles. Sacred space was created so that I could write this to you.
There was a time when I wouldn’t, couldn’t use the word ‘sacred’ with ease. For decades, I only associated it with religions, indigenous communities, ancient cultures or specific regions. If accessible at all, a Sacred Space was often a place to visit and appreciate quietly; which I did whenever given the opportunity. Active participation seemed reserved for those that had completed prescribed rituals and training. Indifferent to completing processes of initiation myself, I accepted these circumstances. I was content to be an enthusiastic onlooker, satisfying my curiosity with reading, music, lectures, film and documentaries.
And then, I wasn’t. After a journey to the Mojave Desert, I knew that I needed to create sacred space in my life, not just observe it occasionally. At the time, I couldn’t articulate what that meant for me or why it was necessary. I returned to Santa Barbara and created a place where I could sit in silence, read, listen to music, pet the cat of the house and dream of future adventures. Beloved objects could be seen on a shelf nearby; occasionally a candle or stick of incense would be lit. In time, the shelf would look more and more like an altar. It became a place to remember what I valued and appreciated; a source of inspiration and encouragement.
“That’s what prayer is… it’s a conversation that you are having multiple times a day. You are remembering, you are thinking, you are discussing, you are exposing your vulnerabilities…”
It wouldn’t be long before I became aware of the celebration of Dias de los Muertos. The random altars I had made until then had been sweet, beautiful and heartfelt. However, the creation of the Ofrenda provided the direct experience of a process that allowed the ordinary to become transcendent; acknowledging sorrow and welcoming joy. With the music of my heritage playing and copal incense burning; favorite treats, food and beverages were placed near photos of loved ones; flowers and candles set on colorful fabrics, draped with papel picado. A profound experience of the sacred had become accessible in my own home, and with devotion, I was participating annually.
During the months between Ofrendas, several altars are displayed near doorways and on window sills. At times, a loved one is remembered fondly. At others, Laksmi could be smiling, offering a blessing… Yes, they are decorative, but each altar is not a static installation. Colorful and playful, they are gentle reminders to pause, take a breath and give transcendence an opportunity to occur. It doesn’t happen every time, but it does happen. Sacred space is an embodied space, made possible with loving, devoted attention and participation.
And although it’s taken years for me to do so, not only can I now use the word sacred in my life with more ease… I can also experience it.
“This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
Rebecca Zendejas has had a lifelong fascination with places of worship and the creation of sacred space within daily routines. Inspired by the celebrations of Samhain and Dias de los Muertos she created the Community Memorial Altar at Paradise Found last year; anyone and everyone were invited to write the name of a loved one and add it to the altar. As an artist and woodworker, Rebecca designs and creates one of a kind personal altars for the home and office. She can be found on Instagram @zendohous or contacted by email: email@example.com.
Photo credits: Rebecca Zendejas