In the last post I talked about my philosophy around using physical stuff in sacred practice. Here are some of the things I use in my own practice, both alone or in a group setting such as church.
Scripture is something I can physically hold in my hands as well as my mind. It also has a sense of place, in that I can find words for when I’m grieving or celebrating in the Psalms, or words for when I’m experiencing spiritual mystery in Revelation or the beginning of John.
I do exploratory reading in the mornings. This is where I just read whatever comes after the part I read yesterday and I see what I can make out of it. Other times, I’ll choose the passage I want to read based on the purpose of whatever ritual I’m doing.
Non-liturgical traditions sometimes believe that using words someone else wrote means you’re “just going through the motions”. But I have to tell you the truth – if I only practiced my spirituality when I was “feeling it”, I’d almost never practice. I can’t choose my feelings, but I can chose to show up and go through the motions anyways. More often than not, my feelings catch up.
That’s how liturgy functions for me, particularly in a group setting. We may not all be in the right head space when we start, but we choose the words that describe the head space we want to be in and let our fickle feelings catch up.
I grew up in a non-liturgical tradition, so I’m sort of playing catch up, but I do have a Book of Common Prayer where I can usually find something that will serve the purpose of whatever ritual I’m doing at the time.
Incense serves two purposes in my spiritual practice. The first is to create a sensory experience around a spiritual ritual. The most memory-inducing sense is smell. Since I only use incense for spiritual rituals, it helps me focus my mind and heart when I smell it.
The second is basically a physical representation of my prayer. For instance, I’ll visualize the smoke sending my prayers up, or if I’m blessing a home I’ll visualize the smoke sending my prayer into every corner of the house. Of course God doesn’t need smoke to hear my prayers, but it helps keep my mind focused and present when I have a visual representation in front of me.
Like I said in the first post, there are a lot of different methodologies and philosophies to working with crystals. Mine is only one. Crystals help focus my thinking by giving me a tangible representation of my intentions. For instance, when I hold smokey quartz I visualize the negative emotions I’m experiencing flowing out through my arms into the stone. (I’ve tried this same exercise sans stone and it was not as effective. The placebo effect is powerful, guys.)
Candles are pretty common physical objects in religious practice. Generally, I use them to represent persons. For instance, during a ritual where I’m just setting aside focused time to connect with God, I’ll light three candles to celebrate the Trinity. During a prayer of grief for someone killed by the police, I’ll light a candle for the victim.
Using tarot cards in ritual is different from using them in a reading because during a ritual I choose what cards I want. When you’ve been reading tarot for any amount of time the cards become a lens or a language through which you understand the world. Not only does each card have a traditional meaning for me, but it has a relationship I’ve developed based on my intuition and personal experiences with that card.
So, for instance, when praying for someone who’s just started a new job, I’ll put the Ace of Pentacles in front of me because it represents a lot of things I want to petition for the person I’m praying for. It helps focus my thinking in the general direction I want it to go.
Siobhan Rene said, “I believe the symbolic and poetic language of the tarot opens important doorways to the parts of us that are beyond words or reason.” So does prayer, so they seem to work really well together in my spiritual practice.
7. Different postures.
When in church we sit, stand, or kneel depending on the time in the service. At home during rituals I mostly kneel. It’s not a posture I really take other than for spiritual purposes. I won’t for instance kneel on the floor to read a book – it’s just not very comfortable. So when I do kneel, my brain knows it’s time to focus on spiritual stuff.
Songs are powerful things in the spiritual world. Since I grew up in the church, I really connect with some popular old hymns. (Also, who the hell doesn’t stop what they’re doing and listen when someone with a good voice sings the 1300 year-old hymn Be Thou My Vision?) Singing songs my grandmothers and great-grandmothers sang connects me to the people of faith who have gone before me and the people who will come after. It tethers me to a spiritual timeline.
So those are the tools I use to focus and get my head where it needs to be during sacred practice. Like I said in the first post, aside from the divinely inspired nature of scripture, none of these things have power in and of themselves – they are just things I use to help me connect my physical self to the spiritual world.
If you’re curious about what sorts of rituals I do, I’ll be writing about how to create and perform them in the next post.