AT THE HOMESTEAD: MY ALTAR

I keep a personal altar in my bedroom at SCH, a place where I pause each morning for reflection and light candles as an act of ritual to help me focus on the various aspects of my spiritual awareness and practice. Ritual is a very powerful thing. And we all perform rituals in our lives, even though we don’t always recognize them as such. As Joseph Campbell wrote in Transformations of Myth Through Time (Harper & Row, NY 1990) “People sometimes ask me, ‘what ritual do we have?’ You’ve got rituals, only you’re not meditating on them. When you eat a meal, that’s a ritual. Just realize what you’re doing.”

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I have several candles of the type found in botanicas and at the grocery store, cylindrical clear class holders with paper images applied to the outside. To avoid overconsumption (many people burn these candles, toss them, then buy replacements), I have burned the original wax down inside each candle and then replaced it with a votive. That way I am only buying more wax and wick, which lowers my waste output and saves me money.

I like these botanica candles because of their paper imagery pasted on them. They aid my focus and center my thought as I begin my day in prayer and contemplation. As I light each one, I reflect on its theme or message.

There’s the “Holy Spirit,” and the “Guardian Angel.” This one is especially important for me because I believe my maternal grandmother, who passed in 2009, watches over me and protects me. I’ve felt her spirit particularly close to me through the struggles of this past year. Another candle, the “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” keeps me in touch with the central figure in my faith tradition, and the values that he embodies. There is the “Virgin of Guadalupe” to remind me of the feminine in God, of the “mothering” as well as “fathering” aspects of the God of my own understanding. I also use the “Virgin” candle to remind me that we each have a part to play (Mary was a human being who played her part in bringing God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ – and when I live according to the values of my faith tradition I can also bring God into the world each day in a similar kind of way). The Virgin reminds me of the great country and people to the south, and of the ways in which growing up and living in Southern California is an experience as rich with Mexican traditions as the prevailing American ones. She reminds me of the possibility of miracles, and of the ways in which the Divine reveals itself to the common man as Mary revealed herself to Juan Diego in 1531 (my favorite telling of the story is found in the children’s book THE LADY OF GUADALUPE by Tomie de Paola ).

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I keep one botanica candle which is clear, without any image affixed to it, and I light this one each day for a different person or persons. I might light it as I pray for my mother, or a friend, or the memory of Nelson Mandela, or the people of the Phillipines after the terrible storm last month. I keep a second candle on my altar which rises on a stem and is encased in a hurricane of green glass. This candle I light for peace and justice in the world, and to remind me that I have a part to play in the advancement of each.

I have two vases – one a bud vase for a single flower, and a larger vase for a small bouquet. These provide fragrance and beauty and remind me of life and its passing.

I have two items on my altar that were gifts – a small hand-painted image on wood of Saint John, the patron saint of writers and a small laminated card with the image of Jesus on it which was a gift from my Cuban friend Agustin.

Finally, I have a special oil candle made of stone which has a “step” in it. This was given to me by my friend Rafael as a reminder of the importance of my sobriety and the power of the 12 steps in my life.

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Behind my altar hangs a calendar, which reads in Spanish, “?ES EL FIN DEL MUNDO, O APENAS OTRO DIA?” (Is it the end of the world, or just another day?”). This great find came to me at a garage sale in Silver Lake years ago for just one dollar. It has dials on either side that allow me to change the day of the week, date, and month. Making the change each morning centers me in the here and now, and reminds me that yesterday has passed, and tomorrow will be “dialed up” another day so what about THIS day here and now? The calendar helps me keep things in perspective, and with it’s humorous text and illustrations it really amuses me. I don’t have to take myself or life too seriously. And it’s never the end of the world.

When I was 18 years old I wrote a song to explain the power of faith in my life, and it took as its main image a lit candle.  The lyrics are as follows:

I light a candle

I let it burn

In the hope

That one would see

 

This light that’s burning

Fire eternal

The only life for me

 

Though the world

Grows dark I know

My light won’t dim

 

Nothing can darken

My heart

My light is Him

 

I light a candle.

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5TH ANNUAL BHAKTI FEST DESCENDS ON JOSHUA TREE – WALLET BEWARE!

ImageDon’t worry. There won’t be any pickpockets reaching into the folds of your sari trying to get at your hard-earned cash, but you might want to think twice about heading for Joshua Tree this weekend. Between the cost of a four-day pass ($325) and the money you’ll spend purchasing the wares of the 100 vendors there selling everything from food and books to jewelry and neti pots — your pocketbook will be saying “Ouch!” just when your spirit says “Om…”

“Yoga’s a very big business now. Everyone’s doing yoga,” executive producer and Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein tells the Desert Sun in Saturday’s edition. “We’re expecting at least a couple thousand people, maybe 3,000.”

In addition to yoga and the vendor market, they’ve got meditation, instruction in chanting, hula hoop classes, and workshops by leading philosophers and authors. You can even stay overnight at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center where the event is being held.

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 Shiva Rea Shakti-Rocks the House

And then there’s the music.

When you’re tired of shopping and downward dogging, you can chill out in front of the stage where musicians the likes of former Madonna backup singer Donna De Lory will be performing and elevating the spirit. Donna used to do Gay Pride events. I guess now she’s working the Shakti Circuit.

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Donna De Lory and Madonna strike a pose

Despite my playful criticism, Silberfein puts the weekend into nice perspective with his comments to the Desert Sun:

“You bring your family, spend a couple of days, do yoga, you hangout, eat good [vegetarian] food. I mean what could be bad? There’s no drugs. There’s no alcohol. Where can you go that that exists anymore today?”

He has a point. The last time I was in a public place where there were no drugs and alcohol was when I attended an AA meeting.

But I just can’t see myself at Bhakti Fest. I can’t afford the entrance fee. I haven’t got the right wardrobe. I always feel self-conscious when I bend into a difficult pose.

Still, my sober brother David T. is headed there all four days, and his  friend Alexandra the yoga teacher also plans to show up. How about you?

For more information on Bhakti Fest read the article in the Desert Sun at http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013308300013 or go to the Bhakti Fest website at http://www.bhaktifest.com

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Shyamdas and Radhanath Swami (Rise Globa Product Shots)