If you are like me, you want to bring moments of sacred and holy into the everyday grind of your family’s life. You want to make time for family prayers, read Scripture together, and have time to reflect on where God is showing up in your respective lives.
But it is hard.
We are busy with scattered schedules and constant demands on our time. We are lucky to remember our car keys, much less to read Scripture together each day.
What is a well intentioned parent to do?
This Sunday afternoon at Bare Bulb Coffee we are going to talk about how creating a Family Altar can help us incorporate the holy in our daily rituals. We will implement a few strategies that will give us a head start in making time to come together and remember God’s presence with us each day.
So what exactly is a Family Altar?
For one, it is a space.
The space will be different for each family. For our family, it is located in our kitchen. Over the past several years we have made it a habit to eat breakfast together most mornings. Since we were all there together each day, we decided to make it a time for prayer and worship. When the kids were small, our time for worship was super short and simple. As they grew, this changed.
Nowadays, at the beginning of breakfast each day we say the opening lines from the Book of Common Prayer’s morning prayer, “Open my lips O Lord, so that my mouth shall proclaim your praise, Create it me a clean heart . . . .” If it is a good day and I am awake enough, after we pray I’ll read a bit from a Psalm or maybe a story from the life of the Saint for the day. We’ll talk about what is coming up in our days, what we are looking forward to and what we are nervous about. It helps us all get our head around the day and start off right.
We have found that keeping this ritual is easier if there are things out in plain view to remind us to honor the holy each morning. We often keep a candle on the table and a book of Psalms or prayers. We let the kids help us by making small flower arrangement from our backyard or putting out decorations that fit the season.
The important thing about your altar space is not how big or beautiful it is, but that it suits your family.
Your altar space might end up being in your child’s bedroom where you read and say prayers before bed. It could be in the living room or even your car! The items there could be a simple as one book to read together, or as elaborate as a dedicated table covered in a special cloth with pictures of loved ones, artwork, and special objects like favorite rocks or shells. Again, the important thing is that the altar make sense and has meaning for your own family.
The second piece involved in making a family altar is a specific time that you gather there to worship (think worship in a VERY BROAD sense).
Mornings work for our family, but they may be horrible for yours. If your kids are very young, lunchtime might be a good moment to pause for worship. Dinnertime, bedtime, and times of travel are all natural time pauses in our day. Just claim whatever time has the most family members present on a regular basis and start pausing to observe the sacred in that moment. Remember, the hardest part is often choosing to do it at all.
The last piece involved in a family altar is what you do there, your worship.
Again, this will vary widely depending on the age of your children and the personality of your family. When my own children were much younger, we read the simple three sentence rhyming prayers from Give Me Grace. It was short and fun, but got them in the rhythm of observing daily prayers. As they grew, we began to memorize more prayers. We had a great singing phase complete with “God our Father” and “Johnny Appleseed” during the preschool years. As the kids attention spans grew, we began incorporate short Scripture readings.
Likewise, reflection time can start small and expand with age. Small children could be asked what was their favorite part of the day. Older children can talk about highs and lows and maybe even where they saw God in those moments.
The best thing is to start small! Do not expect deep moments of worship and revelation off the bat or every night.
Remember there are children involved in this moment. Though they are often more profound than adults, children are also wiggly and tired and silly. Respect that in them and in yourself. The important thing is to show up and start making a habit of creating space for the sacred so that you are there and ready when the profound arises.
If you would like to learn more about creating a family altar and dialogue with your children about where they already see the holy in your lives and day, come join us in the Spare Bulb Sunday the 10th at 5pm. We’ll even have copies of Cynthia Rylant’s Give Me Grace for you to take home and use. Just bring a few objects that have special meaning for your family (or that you just think are pretty or like for some reason) and get ready to make space to honor the holy in your family’s day.
A helpful blog that chronicles the journey of families of faith as they try to raise children on the way.
A new book on finding “hidden” time in your family’s life where daily faith practices can be incorporated.