AT on...Shrines at Home

AT on...Shrines at Home

Jul 28, 2006

A long time ago I lived in Japan. Of the many lessons Japan had for me about how to live well, not least was the calming, restorative power of an everyday shrine.

Shines are ubiquitous in Japan. They're found not just in bucolic places like Kyoto but in places you'd least expect them, and I often found myself whipping right past one as a hurried down a busy city street. Out of the corner of my eye I'd detect something green and restful, and sure enough, wedged between two storefronts, there would be a small and bucolic garden temple.

Many of these little niches would be just big enough for handwashing and meditative gazing. You might stop for a few minutes, find your inner Calm, and leave behind a prayer.

When I returned to the States I looked for everyday shrines, and at first I couldn't find any. But after a while, I realized that they're everywhere here, too. The wall covered with posters of celebrities in a teen's room. The gallery of ancestors in your Grandparents' hallway. The snapshots of friends on your refrigerator door. These displays don't seem sacred, but they're shrines all the same, small places that make you stop, gaze, and sit for a few moments with a memory, emotion or wish.

In my home right now we are trying to eliminate clutter and so we're fairly shrineless, but the other day as I was making the bed I realized that the little shelf table pictured above, which is on my husband's side of the bed, is actually an everyday altar to past homes. Each object is a totem from a place one or both of us has lived: the framed photo is of the lighthouse in my husband's lakeside hometown (St. Joseph, MI) and was snapped by his father. The small bears were reassuring gifts from my mother, tucked into my bookbag on the night before a big exam. And the lamp is the first home accessory my husband and I picked out together after he moved in with me.

Every night when we turn off that lamp I take a quick scan of this little shrine, and in my mind I visit all those moments and places from the past, and I feel at home.

Best, Lisa

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