Every year research by the PEW Research Center shows more American adults are identifying with the description, “spiritual, but not religious.” It does not appear to be just one demographic that is shifting. There are more representing the spiritual-not-religious crowd from all different ages, races, education levels, and political ideologies. I have heard many people lament the idea that less people are religious. Many places of worship have seen a significant drop in attendance. Some have even had to close. What I find most interesting about this phenomenon is not that people aren’t going to church, mosque, or synagogue, but rather that so many people would describe themselves as spiritual. If we include those who consider themselves to be both spiritual and religious, they would represent the majority of American adults. To me, this indicates that humans long for the sacred.
The word “sacred” sometimes makes people uncomfortable. It is often tied-up with hurtful experiences from childhood, adolescence, or even young adulthood. Although religion can be a beautiful way to ground oneself, create community, and express one’s devotion to the divine, many people have been hurt by it. However, that which is sacred can also remind us of the interconnection between ourselves and the world around us.
Reminders of who we are.
We are surrounded by sacred symbols! As I look around my office there is a picture on my desk of me giving my husband a hug. There is a mug with a mermaid on it given to me by a friend at work. Of course, there is also a plaque on the wall that says “Namaste”, a blessing given at the end of a yoga class. These things do not decorate my office because they have any sort of utilitarian purpose. They are there simply to remind me that I am part of something bigger than myself.
It is so easy to get caught up in things that are ultimately meaningless. In fact, acknowledging the relative unimportance of things that we allow to dictate our experience can make us quite uncomfortable! We invest a lot of time and energy into maintaining things that are insignificant.
That is not to say that these things are not important. It is all too easy for a person like myself who can afford many modern conveniences to say we should release our attachments to them. I appreciate that I have a reliable car. It brings me pleasure to have a conversation with my sister communicated solely through emojis. The fact that on most frigid days the longest I have to spend outside is the walk from the parking lot to the building where I work is not something I take for granted. It is when I mistake the reality of day-to-day existence for truly living that I begin to lose perspective.
It is when I begin to identify more with my ego, my personality, and my false self then my True Self that I get into trouble. I am like Superman thinking his true identity is Clark Kent, not the other way around. I need sacred symbols to salt and pepper my day, like signposts pointing me in the right direction.
A practice for sharing symbols.
My favorite sacred symbol is the alter in my bedroom. It is relatively simple, a small bookshelf draped with a seasonally appropriate cloth. There are books, candles, and small trinkets that remind me of my spiritual path. I spend a few minutes there at the beginning of each day. It is a wonderful way to get grounded, centered, and dedicate my day to being of service.
Perhaps you have an alter or a favorite sacred symbol? I’d love for you to share in the comments below! Together our sacred symbols will remind not only us but one another of the truth of who we are. Namaste!