What is an Altared Space?

by rebecca on November 15, 2008

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       My father has been carrying the same plastic cup to the University of Colorado Student Union for the last nine years. It has the Buff’s logo in faded yellow and black. Pieces of Ralphie’s fluffy head have been rubbed off by years of trips through the dishwasher.

       But that cup is known and has a reputation. When he hands that cup to the barista behind the espresso machine the college server knows to add extra milk, while my father asks about their philosophy class or how the Shakespeare paper on themes of jealousy went. The cup has become an invitation to air academic gripes or rehash a bad football play. New baristas come and go but the reputation of the faded Buff’s cup is an institution that remains and my father listens as engineers and artists make their way through their education.

       My girlfriend asked me to make her a bracelet to help keep her mindful of her children while she was at work. She chose a stone for each of her boys and we wove those stones together with beaded colors that provided unity. She glances at her wrist when she is involved in demanding projects that beg her to stay late and she remembers there is an important reason to go home as well. The bracelet allows her to think not only about what is immediately in front of her, but also about what is waiting at home.

       I have been in many people’s houses, and walked by many desks at work. I’ve seen the photo collages and the screensavers that tell stories about what is important to them and guide them with how they live their life. A pencil holder with yarn swirlies is a reminder there is a vulnerable being still living inside their teenager who constantly shuts the world out behind a closed door and ipod ear buds. An afternoon run is a moment of reverence to transition between workday and home life. A suitcase carries the memories of countless vacations with more ease than it holds a spare toothbrush.

       When a fire breaks out people run for the hand written note under a magnet on the fridge and leave the expensive stereo system behind. These things become little altars reminding us who we are, that we are loved and belong.

        Living on the Grand Mesa I typically take my daily walk in the wide open vistas, but yesterday I walked among the trees with the glowing belly of the autumn hillside at my back. When you live in the midst of such beauty you can’t help but take pieces of it for granted, however, as I turned around to go home, the trees formed a tunnel and focused my eyes on the glorious aspen trees. I saw the variation in the colors from golden to crimson, that wonderful coral orange in there as well. Suddenly, because of that tunnel of trees, the colors came alive.

       Whether the altars in our life come from a coffee cup, a bracelet made with intention, yarn swirlies on an old orange juice can, or a tunnel of trees that catches us off guard, they become the reminders of who we are and who we are becoming. Sometimes these altars are presented to us, and for that I am always grateful. We can create a spot of reservation; an altared space; a place dedicated to cultivate high voltage and subtle insight.

       If we surround ourselves with killing frenzies and battle scenes, video games aimed at destruction and social divisions like black and white, democrat and republican, gay and straight, we become embattled, divided people.

       If we, instead, surround ourselves with tokens that remind us to connect, giving ourselves tunnel vision for the particulars that make the world beautiful, we will find beauty abounding each day.

       I would love to hear about the coffee cups and bracelets that make up the altared spaces in your life. Please tell me about them.


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

David January 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I love your website


Yvette Francino January 12, 2010 at 11:09 pm

My altared spaces are abundant… even more so now that you have taught me to seek them out. Here are a few:
– Anything that once belonged to my brother…his big old winter coat that’s way too big for me, but keeps me bundled and warm with his memory.
– A counted-crossstich bookmark that my daughter made for me when she was about 10
– Photos of me and my kids in special frames


rebecca January 13, 2010 at 7:35 am

Yvette, it’s true that our altared spaces often are wrapped up in the people we love. Holding onto that thing, like a counted cross-stitch bookmark is like holding onto a moment in time when our child was still at home, sitting down for breakfast, drinking orange juice we poured.

Now that girl is making a family of her own. The cycle is beautiful and rich, a tapestry all its own, but, still, we hope to bookmark those moments we want to hold onto forever.


Steve January 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

The three or four walks each day with the dogs and the accompanying space for the mind to stretch . . . the stacking of a 2nd inversion major chord a fifth above on top of 3 consecutive fifths . . . an orange roundball bouncing between my hands and the hardwood floor . . . hearing the first draft of today’s History paper or the latest story for English . . . a branch of cotton taken from the heart of the delta, the cotton that is embedded in the tense culture clash that brought us Muddy, Trane, Jimi & almost everything since . . . this is what I like to surround myself with.


Deb Bonzek June 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Oh! No wonder we have “instant” connection! How lovely your site is!


Laurie August 25, 2010 at 10:42 am

Rebecca, this is a lovely post – so beautifully and thoughtfully written.

When you mentioned Aspen trees, I was reminded of my mother. Since her death in 2006, I see and hear her in Aspen trees. I am always grateful for “Aspen” moments and know that I am in an altared space.

Thanks so much for sharing this….


shirley December 29, 2010 at 2:39 pm

hi! yvette may have mentioned i’d drop by. (“met” her through reverb10 fun) i LOVE your reason for starting this blog – and your closing paragraphs (if we … ). i had shared as part of reverb10 my somewhat similar sentiment (albeit not as articulate as yours) – http://shirlnutkin.blogspot.com/2010/12/reverb10-everythings-ok.html – and coincidentally, i believe that is the day i first came across yvette’s reverb10. looking forward to poking around your lovely site. thanks!


rebecca December 30, 2010 at 10:27 am


I am so taken these days with how like mided people are meeting up in places like reverb10. I have found some fabulous friends that I’ve never laid eyes on. These people are truly enriching my life. It’s a whole new room, isn’t it? So glad Yvette introduced us.


"White Eagle" January 10, 2011 at 9:40 am

I love your writing and sharing. So glad we met through our blogs. Peace, love, light and blessings to you and thank you for sharing. All of my coffee cups and bracelets are written daily on our blog! What a wonderful way to view our stories. We are all related, we are all one!


Lesley Reid Cross February 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

I have a special bracelet (well, I have two, however you know all about the bracelets from Phoenix!) that is from the blessingway my friends held before my youngest daughters’ birth- every woman attending brought a bead and a wish for me, my baby, her birth and our lives together, all while bringing in their mother spirit and those of their own mothers. I can go back to that bracelet knowing who gave me each bead and our connection- and how I am not alone as a woman and mother, and how we as women support each other in ways unique to us as women and mothers. The bracelet represents the strength and support of the collective consciousness of women, both in that time and place and defying boundaries of time and place.


rebecca February 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm


Your bracelet is the very definition of an altared space. Thank you for telling this story. It’s such a liminal time when women have babies. Exiting that world of maiden, entering the world of mother. Having a talisman to carry with you is so cool and one that brings along so many other mothers and women wishing you well…Wow!


Allison February 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I love it, Rebecca. This is a thoughtful, beautifully written post. Thank you for defining an altared space — now I know I don’t need any special talent for making one, or to set aside a large, immobile space for one. There’s one on my wrist, one on my ring finger, there’s my bulletin board. . . . Thank you! And Lesley, I adore the blessingway bracelet. I’m going to incorporate that into my HypnoBirthing practice!


mb May 19, 2011 at 10:17 am

hi rebecca, so nice to hear from you! i have met so many wonderful people through stacy’s blog, it did not surprise me to click over here and find such amazing beauty. right now my top answer to the question of what my altared space looks like, is my garden. i don’t even have to do anything in it, i can, but sometimes i find myself just walk out there and stare at it, and always i come away altered. xo, mb


Didi December 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Really enjoy your blog. Had a conversation last night with a friend about what is really important in life and it made me think about your blog.


admin December 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm

What a thrill that you would think of my blog during that conversation! You are creating such an altared space in the literary world.


Allison March 5, 2012 at 11:50 pm

This made me cry three separate times. (I bet you like to know that you affected me!) The first time was at this line: “I was poignantly made aware both what freedom looks like [it looks like sock balls!] and how much we all want the same things.” When you said that what you did “felt so tiny,” I know that feeling. That feeling has, for me, been accompanied by the thought, “Who do you think you are?” But my coach says, “Who AREN’T you to share this?” Exactly. Thank you so much for this.


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