personal prayer altar

Every night, I set my personal altar with reverence and respect, using my intuition to guide me. I always use at least one icon, a set of prayer beads whether that be the Anglican prayer beads I first learned on or the Catholic rosary which is quite meditative. I always have a plain white jar candle, that stays lit all night to symbolize the light of Christ.

Tonight, I have my Catholic rosary set out, it’s very special to me because a friend who happens to be a priest had used it before giving it to me, and then he blessed it specifically for me. I love gifts like that so much.

I have a picture of St. Benedict because I am working with him to help with some things happening in my life. In the background behind St. Benedict, is a painting by my youngest daughter, that she made just for me and she’s very intuitive when she creates. All of her creations, just like God’s, are made thoughtfully and carefully and are beautiful. Each creation by her is unique, just as each of God’s is. Her work reminds me of this, and therefore it’s the backdrop St. Benedict finds himself in.

Then there is an icon of St. Mary Magdalene, my patron saint, with whom I have deeply connected. This communion of saints thing we have going on here is awesome. Tonight, as every night, part of my prayer practice will be a conversation with her that I journal on my phone because I am physically disabled and can no longer hold a pen and write in a journal for that amount of writing.

I also am careful in my choice of incense each night (Nag Champa, one of my favorites, is what I’m burning this time), and the Bible says that our prayers rise like incense. I am allergic to some scents, but there are many I can use.

I’ve set a small bowl of holy water in front of the candle, as a tangible reminder of my baptism and will dip the tips of my fingers in it and make the sign of the cross, like I do every time I walk past it.

I have an old book with vampire stories in it that is open to a particular short story that spoke to me today even though in many ways it’s a perversion of Christ’s passion but at the same time it’s a perversion because the child the story is about never felt like he belonged, and the story reminds me of my current wrestling with God, the perversion of Christ’s passion makes sense to this story and it’s horrible and yet I resonate with it because as I do what Jacob did and wrestle, I’m asking God why I never felt God’s presence as a little girl being abused, as a teenager being abused and trying to find my way, and as an adult who doesn’t know what the fuck she’s supposed to be doing and is still figuring out who she is.

And I don’t usually put artwork that is not an icon out on the prayer altar, but tonight I do because I originally bought the picture not just because it deeply resonated with me, but because it was me. I’m the lost girl in the darkness trying to find her way, and that’s an important thing to remember, even in prayer. It’s a spiritual journey and this is where I’m at.

I have The Glenstal Book of Prayer, a Benedictine prayer book tonight, because there are some prayers I wish to pray from it. It also has the rosary mysteries which I have not memorized yet and so are useful to have in front of me. I also have a prayer card for a prayer I want to pray to St. Mary Magdalene.

A friend of mine tells me that setting the altar with care and intention is also a form of prayer. It also starts me off in a contemplative manner which helps. The first thing I do is light the candle as I say: “the light of Christ, thanks be to God.”

Published by MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis is a writer who sounds as boring as hell but who is intimately acquainted with the horrific and the sacred. For a long time, darkness has been her friend, but she now walks in the light of Christ. As a committed Episcopalian, her main contribution to the church is her ability to make the priests facepalm or swear, depending on the day and context. MaryClare has a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and lives in Mississippi with her four children.

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