The Underlay

Batik for Lent

Batik for Lent

In Godly Play, a contemplative church school curriculum rooted in storytelling, the underlay is an important part of the story experience. Stories are told using objects to help anchor and invite all listening into deeper experience. Those objects are placed on an underlay that changes depending on the needs of the stories, or the seasons of the year. The holy family sits upon an underlay that changes with the season, the parable stories sit upon mysterious underlays that give clues-a large white circle for The Great Pearl, a green square for The Good Shepherd. And the underlays for some are just a nicety, let’s put something down to help us know we’re telling a story, to set the table for the communal experience of enjoying a story together.

For sacred spots at home, the underlay does all of this. As the sacred spot at home concept for me flows from the focal table concept of Godly Play, the underlay serves all the above mentioned roles: bringer of seasonal color, clue-giver and stage-setter for a special place.

I like to use batik printed cloth for this because it is full of color variation and complexity and that simple feature reminds us of how life is life no matter what season we are in. The church may be in a solemn season of lent, but there might be a wedding day. The purple cloth has it’s yellow and pink peeking through. The church may be deep in the joy of eastertide when a loved one dies or personal sadness feels strong. The grays are real in all that white and gold. Sometimes I layer the cloths, sometimes I do use plain cotton broadcloth in purple, white, red or green to be the underlay of underlays. Layering small pieces with more variation.

The underlay also delineates the space. This helps when the sacred spot is on a long shelf with other things, or on the dining room table. It makes a space for your space.

As the first step of the storytelling, it is also the first step of building the sacred spot. Laying out the cloth or changing the cloth can be a meditative opportunity to reflect on the season, the moment and the concept of literally making space for God in your home.

The Image

This is usually a focal point of the home altar. Sometimes, it’s a piece of sacred art depicting Jesus. For me, most often a depiction of Jesus is the focal point of my altar. Sometimes the image is of something else entirely. Photographs of loved ones on their birthdays, print outs of art representing Saints we celebrate, sometimes kid art or my own.

Your home altar can be a spot to meditate on and explore different images of Jesus. This is a place to wrestle with the sacred images we are used to. Not to always have the same one, or the one we are most comfortable with. In the same way that we are always expanding our language, impressions and experiences of God, this is a place to also explore the image of God. Find images of black Jesus, brown Jesus, Jesus who is feminine or androgynous.

Sacred Spots at Home

One practice that has sustained me for many years is making altar spaces at home. These little spots have been touch stones for me, anchoring me to my location in the liturgical calendar, and the natural world. I started an instagram account for these little spaces and you can follow along @sacred_spots_at_home for glimpses.

I’ve wanted to start the blog on this site since I began it, but wasn’t sure how to jump in. Lots of introduction? Tackling a topic? Essays? Poems? Instead of any of that, I’m just getting this out there. I think I was inspired to start the instagram account to share ideas for these altars and building blocks of creating them. So I’m thinking of this blog space as a longer form companion to that.