by Clea Danaan
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
Building the Temple
Your bare feet pad softly against the cool, packed earth. The path you follow curves through trees and bracken, meandering gently uphill. Dappled morning sunlight dances through verdant leaves. A gentle breeze lifts your hair, and you sigh peacefully, feeling yourself open to the land around you.
The pathway brings you to a small stone temple, old and worn, smudged with moss. You climb the steps to find a granite water basin, splashing sweet water on your face. You enter the cool darkness of the temple, the solid, smooth stone supporting your feet. You kneel on a small cushion placed before the altar, and light the white candle and incense stick before you, using a match in a little basket set beside the altar.
You close your eyes and breathe deeply, letting yourself sink into the ancient stone beneath and all around you. You feel the elements: earth in the stone, fire in the candle, air in the incense, and water in the basin. A sense of Spirit rises up your spine as you breathe. You feel as if you are glowing with each breath, your light reaching deep into the earth and shining true out of your crown.
Wouldn't it be lovely to have such a place to go each day? To slow down, reach out to the Divine, and let the feeling of Spirit fill you?
Of course, you can journey or imagine such a place each day. You can build an altar with candles, incense, water, and stones. You can meditate and breathe and feel the Divine within and around you. You can even use trance through breathing or drumming to journey to just such a temple in the Dreamtime. But, if you're like me, you may still secretly (or not so secretly) wish for such a place in material reality to which you could retreat each day. You feel like if you did have such a place, you would be so much more spiritual as a person. So much more able to keep the flame of your devotions lit, bringing its light into the world.
The truth is, while the temple itself would not actually deepen your spiritual path, the act of meditating and attending the sacred space would no doubt deepen your relationship with Spirit. The daily behavior would be more important than the actual temple—daily practice lays the path to deep spiritual living. Sometimes, though, it is not obvious to you what daily actions to take as a spiritual practitioner. Here is where a daily devotional can help.
A Diversity of Devotions
A devotional is a book that offers a daily touching point, a prayer or meditation or action that is like a stone in your sacred temple. Each day, guided by the devotional, you pick up, hold, and place a virtual sacred stone, until by the end of a year, or years, you have built a virtual temple (the imaginary kind, not the computer kind of virtual) out of your own devotional acts. You become the temple. You walk the path in all you do, simply by following the guideposts set out for you through your devotional. The trick is to choose just the right daily devotional for you.
Today, many people I know follow a very individualized spiritual path. They mix a little of this with a little of that, and they don't think of themselves as religious, just spiritual. In fact, they might even be so turned off by the idea of anything "religious" that the idea of a daily devotional—a scripted behavior or thought to follow—might just make their skin crawl. But a devotional can look like many things: quotes, prayers, ideas, creative projects. It need not come from traditional religious sources. At the same time, it might draw from the thousands of years of connecting with the Divine found in traditional sources like the Koran and the Bible or Celtic rituals. A devotional can be just as diverse as your beliefs. It can offer you suggestions for connecting with the Divine within and without when you need some fresh ideas or a little guidance.
The key to using a devotional to deepen your spiritual practice is to use it daily; this is no different from practicing the piano or gymnastics regularly. To become so skilled at something that it becomes a part of you takes thousands of hours of practice. While we think of spirituality as something inside us, a relationship with whom and what we hold sacred, that relationship, too, must be practiced to be realized. Our beliefs, feelings, and thoughts affect our behaviors, and vice versa. You've no doubt heard that smiling will help you feel happier as it moves the muscles that move the neurotransmitters that turn into the feeling of happiness. Reading something, reciting a prayer, painting a picture about the Divine, all of these actions move the energy and chemicals that shape who we are in the world and our feelings about it.
The inner structure of your daily devotions build the virtual temple, giving you its strength to guide you. When you enter times of darkness, which is a natural part of life and any spiritual path, you have this strength, this part of yourself that can be nearly as strong as a stone temple—or perhaps, even stronger, for the temple is built of love, strong belief, and the Divine. To mix metaphors, you have a well of experiences and practices from which you can draw up healing waters to sip as you go through the darkness. Your temple, your well, cannot crumble, for you have built it bit by bit, day by day, and it is now a part of you.
Choosing a Devotional
There are many devotionals in book and online form intended for mainstream religions, like Christianity. One of these might work for you even if you do not identify as Christian if they rely strictly on scripture and general spiritual terms (as opposed to contemporary interpretations of scripture). I have seen New Age-type inspirational books and calendars, like page-a-day collections of quotes, that could also work as a devotional. An example is Marianne Williamson's A Year of Daily Wisdom. If you follow a Celtic spiritual path, Caitlin Matthews has written two titles that might appeal to you, Celtic Devotional and The Celtic Spirit. If you search, "Celtic devotional" on your favorite book site, you will find many other titles, some more Christian and some more Pagan. There are also some Pagan books of guidance and poetry available, like A Pagan Book of Prayer by Ceisiwr Serith. Many of these can be found through inter-library loan programs, to try before you purchase.
Another option is to check out several devotionals or books of quotes and combine them, especially if you follow an eclectic path or are looking for something in a specific category, like women of color, motherhood, or surviving a loss. Using your trusty favorite book site, use search words like "devotional," "inspirations," and "daily" along with your specific keyword. Drawing from multiple sources, create your own devotional. Keep a journal to chart your passage through this patchwork process, which can be different every year, using different combinations from your favorite sources.
You might also let the Divine craft your devotional by drawing a card each day from a favorite tarot deck (or multiple decks), sitting in meditation with its meaning, and letting it inform a ritual or practice. Take this beyond just pulling a card by turning it into an action, uniting spirit, mind, and body.
My own book, Living Earth Devotional, will appeal to the spiritual practitioner who regards the earth as sacred. It is designed for the eclectic earth lover who leans towards Celtic or Pagan spirituality, but welcomes personal growth and a touch of input from other paths. It is designed to connect you with the earth while deepening your relationship with spirit and strengthening your place in community. To aid in your daily temple building, it contains 365 varied practices, and could be repeated or adapted over several years.
It used to be believed that you couldn't grow new brain cells. More recent research has discovered, however, that you can grow new connections in your neural network as long as you live. Truly creative and intelligent people have complex neural networks with many interconnected neurons. These networks are grown through experience, thought, and novelty.
Interconnections are the point, also, of an eclectic devotional practice. Whether you choose one of the devotionals listed above, a collection of several, or make your own using cards or sacred quotes, you are drawing from many sources, making connections, and creating new wiring in your brain, heart, and soul. This will lead to a more creative, spiritually fulfilled life: one day, one practice at a time.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2013. All rights reserved.