Sermon Series: SAD – Spiritual Affective Disorder
Title: Altars, Altars Everywhere
Psalm 84:1-4; 112:1-9
February 3, 2019
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
We are in week five of our series on the Spiritual Affective Disorder that often goes along with Season Affective Disorder, the feeling in mid-winter that I would call the blahs.
The Mayo Clinic says that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a “type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” If you are suffering from this type of depression, I encourage you to see your doctor and talk about treatment options. There is help, you don’t have to endure it.
In our sermon series, we have discovered that there are characteristics of this seasonal disorder that are similar to what we have named Spiritual Affective Disorder. The malaise that we experience when we take our eyes off of the goal, when our focus on our spiritual lives wanes. When we replace Jesus with busyness, when we think that distractions are the attraction, when we forget what is important in our lives and instead focus on the mundane, the unholy, the things that rob us of our spiritual focus.
It happens slowly. We don’t usually make a decision that we’re going to allow ourselves to get distracted with unimportant things. It just happens, and one day we wake up and realize, gee, I haven’t read my bible in weeks. I haven’t spoke to God in prayer in a forever. All of a sudden, we realize that maybe things aren’t going exactly right and we recognize that it isn’t God who has moved, it’s us.
When we allow ourselves to be distracted by rumor and gossip. When we chose not to help out our neighbor because we don’t feel like it. When we stop hanging around with our positive Christian friends. When we start to look for negativity to justify why we have stopped coming to church. These are all signs of spiritual affective disorder.
When we succumb to spiritual affective disorder our lives fail to have meaning, we begin to feel discouraged and without hope. But wait a minute! How can Jesus’ people stoop to this low? How can we as believers in the Son of God, the God turned Man, the Savior of the universe; how can we as believers lose hope? How can we stay stuck feeling lonely and estranged from God?
Thankfully you’re one decision away from recovering, from pulling yourself out of the ditch you’ve gotten yourself into. You’re all here today and are eager to learn more about this spiritual affective disorder and how we can fight it, how we can make an intentional move toward spiritual health, toward discipleship, toward the master of the universe, Jesus Christ.
This morning we are considering creating sacred space, intentionally seeking Holy Ground – either through the creation of a space within our homes, or recognizing places where we visit that bring us encouragement, where we can refocus on the Divine and regain the hope that we have lost.
Throughout my life I have experienced sacred spaces in the wilderness. In the summer of 2009, a few months following my father’s passing, my sisters and brother gathered with other family in Trout Lake Washington. My dad had grown up near Trout Lake and loved that part of the country. He had grown up in a logging camp in Southern Washington and loved to be near nature, to be in the forest and spend time at Mt Adams, the second highest peak in Washington, just over 12,000 ft.
My dad always told us that when he died, he wanted his ashes spread at the base of Mt. Adams in a place called, “Hell Roaring Canyon.” That year I had had reconstructive foot surgery so I was still on crutches although I could still walk ok but every step was still painful. I was worried about the 3 mile hike up to the canyon where we would launch a dozen or so hollow clay balls that head the remains of my dad.
I made it about two miles when I finally had to stop. I was in another of my dad’s favorite places, Bird Creek Meadows. A wildflower- filled subalpine slope near the base of Mt. Adams. The meadow is bisected by an icy cold glacial stream. I sat down next to that stream and that space became holy for me. I had found my own sacred space, space that felt close to my earthy father, Richard Stratton, and closer still to my heavenly father.
I sat there for almost an hour, remembering my father and praying and listening to God comfort my grieving heart. I had one of the clay balls and I tucked a bit of my father into the cool waters of the alpine stream and laid down in the meadow and cried and prayed. I felt closer to Christ in those moments than perhaps ever.
I missed the epic launch of the rest of the balls off the edge of Hell Roaring Canyon and watching each land with a poof as it burst open and bits of my dad went adrift on the wind. But I experienced something sacred and precious. A gift from my father and my God.
Not all sacred spaces take such effort to get to or such epic circumstances. Sometimes sacred spaces are in our every day world. I have always believed that maternity wards and hospices are sacred ground. Places where God is near always remind me of holy ground.
The bible is full of references to altars, those places that were built to worship God. Altars are a focal point of sacred space. Abraham was one of the first altar builders. When he was called by God in Genesis 12 to become a great nation, the first thing Abram did was built an altar when he arrived in the land of Canaan. In Genesis 22 Abraham (as he was now called) was called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. When he arrived at the spot the Lord told him, he built an altar, and was interrupted when he attempted to fulfill the call to sacrifice Isaac.
In Exodus 17 we read about Moses and the Israelites being attacked by Amalek, an Edomite tribe. Moses, his brother Aaron and Hur went up on a mountain side to watch the battle and as long as Moses arms were in the air, the Israelites prevailed, when ever he lowered his staff, they began to lose the battle. Aaron and Hur had to hold up Moses arms when he grew weary and they defeated Amalek.
When the battle was done, Moses built an altar and named it, The LORD is my Banner. We read stories of the sons of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an alter by the Jordan River; Aaron, Saul and David were also altar builders. Each built altars to demonstrate their great love for God and to designate that the space was sacred. Altars were used as places where the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the Lord.
Altars and sacred space go together. Altars give us the opportunity to focus on things that bring us closer to Christ. Where can we find altars or sacred spaces today? Churches are generally sacred space. We put an altar as the focal point to help us tune out the outside world and bring us into communion with God. Most altars have a cross, candles and other items that represent things we find holy.
Sacred space can be found in the wilderness, like in Bird Creek Meadow. Where else do you find sacred space?
- Walking labyrinths
- In the wilderness
- Holy Sites in Israel
- Within ourselves
- Created spaces set apart to be sacred for us.
We each have our own definition of sacred space, of what an altar looks like for us. “Perhaps you have an outdoor place like the ocean or a campground that is sacred for you. Perhaps it’s a grandparent’s house, maybe the creek from back home.”
Sacred space can also be places where we pilgrimage. Mount Sinai is one, St. Catherine’s Monastery is another. Visiting Jerusalem and the place remembered as Jesus’ birth, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Garden of Gethsemane, or the Garden Tomb where it is believed to hold the tomb of Jesus.
We are created to worship God and we do so through our connection to the divine. We can feel closer to God in our sacred places and we can create space that reminds us to be in communion with God.
As the Psalmist says,
lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
This passion, this longing, this devotion to God can be channeled into our Spiritual Affective Disorder tool for this week. Altars, altars, everywhere.
“According to research published by Psychology Today, an appreciation of the sacred and a search for meaning beyond ourselves can promote strengthened relationships with others, positive emotions, and a sense of purpose in life. Whatever your spiritual beliefs (or non-beliefs) may be, it can be calming to have a special spot in your home reserved for quiet introspection and reflection.”
This week you are invited to create an “altar” in our home that can remind you that God dwells in all places, at all times, and is as near as our breath.
(Pass out homework cards)
Spiritual Practice Homework
Week Five: Altars, Altars Everywhere
This week create a sacred space in your home:
1. Choose a room, nook, corner, or other dedicated space.
2. Add comfortable seating like an over-stuffed chair, floor pillows, or a bean bag.
3. Create an altar in your sacred space. This can be as easy as covering a small table with fabric and adding a candle, cross, icon, and/or other focal points for prayer.
4. Add your favorite translation of the Bible and a few devotional books.
5. Consider adding a journal to write your prayers and reflections in.
Continue with your prayer practice, acts of kindness, music and laughter, remembering to light your candle, inviting in the Light of Christ.