Through our willingness to just slow down and sit with the land, listen and learn the ways to read her signs, it is possible to step out of our busy, distracted, incredibly self-centered lives and to step into something profound and mysterious.from Morning Altars by Day Schildkret
Had I known that this book centered around building ephemeral earth altars, I most likely would not have read it. And that would have been, unbeknownst to me, a big loss. While Morning Altars was not the resource for creating the type of in-the-home altar I was seeking, it did engage with one of the fundamental questions beneath that quest: How can I create sacred space that invites spirituality into my life in a tangible manner?
Schildkret structures the book into a 7-step practice, peppered with photographs of his incredible impermanent earth art. And as unlikely as I am to apply them to an actual earth altar, there is something about this approach that transcends the creation of ephemeral art. When writing about wander & wonder (the first step), for example, Schildkret discusses the concept of “approach.”
An approach is the way you draw close. It is the precursor to coming together with another and informs the way you actually do so. The approach itself carries with it and expresses all the ways you care or don’t care about that which you are approaching. I like to think of an approach as the choreography of orientation. You understand what you come to by the way you come to it. A neighbor near my home is a botanist, and we connect about plants and trees all the time because we both love them. As a scientist, when he looks at plants, he sees names, objects, measurements, studies, and information. But from what I can tell, it’s rare that he lets himself be in an experience deeper than the data. So that is how the place manifests itself to him: He approaches as a scientific observer and he is met with a world of names and numbers.
I thought of the time I was studying the ecology of the land I lived upon, a process that often involves field books and facts. Walks in the woods became an exercise in naming as many trees and plants as I could. Then my world shifted and I went on a medication that destroyed much of my recent memory. Those walks became first an exercise in frustration, as everything but the most common knowledge was gone, and then an experience of re-engaging with the wonder that had sparked my desire to learn more in the first place. I lost the language but rediscovered the experience of awe and awareness.
Throughout reading this book, I was reminded of other lessons I had learned and forgotten repeatedly over the years. Much of what Schildkret writes is a wisdom that has been written of before. What makes this book different from many others is that Schildkret’s focus is on the act of creating ephemeral art itself and allowing the spiritual experience to emerge from that interplay. Schildkret’s devotion to his art practice is central to his way of being in the world; it is clear that this book comes from a place of experience and learned truths. In the same way that a poet is always a poet, whether they are shopping for groceries or penning a poem, I get the sense that Schildkret is always an artist of the ephemeral no matter what he is doing. It is in that framework and, yes, approach, that allows Morning Altars to add a layer of depth to the conversation.
In the short 240 pages, I highlighted over 51 passages and am certain that many of my future writings will include quotes from Morning Altars. I’m grateful to have started off my year with this wonderful mistake.