Though psychotherapist Michael Pass lives in a cramped basement apartment in Denver, Colo., he has created room for a sacred space in a tiny library. On a bookshelf he has placed a few rocks, photographs, a triptych of the Annunciation, candles, wood flowers from Indonesia, and the bouquet from his daughter's wedding. In private moments, he sits on a leather-covered stool and studies the collection he has created.

"I see it as a place to come closer to God and to support the process of prayer and meditation and gather a sense of peace and tranquillity," Pass says.

The objects themselves are not magical. They don't grant wishes, he says. Instead, the sacred space promotes introspection and a sense of peace and hope, the core values of spiritual life.

For many families, sacred spaces and home shrines are a custom handed down for generations. Some shrines add a folk touch to family rooms and hallways, displaying an unpretentious beauty whether they are made up of tiny church statuary, Chinese good luck symbols, calligraphy, or decorative lights. For others, these special places fill a creative or psychological need; they are a place where people can set aside their worries and let their souls take wing.

Pass has been teaching people at local churches how to create spiritual spaces or shrines in their own homes. There is no right or wrong way to create a spiritual space, Pass says; just stick with things you like. Even a single candle can help people search out meaning during a tough time. "If you do it from the heart, you will create a place of meaning to you."

Objects for a home shrine can be photos of family members, a stone from a favorite place, or a religious icon.

"It may be a cross, a star of David, or an image of Buddha--something you can visually take in when you are overwhelmed," he says. Then as you think, meditate or pray, your spirits often can be lifted as you come to grips with the compelling event good or bad.

Every morning before heading to his office, Manick Sorcar crosses the threshold of a small room near his home's marble-lined entrance. In front of a wood cabinet, he drops to his knees and opens the smooth doors. Daylight falls on the shelves, revealing a half dozen figurines and pictures of Hindu gods surrounded by paper flowers and tiny bowls of water.

"Any time I'm going out, I want to take the blessing from the gods so I can act sane and do good," says Sorcar, who owns a large engineering firm in Denver. The daily prayers are a tradition the Calcutta, India, native shares with his wife and two college-age daughters. But it is private and personal. Sorcar does not permit the shrine to be photographed, as if out of respect for the benefits it has given him. He, his family and his company are thriving and he credits the shrine.

"No science will substantiate this, but it's magic," Sorcar says. "It just happens. It touches your soul."

When Esther Luben wakes up, the mother of 12 says a short prayer then makes her way to the kitchen of her Spanish colonial home passing dozens of framed images of the Virgin Mary and Child. In one parlor, a painted figure of Santo Nino stands enshrined in a wood and glass case. On an adjacent wall, dozens of crucifixes surround a carving of Jesus on the Cross.

"When I go through the rooms and see an object, I just whisper a prayer: 'Jesus, thank you for the gift of a new day,' or 'Mother of God, thank you for my family,' " Luben says.

The objects also are a constant reminder to treat everyone kindly and with respect, she says. At the same time, they help her feel at peace.

Though Luben attends church on a regular basis, she is not a religious zealot, her friends and neighbors say. They say she loves decorating her home for Christmas, even Halloween, and is known for delighting guests young and old at her parties. The rest of her time she is doting on any of her 33 grandchildren or is out lunching with friends.

A Southern Baptist from Texas, Gretchen Bunn might be considered unlikely to have a shrine. Yet her Denver loft is a tumult of multilevel shrines that draw gasps from first-time visitors. She bunches antique Buddhas together with Hindu deities, depictions of the Virgin Mary, rosary beads and religious pictures from floor to ceiling.

"For me, shrines reflect all of our desires to be connected to something greater than ourselves," says Bunn, a cable television consultant.

Though Bunn has had one statue and a collection of rosaries blessed by a priest, she does not light candles, meditate, or engage in other religious rituals. It is the presence of the objects that is important to her.

"They seem to know that I have a home for them," she says.

In return, she feels an odd sense of protection, which she credits to the gods she keeps. "I have so much stuff out in my house, yet nothing ever gets taken."

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