What’s on your spirit shelf?

While in Thailand, I wanted to know as much about Buddhism as anyone was willing to tell me. I am fascinated by other belief systems and why people believe what they do.

One of the things I quickly realised is that Buddhism in Thailand is quite different to what we think of as Buddhism here. In Christianity, there is a major component of grace – you could even say that is the fundamental tenet that Christianity is built on. There is nothing that even closely resembles grace in true Buddhism. It is very much based on ‘what you get is what you deserve’ and earning your way to a better life, whereas grace is really getting what you don’t deserve and could never earn.

Up close, Buddhism isn’t warm and fuzzy with people exercising immense tolerance of others, not harming any living thing or living in a constant state of serenity. I found it to be harsh, ruthless and unyeilding.

My wise 15 year old pointed out that the practise of the religion was like the White Temple. Beautiful from a distance, quite frightening close up.

The White Temple glittering in the sun.

The White Temple glittering in the sun.

There were a lot of these pits depicting hands reaching out from hell.

There were a lot of these pits depicting hands reaching out from hell as well as other grotesque monsters at every turn.


The pastor’s wife we were being hosted by put it this way – in the West, Buddhism overlays a base of love, kindness and forgiveness, attributes left over from when the West was classed as Christian. So our Buddhism looks and feel different from what is practised in true Buddhist countries. She also talked about how, conversely, when Christianity is introduced into Buddhist countries, there is a tendency for people to simply add Jesus to their ‘spirit shelf’. He is seen as just another god to pray to, as they are used to having multiple gods/spirits of whom they ask assistance.

I found that so interesting. And realised with alarm but stark clarity, we who call ourselves Christians, are  just the same in the West.

Do I have Jesus as the only One on my spirit shelf? Or is it crowded, buckling under the weight of many gods?

Self. Money. Reputation. Possessions. Looks. Religion. Righteousness. Financial security. Popularity.

Gods, every one of them. And all things we use and turn to in times of need.

I will even go so far as to say that we turn to these things first and that God is waaaaaay down the end of the shelf. Forget being our Plan A, God is often not even our B, C, D, or E.

How does your spirit shelf look? Is there just one God on there, or many?

8 thoughts on “What’s on your spirit shelf?

  1. I simply try to act in loving and giving ways. I put family first (I’d drop everything if they needed me, and have), and help friends whenever I can. I helped a stranger with a walker in Applebee’s last night (grrr the “chivalry” or some men!). I do believe in God and consider myself a good person. I do not hold much water in possessions, though I do like a comfy couch and would love to have a nice desk. Once you lose all your possessions, you realize how unimportant they are. Looks? I’m 55 and have pretty much given up the Cover Girl dream.


    • Love is the key to it all, Karen, isn’t it? And yes, you certainly know from experience that possessions are not really worth much at all 🙂 You are one of the most resilient people I know xo


  2. Wonderful post, Susannah. When asked how he fares, Michael usually answers, “Better than I deserve.” Now, those who know Christ, understand the depth of that–we deserve nothing, but through grace find everything. I’d never make it to contentment if I were still striving on my own!


    • Grace is a daily gift, isn’t it? Getting what we don’t deserve…I am overwhelmed and astounded by His grace frequently! And you are right, being contented has much to do with living in that grace 🙂


  3. Although I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian environment, for most of my adult life I have just been profoundly grateful for the gift of life. Gift, of course, presupposes a Giver, whose nature I don’t claim to understand. But the gift of life is astounding, one to be accepted with great responsibility. There is no earning it, either, and life is not given only to the deserving, so it seems to me that life is grace itself.
    Oh…you do have a very wise teenager. What an incredible experience for both of you to have.


    • Wise words, Esther. The gift of life is indeed astounding…and I am often astounded at the people who don’t see it as such. We treat life (and the Giver of it) with such flippancy and disrespect. And, like you say, we cannot earn it and, for most of us, we don’t determine it’s end. Living in a spirit of grace is, in itself, to live in gratefulness for the life we have been given, as you clearly do.
      Yes, she is quite wonderful and so was the experience…and all the more rich due to sharing it together.


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