Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Altars, Stones and Sacrifices

Today's invitation is to read from Genesis the call of Abram to journey toward a land of promise, and, once on the outskirts of that land to build an altar. Reading it I thought of the various altars that we all build to the various gods that we worship. The god of money, lately toppled from its heaven, we worship now in desperation at the debris of the altar of the market. The god of family we worship at the hearths we build. The god of knowledge is worshiped at the high temple of the university. The god of freedom we worship often in the garage altars that honor our cars. The god of power is honored at the massive five-sided altar just up the road from here.
One of the central symbolic acts of the Reformation was to do away with the altar -- the place of sacrifice -- and replace it with the table -- the place of welcome and gathering in the community, the place of revelation in the breaking of bread as opposed to in the breaking of bodies upon the stone of sacrifice. The reformers wanted to draw attention to Jesus and away from the notion of offering sacrifices to please God. Of course, there was a great deal more to their theological and political and architectural thinking than that one sentence pretends to capture.
Still, something in me resists altar-building. On the other hand, I love to collect stones from places that seem sacred to me. I carry the smallest of those around in my guitar case, and will from time to time use them in worship settings. The larger stones tend to find a place in my garden. I suppose I could think of that as an altar, but I prefer the simplicity and the symbolism of the garden. After all, that's where Jesus went to pray and if it's good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me.
So, I did the reading and offered the prayer of this day, but I'll leave the altar building to others. Me, I'll wait a bit longer for the coming of spring and then I'll go into my garden to pray amidst the stones.
Oh, the picture is a Mayan altar for sacrifices.

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