The Hebrew and Christian scriptures tell us a story. Sometimes that story is about our origins. At other times, the story is about our successes and failures. Many times, the story is about our penchant for forgetting who and whose we are until we encounter God who reminds us of both. If you read much of the story for yourself, you’ll notice that God encounters us in places which are remarkable for their very ordinariness. In short, God doesn’t call us out of the world into encounter; rather, God encounters us in the ordinary world God made for us to flourish in.
One of the habits of the ancient Hebrew people we encounter in our sacred writings is the habit of building altars at those places in the world where they encountered God. The story of Jacob building an altar at Bethel where, in a dream, he saw a ladder between heaven and earth with angels ascending and descending, is one example. There are others. Setting up a altar was an act of testimony, a way of saying, “This is a sacred spot because here God found me.”
One of the biggest controversies God ever had with God’s people in our sacred writings is when the people wanted to build a temple in which to contain God’s presence. God resisted. In the end the temple was built and an altar was placed at its center, yet, even then, God would not be domesticated. The God of our sacred story is a God on a journey with a people on the move. And the altars God would ask us to build, even to this day, are not in temples but out in the world where, free, God continues to encounter us.
This may surprise you, but, really, it shouldn’t. In our Christian story, we begin with the assertion that God is with us in a person, a person named Jesus, and in Jesus we encounter the truth about God, a truth is revealed in encounters in places which are remarkable for their very ordinariness: wells, hillsides, lakeshores, and dinner tables, for instance. Each encounter a reason to say, “Here, I met God here.”
This summer, I will be using the book An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor to help us learn some practices which can make us more fully aware of how we can encounter God in the ordinariness of our living. She notes that learning a new practice takes effort and that these practices will reward our efforts by bringing us more fully into being the people God desires us to be.
I hope you will be able to share in this journey with me and that you will come away with the awareness of places and times and situations where you, too, can build an altar because you, too, can say, “Here, I met God here.”
June 25: The Practice of Paying Attention
July 2: The Practice of Wearing Skin
July 9: The Practice of Encountering Others
July 16: The Practice of Saying No
July 23: The Practice of Getting Lost
July 30: The Practice of Carrying Water
August 20: The Practice of Feeling Pain
August 27: The Practice of Pronouncing Blessing