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Building altars along the way

Posted by Rev. Pat Grace on

I have been thinking about Nathan’s sermon from this past Sunday – in which he encouraged us to leave our water jugs at the well – the symbol of our daily worries and responsibilities – and take up instead, the rock that provides living water. That’s the Rock of our salvation, Jesus, himself. I found these words immensely helpful and meaningful as we move forward in this strange and somewhat bewildering time.
His sermon got me thinking about another Old Testament story…the story of the initial journey of Abraham and Sarah, our ancient father and mother in faith. God tells Abraham to leave his home and kinfolk to go to a land that God would show him…where he would become the father of a great nation with descendants as numerous as the stars. The first surprise in that story was that Abraham went – and Sarah joined him, moving toward a place, sight unseen, that would become their new reality.

I was remembering specifically, the way this story is told in the Godly Play tradition. Godly Play is a Montessori based formation approach for children which we use in the Day School as well as in our children’s Sunday formation program. The story is told using a “desert box or bag” – a clear plastic tray or canvas bag, covered with sand. Small figures are moved through the desert to tell the story. The storyteller informs us that the desert is a dangerous place, where it is easy to lose your way. She tells us that no one goes into the desert unless they have to. But, she adds, the couple believed that all of God was in everything and all of God was everywhere, so they were willing to go wherever God would send them. (If you want to hear and see this story for yourself, you can Google “The Great Family” on YouTube.) We watch as Abram and Sarai, not yet renamed by God, leave their home in Ur, traveling to Harran, then Schechem, until they finally reach Hebron, where they take up residence. What I was remembering from the story, was how they found God to be already there, already active and present, in every place they came to. At every step of the way, they felt the deep presence of God, sensing that God was very near, and that enabled them to continue through harsh country and challenging encounters. And so, at several points in the journey, they built small altars to mark that everywhere they went, God was there before them, showing the way. At every stage of the journey, they stopped to give God thanks for being with them. And at the end of the journey, they bore a child whose name meant laughter. Nothing is impossible with God.

This ancient story of our forebears in faith has something to offer. I wonder where God is leading us at this time…it seems very unclear. But if tradition has anything to teach us, we know that God is leading for sure, to a time and place that God will show us. I wonder how we might be intentional about stopping on the way, to notice that God is in everything and is everywhere, and has already journeyed to the places we find ourselves; going ahead of us. I wonder what kind of altars we might erect to mark God’s presence…Abraham and Sarah used simple rocks they found along the road; they used what God provided. In other words, they found what they needed when they needed it…the Rock of their salvation made sure of it.

These words come to you with deep affection as a fellow pilgrim on the road. I would love to hear from you about your journey right now and the stories that resonate with you. Feel free to drop a line about that at until we can speak in person again.
Seeking the peace that passes all understanding,
Rev. Pat