Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. (Genesis 12:7-9)
Preparing to retire, Abram and Sarai receive the call to journey to a new land. They had planned on staying in Haran the remainder of their lives. No doubt they debated God’s invitation, weighing the pros and cons, looking at their stock portfolio (livestock in this case), and considering the costs and benefits of following God’s vision for them.
Finally, packed up, they leave Haran with their flocks, servants, and a few close relatives. The trip would be long but God would be with them. At each stopping point, Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) built an altar. Initially, I suspect it was to attract God’s attention. Later, I believe it was to remind them that God is with them.
These days we need altars of the spirit. We may not be traveling much. Our worlds may be restricted to our neighborhood and trips to the store. But rituals help create order and novelty in a world turned upside down. Your altars or rituals can be simple actions performed on a regular basis:
• Taking time for prayer – giving thanks and then praying for friends and family and for persons in need
• Lighting a candle as you pray at the dinner table
• Praying with a family member or friend
• Quiet times for meditation
• Doing art work or singing, dedicating your experience to God
• Looking at pictures of loved ones as you pray for them
• Breathing deeply several times daily
• Going on a walk or driving to a place of beauty
• Looking at the stars
• Praying the “hours” – morning, midmorning, noon, midafternoon, early evening, bedtime
You can erect altars everywhere and at any time for God is with you every step of the way.
Loving God, thank you for blessing me with love and companionship. Let me see you in ordinary life and reach out to you throughout the day, finding my bearings so that I can provide comfort to others. Amen.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 50 books including FAITH IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC and GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET.