Building an Altar
Just before the coronavirus pandemic snaked its insidious, invisible way around the globe, I put together a small altar in my writing room. It’s a place to sit and remember who I am and whose I am—a daughter of the Most High God. On it sits an icon of Jesus, the One I worship; an egg-shaped rock a friend brought me from the Isle of Iona, signifying new life; a small bird’s nest and a feather as reminders of God’s creation; some frankincense oil, as a remembrance of Christ’s birth and also a reminder that I will one day die and rise again like Jesus; a candle, signifying the light of Christ; and a bar of dark chocolate, to remind me to taste and see that the Lord is good. When I open the window to listen to the birds, all five of my senses come alive and sing. And my sixth sense—my spiritual sense? It dives into a place of deep peace even as it rises in celebration.
I bask in the morning sun peeking through my window, humming Carrie Newcomer’s song, “You Can Do This Hard Thing.” This song has been a healing balm for me through this time of social isolation. I especially miss being able to hug my three-year-old grandson, and visiting my mother, whose memory care facility is not accepting visitors at this time. I light the candle, releasing light and the scent of roses, anoint myself with the oil of frankincense, and open the window to hear the sweet spring sound of birdsong.
Season of Resurrection and New Life
April is the season of resurrection, even though the enemy wants us to believe death is just around the corner for all of us. Not just the death that all of us can expect at the end of a long life, but a terrible, gasping death in a hospital with no family, pastor or priest to usher us to the other side. I am finally moving beyond the initial sense of panic, yet allowing myself time to grieve all that’s been lost.
In this time of sheltering-at-home, I realize I am dying to old ways of being, and in the process, rising to new life.
I pick up and hold this smooth, egg-shaped rock that my friend found on her pilgrimage to Iona.
I close my eyes and accept the Spirit’s invitation to meditate on rocks for a moment.
Meditation on Rocks
Huge boulders offer us shelter in the storm. I experienced this when I was in my 20’s, newly married, and camping in the Rocky Mountains. We were unexpectedly hit by a blizzard as we set up camp. My husband found a mammoth boulder and set the tent up behind its mighty shoulder, blocking us from ferocious winds.
When sands are shifting, rocks offer us a stable place to stand. I remember a trip my husband and I took to Tennessee, not long after we’d moved our youngest son to a farm for adults with autism. Joel was 25 years old at the time. We had helped establish the farm, thinking it would be the perfect place for him to live out his years. On our Tennessee vacation, both of us felt a sense of relief to have Joel settled, yet grieving his loss from our family home. On one of our day hikes we found a trail leading to a waterfall. Cut out from the hills around the river were great slabs of rocks, jutting into the river. As we stood on that bedrock, overlooking the falls, I felt the presence of God in a way I’d never before experienced. The psalmist’s words, “He is my Rock,” took on new meaning.
Rocks can be used as protection. I think of how the shepherd boy, David, killed the giant Goliath with a well-placed rock shot from his slingshot.
Lord, I ask, what is this rock telling me about what is true for me today, as we navigate our way through this pandemic, this social distancing, this fear and isolation?
Waiting for His answer, I pass the rock back and forth between my hands, allowing myself to feel the realness of it. It is substantial; cool to the touch; smooth and beautiful. It is ancient, made smooth by ocean currents over thousands of years. I feel as if I am holding holiness in my hands.
New life is coming, the Lord seems to say. I am waiting to satisfy your hunger and thirst, if you will allow me.
All around me, the world seems to be melting down. This virus is multiplying at an accelerating pace; no place on the earth is safe from its progression. There does not seem to be enough supplies for the hospitals. People are dying. Doctors and nurses are crying out for help. People are unable to work, unable to pay their bills. People are fighting over food, toilet paper, and Clorox wipes.
And yet, here you are, God. Holding this rock I remember that you are in the midst of it all. You are substantial and real and beautiful. You are our protector. There is no one like you, Lord. You are my shelter in the storm.
I open The Message Bible to Psalm 18:1-3
I love you, God—
You make me strong.
You are the bedrock under my feet,
The castle in which I live,
My rescuing knight.
My God—the high crag
Where I run for dear life,
Hiding behind the boulders,
Safe in the granite hideout.
Love. Strength. Bedrock. Home. Rescue. Hidden. Safe.
The birds are singing their hearts out just outside my window. My heart rises to meet them.
Resurrection is coming.