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Altars Among The Mundane

It’s often the story between the lines that’s most striking — and most surprising. As I’ve prepared for a five-month long teaching journey through the life of Abraham in our church, I recently found myself moved by one of those side notes that seemingly came from nowhere to inform not only my own life but some of the deeper conversations I’ve been having lately.

One of the central texts that we often discuss at The Mercy House is the call of Abram from Genesis 12:1-4. The preceding chapter tells of the barren womb of Sarai, a text so strong that Walter Brueggemann calls it a declaration of humans’ inability to create a meaningful future for their own selves. Then God speaks into that barrenness to call Abram and Sarai to a new place, to trust God and obey enough to leave for a far country. Perhaps that idea has been discussed here a time or two before.

It’s the next few verses that hit me as I began to prepare for the next sermon. They list the upcoming places along the way that Abram’s caravan encountered and simply note that altars were built in these places. The obvious step is to move on to the next bold heading, the next grand story, the next meaningful event, but like an unexpected gravitational pull, I couldn’t stop thinking about these altars that were erected for no good reason — at least that we know of.

I met with a friend named Kevin for lunch the other day. We spoke for hours about the dramatic nature of life and how beautiful it is to live amidst those moments. Then we also shared stories of the struggle to live in between. Kevin graduated from college several months ago, found a steady notable job, settled into an apartment, and is now faced with what was always known as “real life.” I told him the rhythm never changes. It always feels this way, and that grieving the loss of his college community and the constant buzz of events and invitations was okay to do.

“How do we live in the mundane?” was the question that emerged. How do we carry ourselves between the grand events? What about the days when we just put in our eight or ten hours? What about the weeknights of homework and bed times and conversations that simply check off the events of the day?

Even the artist knows these days quite well, for it’s not every day that an album is released or a tour is launched. It’s not every day that the book is finally finished or the painting finally revealed. The days between are filled with the rhythms of the mundane, the space largely inhabited by the ordinary. The dishes need to be washed. The trash needs to be taken out. No spotlight is waiting and no one is listening. It’s just another city along the way to no place in particular.

My conversation with Kevin was illuminated in that moment, for as we asked those questions, I found my own thoughts turning to Abram building altars among the commonplace. Some altars are named for a particular event. Some altars receive commentary on the reason for their existence. Instead of leaving the commonplace common, Abram builds an altar and calls upon the name of the Lord.

Perhaps something dynamic happened between Bethel and Ai that we’re not privy to. Maybe Abram was coming off of the high of the God of all creation having identified him personally to carry out his plan, to create a nation through him. It’s possible that Abram had Chia Altar that magically grew with a few drops, so it was really no trouble to build something like that. But as my conversation with Kevin took shape, we realized that the calling of the daily life is to resurrect altars along the way — to recognize the glory of God in the space that we inhabit no matter what surrounds. I believe it’s when we’ve made the habit of constructing altars among the mundane that we see the inspired journey we’ve been on all along.

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