The Interior Altar
By Lynne Keating
It was a frigid and particularly dark night in early February when I pulled up to the small, dimly-lit conference room on the grounds of a tired old retreat center. Pitch black at 6:30 p.m., sleet had begun to fall with an almost punishing sting against my windshield and then against my face as I made my way into the building.
By contrast, it was a bright and unseasonably warm day in February a few years earlier when my youngest daughter lost her life-long battle with innumerable birth defects. Still, the bright and sunny day back then was fitting. She was a gentle little girl who was going to an immeasurably happier existence.
This night’s bleak potency seemed fitting as well. This was to be a retreat for members of Al-anon—my first, as another love of my life was slipping away from me. Friday night, when I should have been resting after a long work week, I was heading into a meeting I didn’t want to attend with people I didn’t want to know or even talk to. But I had been to every other professional I could think of—paid hundreds of dollars to talk to psychiatrists—and while all of that helped, the pain was still overwhelming.
Making as little eye contact as possible, I stared at the plain white walls and metal chairs as I poured ashy coffee into a Styrofoam cup. In keeping with the whole event, I added chemical sweeteners and a packet of imitation creamer, laughing at the perfect metaphor: bad into bad.
The priest who led the retreat had maintained his sobriety for three decades. He was a blessed man, a holy man. The discussions were honest and strong, and sometime during the night, the veil of my oppression began to lift.
“Is that You?” I asked God with whom I had become most disappointed. “What are YOU doing here?”
Just then, the priest’s voice broke through the silence. It was time to come face to face with God, he said. But I was tired of praying. I was tired of talking and, quite frankly, I was tired of listening. Little tears fought through my tightly closed eyes. I sat for a long time, saying nothing and hearing nothing.
Then in the darkness, a little image began to form in my mind. It was a vaguely familiar scene: a dusty mountain and a man. With him was a boy who carried branches of dry wood. They placed the wood on top of a large stone.
“On no!” I cried angrily within, fist clenched at God. I recognized that scene. It was Abraham and Isaac. Using the stone as an altar, Abraham was about to place his son on it as an offering to God.
“But I can’t do that,” I cried in my heart to the Lord. “Not again! I can’t just let go of another person I love! How can You ask this of me?”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus comforts a mother grieving for her lost child. “Do not weep.” (Luke 11:13)
And in the first reading, Elijah persuades a widow, grieving over her little boy. “Give me your son.” (1 Kings 17:19)
In the most difficult and hopeless situations I have encountered over my lifetime, I find myself facing my interior altar, the one at the very center of my soul, my place of surrender, my place of offering.
Scripture tells us that Abraham and Isaac walked back down the mountain together, son restored to father. I came down from the mountain alone on that cold February night, having left my offering on my interior altar. But I was not without hope, not without peace, and not without faith and freedom, resilient and perennial as the sun.
Since then there have been many things in my life, which the Lord has requested I leave on my interior altar. I still hesitate, but I have come to know that nothing shall be impossible for God.
Take some time today before your interior altar. Is there something in your life which the Lord might be asking you to leave there?
About the Author:
Author and blogger, Lynne Keating lectors and teaches the Bible to CCD students at St. John the Beloved Parish in Wilmington, Deleware. Convinced that this is one of the most exciting and important times in salvation history, her writing encourages all people to recognize and rejoice in God’s self-offering love, revealed more and more through the actions of His people. She blogs at Fellowship of the Lamb.
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