Rocky Shores Altar
I’m sure you recognize this exclamation as Jacob’s in Genesis 28, after his amazing dream of the ladder of angels. Immediately he builds a simple altar from his stone pillow and calls the place God’s House, Bethel, a “gate of heaven.”
But I heard these very words spoken this week by Rev. Susie Phoenix as she spent two days with me on a Blue Theology clergy renewal pilgrimage. We were standing long and quiet in front of the Aquarium’s Rocky Shores Lookdown exhibit, one of the small, detailed, colorful, diverse, AWESOME, exhibits along the wall in the dark Monterey Bay Habitats section.
When we do a “spiritual tour” of the Aquarium one meditative practice is simply slowing down and noticing. I’ve looked at this exhibit hundreds of times. Susie has a quieter more patient soul than I do, and she saw many more epiphanies, angels walking up and down, than I ever have.
(A Buddhist botany professor friend of mine says her mindfulness practice makes hera better field biologist– she can slow down and really see.)
Of course we know that Susie knew full well that God was in this particular place. Because she, like Jacob, before leaving that holy exhibit spot said, “What an amazing altar!”
In her book “An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith,” Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that God is in the everyday and the every place, not just in church buildings. “I can keep busy doing this and that. Or, like Jacob, I can set a little altar in the world or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am with and how awesome the place is. I can flag one more gate to heaven, one more patch of ordinary earth with ladder marks on it.
“Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”
Susie and I cracked our shins on many altars in our two day pilgrimage. The next day at Point Lobos was equally awesome. Jacob wakes from his dream of angels and uses the present tense, “Surely God IS in this place.” We give thanks to cup corals and brittle stars and anemones for reminding us of this ever present present. And for giving us an altar.
Bluetheology.com for more info on pilgrimages, service trips etc. along Monterey Bay. I post these Wednesday devotionals about ocean stewardship and spirituality here and on Facebook. (Photo thanks to NOAA.)