A Scuffy Altar
Not everyone knew each other before they came through my door Saturday morning. I think some were nervous and maybe hesitant about coming, not knowing what to expect aside from the small bites to eat, the coffee and dark chocolate. And the topic, they knew to expect a conversation about hope and lament. They came, and something holy took charge of the time.
It wasn't holy because we did anything out of the ordinary. It wasn't fancy--hurriedly and therefore unevenly cut copy paper at each seat, odd-patterned and mismatched coffee cups, some grapes and some cheese. The most elaborate highlight was the collection of pens. While still a mixed assortment, they were fine writing utensils, because, in my opinion, a good pen can be a doorway to beauty.
It wasn't holy because we read some psalms of lament and some scriptures about hope--though we did that. The reading and hearing did tap into something, and we opened ourselves a little more.
The holy--that reality of holy being set apart, other, sacred--spilled upon us because we sat down together on purpose. We were present. We were in person, looking one another in the eyes, offering ourselves to one another.
We talked about difficult pieces of life in such a time as this. We shared painful elements of our own lives, not needing to disclose extensive details if it didn't come to that, but enough. We entered into personal lament during a time of quiet; yet it was a corporate participation simply because we were at the same table. We couldn't say, "I know your pain exactly." But the experience of empathy unfolded like a budded rose loosening its petals, the fragrance making its way to each of us. We saw the tears, heard the narrative told, and we knew that telling to be true--because she said it was so.
The hope part didn't come as readily, which surprised us, disappointed us. I believed it is still rippling, slow like the way a season changes, like the green that begins to sprout in the barren wilderness places. And that's a gift, too, that hope didn't overwhelm us right then and there. A gift that the lament lingers.
The hope--holy, blessed hope--began in the recognition of a need, an ache for lament, sorrow, proper grief, even repentance. It began as we sat without a lot of hope. Sat with each other, in person, patting a leg, squeezing a hand, passing a tissue, giving a hug to an old friend and to new ones.
More conversations are on the calendar. More coffee and dark chocolate will be had, and more grape juice in the chalice and bread on the paten. Different topics, new guests, old friends. Now I have a hopeful expectation that, no matter what, holy moments will happen.
We didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to expect. But I had prayed. And I envisioned that a simple, scarred table would be an altar of sorts. As it turned out, God met us at the garage-sale, scuffed-up table.