An Altar Experience
In an old dusty attic, searching through effects, which had been kept in a box for years, I came across a, still like new journal, containing the following: Penned in the neat hand of what I am assuming is my long dead ancestor, great great grandfather, Henry James Talbot:
“Building an altar after the order of the ancients.”
I found this experience to be a very personalized process, because the altar’s great lesson is in the doing of it. Anyone coming onto, and contemplating doing this should see in this process the making of ourselves, and then the remaking of ourselves, and then again, the remolding of the lump as the Lord demonstrates His graciousness through His long suffering, patience, and the fact that long ago we were not cast off. This effort and this process is the story of God’s own labors, our need to be gathered, and the recognition of those who are to be included, framing together the disparate and individual lives to build a single, unified sacred place or people.
After having done this work, one should know there is, through me, and perhaps you, again on the earth a return of an ancient and hallowed practice of altar building which began at the first, and now appears again at the last.
I began the effort with mighty prayer unto God. This dedicating of the whole process was like coming into an awareness that something different needed to be done in one’s life, and dedicating, and consecrating one’s time, talents, and every available moment and resource to the accomplishment of this new found life one is entering into. In a very real way it was leaving old thoughts and traditions behind, and seeing for the first time a path centered on God; desiring Him to be at the center of everything that followed. No longer were the old ways enough. The teaching elements of preparing for the journey and then making it; fraught with danger, and being subject to every adverse wind that might blow one off course, even kill him spiritually or physically on the journey; Choosing a site of land that would become a holy place unto the Lord, almost as though it were a promised land; Choosing a raised site on that land that would cause a ritual ascent as I approached my intended place of worship; These all have been the driving thoughts of my mind for many months.
BUILDING THE ALTAR:
First, you build an altar again and again in your mind. The days preceding the beginning of the actual construction were days of “acting as if;” days of anticipation; days of internal measurement, “can I really do this?” “Can I receive revelation that will enable a successful conclusion?” “What do I really expect to happen?” “What are its measurements to be?” What should be its orientation?” “How big should the rocks be?”
The gathering begins with prayer; then searching for and discovering the pre-determined number of stones; then prayer to know if the one you think is right, is. Over and over again. Sometimes with great clarity. Sometimes not being completely sure. Sometimes with a darkness or even foreboding. Slowly, ever so painstaking slow, and one by one the rocks are gathered in. Each is individually picked. It is turned over and examined for its peculiar properties, brushed clean of the dirt and grime that may obscure some particularly beautiful facet or in the brushing may reveal a hidden flaw. Sometimes in the gathering process ideas form that indicate what will work with what. Perhaps the most exciting is realizing that you have selected that one precious stone that will be Christ, the Chief Corner Stone of the whole, upon which the whole will be anchored. In the process of this gathering you come to realize that you are like many of these rocks. You are flawed, dirty, or sometimes even with a particularly becoming trait that should be demonstrated prominently and make the whole more beautiful or functional.
Construction actually begins with the laying out of the rocks. You see to some extent what will work with what; to which tier this or that rock belongs; and like I said, that all important Southeast Corner Stone that represents Jesus Christ. Amazingly, this all important stone will be buried the deepest within the whole when it is completed. It will be mostly out of sight and one coming upon your altar without knowledge of what it is would not recognize the importance of the prime anchoring characteristics of this all important rock. Construction, like gathering, takes place at an agonizingly slow pace. A particular stone just does not seem to work anyplace. You can often see that the altar is leaning precariously because of the placement of some of the rocks. You realize a teardown is in order and refashioning needs to take place. I saw myself in this process really quite close to the first. Initially it surprised me and even frightened me a little as I saw that the building of me was a lot like my altar. I also saw that, at the point I recognized myself in the construction, I still had a lot of rocks to lay and if it continued like it started, “would I ever be a finished product?” In fact would the Lord cast me off as I might cast off this altar, because it just seems impossible to make it work? It also provided a driving thought, that even as the Lord had not cast me off, but through His mercy and grace and diligence in working with me, had saved me; so I could salvage this altar I was attempting to construct, and even though it might be hard, it was do-able. You see miracles happen that cause it to be possible. Sometimes whole sections slide out that indicate a hidden flaw in construction. Sometimes a rock is rejected and replaced by another which at first glance seems impossible to obtain. Sometimes you see in amazing clarity that if the location of this rock is changed with that one, everything will lock together. Sometimes you just keep going with faith that somehow it will work. This is all symbolic, but it is also real in the project in which you are engaged.
Actually the symbolism in the building of this altar doesn’t seem to end. Even as I write this I see many other things that the actual doing of building the altar could represent, or did represent. Some of it is symbolism of me. Some of it of the Church. Some of it of the Gospel. Particularly that defining central theme of the Gospel; the Atonement of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The altar and His atonement have become one in my mind. And because of that, the symbolism based in the realism of this will continue to show itself for the rest of my life!
THE DEDICATION AND THE OFFERING:
When the table of the altar was placed upon the top as the final stone, I walked around the altar at a distance and looked at it from every angle. I could see that it even looked like an altar, and that barring a physical act of man or beast would likely stand looking that same way until the earth at some time in the future convulses and scatters the carefully laid stones. But I know that even if that should happen, the ground upon which it is built will remain hallowed. I declared that it was the best I could do, and further declared to myself it was completed. It was now recognizable as an altar to me rather than just a pile of rocks and I declared it “an altar.” It felt to me to be a “whole.”
The next step in the process was to consecrate the Pure olive oil which I brought and then pour it in its consecrated state upon the top of the altar, with the pouring of it on a part being the pouring of it upon the whole, because of what it had now become. Opening the bottle, I held it up to God and said that by the power of the holy word which had been given me wherein I was declared a son of the Almighty God, I now dedicate and consecrate this oil to represent the blood of the Lord, Jesus Christ, which He has shed for all mankind and that upon its pouring, it will represent the blood offering required to dedicate and sanctify this completed altar. I then poured its contents upon the top of my altar. Using a particular sign, I then offered up prayers to my Father, petitioning Him to accept of my meager offering, and of myself. I covenanted that my life, and my will, and all that I have or ever will have is His. The altar had now served its purpose. It was complete. I was complete. And both are acceptable to the Lord. It was palpable and clear.
Grandma and I will probably visit it only one more time, that we may pray together, and covenant together and with our God. I will then sell the boat which will represent a moving on in our trek through this wilderness. I don’t know but that I may or may not do this again. I feel that one could become really proficient at this, but I don’t know if one really has to. I feel this was really important for me to do, and I feel that having done it there are future ramifications that will happen to my family because of it. For all I know right now, maybe you who might be reading this are a product in a small way of me having done this. This has not been made clear to me at this point.
I know I have not answered all questions. I’m not sure it’s my place here to just give my answers. If at a future time you decide upon this, I think you will receive your own answers to any questions you will ask. I feel like to the best of my limited ability I have laid out what this experience meant to me.
One more parting shot. I do know that what was at the first must return and be part of the last. In this, I have participated.
As copied by