Transitions and altars

IMG_1094While you were sleeping on Saturday night, we transitioned. Stepped straight into September. New months are nothing new, but somehow September signifies more than just a new month. It’s summer’s end, autumn’s advent, and  back-to-school season.

Since I was five years old, September meant school. For the past four years, I journeyed back to college for a reunion with friends, orange and blue, black squirrels, Meijer, Dimnent chapel. By Labor Day I was happily settled in the new semester, with a stack of new syllabi and the hope of learning ahead.

Today, by contrast, I am an adult with a paid holiday. Instead of going to class, I sleep in. Eat quiche, drink coffee, plan my day of rest. Tomorrow I will get in the car and commute back to my office and the Big Girl Job, where I have Real World Responsibilities, Clients, and Things I Am Paid To Do.

College student transitions to the working world. Many of my friends have a similar narrative this September. A typical narrative. And still, a totally monumental narrative that it’s appropriate to stop and recognize. The world goes back to school. My friends and I do not. Whaaaat?

The 20’s are tumultuous with change, in a good way. Some of my friends have hopped on planes for Spain, Nepal, Colorado, to take jobs and pursue Fulbrights and greet adulthood with a bang. Some of my friends start new jobs – like teaching English to middle schoolers in Michigan classrooms, or suiting up in scrubs to deliver compassion to the sick. Friends are in med school, dental school, grad school. Friends are widespread across the country. Some married. Some pregnant! All growing up.

How do we cope and react and… deal… with all the change?

Let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

I’ve spent August in the book of Genesis, walking through seasons of change, travel, and tumult with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Joseph. One thing that has stood out to me, reading their stories, is their response to big life changes. Whenever the patriarchs had a Big Life Event in which they experienced the faithfulness of God, or encountered the presence of God, they built an altar. Noah did it after the flood. Jacob, too, was instructed by God to built an altar:

Then God said to Jacob, “Get ready and move to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau…. (Gen. 35:1)

Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark the place where God had spoken to him. (Gen 35:14)

My stereotypical idea of an altar has always been basically limited to a place to perform animal sacrifices. I never thought they were especially significant. Probably a little messy, sort of a drudge to build and not all that special. Yet in my study Bible, a note about altars says that for the patriarchs, altars were typically stone or wood “memorials or places for sacrifice… the most common place of worship in the Old Testament and in the wider ancient world.” An altar was for making animal sacrifices but also for worship. That word “memorials” used to describe them clues me in to an interesting idea – altars were not only places to carry out a sacrifice, but they were also permanent reminders of what God had done. Real pauses from life’s busy-ness, where God’s people showed him their thanks for his incredible goodness and grace.

I like the idea of creating an intentional, visual reminder of God’s goodness. Of stopping, and taking a moment to create a stone symbol to commemorate a life change in which God was faithful.

Maybe I’ll adopt this idea of altar building as I transition into September – altar building in my words, my actions, my testimony to the God who is faithful in the midst of change. I want to be intentional about my thanks to God. I want to give him my “continual sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15) as he carries me into new seasons of life.

Because though life changes, He never does. And that’s something to commemorate.


2 thoughts on “Transitions and altars

  1. I love love love your writing. Glad to know that all is well in the big girl world. Thanks for always finding a way to incorporate the bigger picture into life events 🙂

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