When I think “altar,” I think a table of stones, or table at the front of a church building holding flowers (and sometimes communion). I think offering plates, lilies, white drip-less candles, and flowing colored cloth: something to help your attention stay fixed on God.
Besides the marker indicating that the land on which we stood had great natural significance as a “crypto explosive area,” (an area in which an unexplained geological explosion occurred), I couldn’t see an altar. But I had a feeling it was there somewhere.
Woodland Altars has youth camp at the beginning of summer and as it happened, it was the beginning of our summer together as well. We had our apprehensions about presenting our message just as the youth had apprehensions about what we were going to say. We were all new. One particular day, the team led a session for the youth camp of about 18 participants. I remember being quite nervous about our session as it was “untested.” It’s quite hard to gauge how people will react or how much time each activity will take. Then there is the ultimate question: “Will our message actually make sense?”
As it came time for me to present ‘Story Time with Mark’ and read an example of Brethren faith as service in action, I wondered whether to sit, stand, dance, pace, or simply fidget while reading. Quickly, I decided to sit in hopes of making it seem more like story time. Of course, I was then a little “off my game” in terms of focus. I read the story like I was part of the Congressional Budget Committee. Nerves. Uneasiness. Hesitation. I was feeling all of these things. As the week passed, so did these feelings, and I began to find altars.
They weren’t stone tables. They weren’t the two foot high hills around camp where several colonies of ants lived together in harmony. The altars weren’t even made of wood. They were found underneath tarps where the fire ring and picnic tables were. They were found on wooden platforms where the hogans were constructed. They were found in kind words, an “apple-mango-tango” dance named after Unit One’s dish soap, a banner displaying the Lord’s Prayer carried by Unit Two, and the bonds formed by each camper as they grew together as the body of Christ. These were the places where their gifts of friendship, singing, cooking, and learning were offered and laid before God: on the altar, in the woods.