CLIMBING ON THE ALTAR

A short account about a very meaningful moment…………………..Steve Dresselhaus, December 2021

This is the “altar” on which the sacrifice took place.

I am a Jesus follower.  I hold  the majority of traditional Christian doctrines closely.  I am not a person driven by  emotionalism, and I tend towards introspection far more than towards exuberant displays: displays which, honestly, from me you will not get.  I know that to some people emotional displays are important and are without a doubt the result of true spirituality and a close walk with God– but that is not who I am, although honestly, sometimes they do look like fun – kind of like a rave minus the self-destructive behaviors.  

I approach my faith via recorded history, observable evidence and progressive logic— not emotion or the fad du jour.   I am to Christianity what Lieutenant Spock was to the Starship Enterprise.   Even having said that my approach to faith is not based on emotion, I want to tell you about something I experienced, the kind of thing that seems wildly out of character for me, yet it did happen and it was meaningful.

This was my campsite during the retreat.

Every year, usually towards the end of the year, I  head  to sea in my kayak for a three-day personal spiritual retreat.  I paddle to a tiny secluded and remote beach with no name that can only be reached by sea.  As soon as I ease the bow of my boat onto the soft sand, I exit my kayak, haul it up well above the high tide line, and  set up a very simple campsite.   I put up a lightweight guide tarp to block the sun, unfold a small camp chair, organize my supplies for the next two and a half days and then sit down for an undetermined length of time in my chair.  In the shade I sit in silence and  do nothing but unwind.   I watch the gentle surf washing ashore.  I watch the sea gulls, frigate birds, and pelicans do whatever sea birds do.  I watch hermit crabs in their Manhattan-style rush hour scurry about from place to place, seeming to be very busy but not really doing anything.  I watch the  clouds form and then evaporate over Cerralvo  Island 15 miles away. I hear the waves gently patting the shore and then listen to their whispered sigh, as having spent their energy, they slide  down the sloping sand and back into the sea.  No one comes by, no boats, no planes, nothing.     I just sit and let the hustle and bustle of our modern world and  the stresses of my work responsibilities evaporate out of existence like a sidewalk puddle on a day turned sunny.  The purpose of my meditation is not to empty my mind, turning it into a gullible sucking vacuum, hoping to later cram it full of things which I select,  things which please me, things that I can control  as is the goal of most modern meditation.  Rather my goal is to  fill my mind  and do the following: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Apostle Paul in  Philippians 4:6-9).

This is my home during the three-day personal retreat.

I always take a Bible, a notebook and another book or two.  One of the books will be some kind of older devotional book and the other will be an old book about an old topic, but one which is still current.  I seldom take books written by modern,  still living authors who write with sales in their sights or with “best seller” goals  in mind.  I do not take formulaic, step-by-step  self-help books which purport to solve whatever you need help with – how to pray better, how to evangelize better, how to help your church grow, how to improve your marriage,  how to discover your spiritual gift, how to have a closer walk with God – books of this nature will not be found in my kayak.  Am I too cynical? Probably, but I don’t really trust the world of too-easy-to-publish books.  Nor do I find it easy to trust an author who is an expert on so many things that he or she can put out a book a year.   As Proverbs 10:19 puts it, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (NKJV).    I know that many of these authors mean well; but unless they have a lifetime of evidence and personal testimony backing and confirming their book, I will probably not read it.   

In the afternoon of day two I was reading Romans 12:1-2: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”  (NLT).

I have heard innumerable  sermons on this passage.  I have read it countless times, and yet sitting alone on a remote beach and reading it  again was almost like it was the first time.  “Give your bodies” – in today´s world of  bipolar Christianity in which  we tend to focus on either the intellect or the emotions, the physical body is seldom important,  unless glory bumps and skin tingles are the sought-after experience.   But here in Romans 12 the Bible is telling us that God wants our physical bodies to be living sacrifices.  Ancient animal sacrifices required 100% of the animal be sacrificed. In that all-or-nothing world,   it would be pretty hard to kill only half a lamb.   It was not a case of “God, you take 60% of the animal, the other 40% I keep.”  Western Christianity has created a cultish belief that we can read and study our way to closeness with God without having to really do anything except practice the ceremonial aspects of our religion.  Western Christianity is sometimes  similar to a couple sitting on the couch in front of a fireplace thinking they are in love telling each other over and over and over how much they love each other but never getting off the couch.   But in Romans 12 the Almighty is claiming it all, not by force or extortion,  but by asking us to willingly give ourselves to him.  He is asking for action, deeds and obedience. Obliterating us is not his goal – he wants us living with and for him.  He wants our honest love, our active love, not programmed rituals.  As Ross Perot used to say, “words are cheap; deeds are precious.” 

As I read this passage over and over, I looked out across the beach and there, about 100 feet away at the water’s edge, was a big rock, about 9 feet high and 10 feet in diameter, with a remarkably flat surface.   I was reading about an altar in Romans 12 and there was this rock, a rock that sure looked like an altar.  I laid my Bible down and walked over to the big rock.  I slowly climbed up its  steep face.  I stood on top of the rock for a moment and then sat down.  I began to meditate on what I had just been  reading  about being a living sacrifice, about giving my body to God for his service.  I was on the altar.  I had to make a decision – and I did.

I talked to God, telling him that I am His, relinquishing all my rights to self-governance but by no means abandoning self-discipline,  personal responsibility, individual personhood,  or self-control.   With a clear and focused mind, sitting on top of that altar,  I gave myself to God.   Did I experience any warm fuzzies or glory bumps or skin tingles?  Did I cry or laugh, or start yelling in unlearned languages? No, none of that.  Instead, there was quietness in my soul, peace, unbelievable calmness and a sense of well-being which goes beyond human language to describe.  Using the Spockian brain in my head, I understood that obeying God and being a willing,  living sacrifice to him is the best, safest, most secure place I  could possibly be.  There was no need to feel anything or to experience anything beyond gaining the certain knowledge that I had done the right thing by climbing up on that altar and giving myself as a living sacrifice to God.

I will most likely go back to the lonely, no-name beach next year for my personal retreat, and when I do, no doubt about it, I will be climbing up on that altar again.  Will the experience and its amazing sense of well-being and peace be repeated?   I don´t know, probably not,  but it really doesn’t matter because my inner Spock has returned and knowledge, logic, and the memory are more than enough.

On my retreats, every morning starts out with reading my Bible at sunrise.

———————————-

My wife, Lois, and I live in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.  We are starting an informal house church which we hope will grow and spread and transform our rough and tumble neighborhood into a kinder, gentler, cleaner place.   We do not want a large and complicated church with budgets and bank accounts.  We long for  a network of small churches which meet in the yards of the neighborhood homes.  We also run a small nonprofit organization called Reconciliamar that “uses adventures at sea to transform lives.”   For more information, some fun videos, or if you are interested in donating to our organization after watching the videos, CLICK HERE

Categories UncategorizedTags , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close