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I miss a lot of things about being in the church building for worship — the community and fellowship, the communal hearing of the choir as its members open our hearts to receive the ever-present Holy Spirit and the energy of a multitude of epiphanies as the pastor brings forth the good news in God’s word.
But what I miss most is something that rarely happened on Sundays and never when others were present. I miss sitting alone in the sanctuary, taking in the prayers, the miracles, the heartbreaks, the troubles and triumphs that stay in the room after the people leave and going to the altar in prayer.
Over the years, God has helped me find this time. As a young person, I would run upstairs to the sanctuary right after choir rehearsal on Thursdays to sit on the steps of the altar. As an agnostic college student wrestling with various religions and not understanding the value of relationship, I would stand at the altar of Duke Chapel and take in its beauty, praying for the families of the hands that created such majesty and the ones charged with maintaining it.
I joined my church in Baltimore because I would explore the building while my son had Cub Scout meetings. Eventually I ended up in the formal sanctuary, but not before finding the gymnasium where the praise band held rehearsals and contemporary service was held on Sunday mornings.
And when I moved back to North Carolina and finally found a church, I looked forward to the Wednesdays when I worked on the books in the church and had some time to sit, to kneel and even to lie on my face at the altar.
Now that we are learning the very necessary skill of touching and agreeing in prayer from a distance, the altar in my house is wherever I stop to pray. I pray for my family and friends, my neighborhood and community, our leaders and our world. I lay my personal burdens down. I present my issues, my shortcomings and my decisions before God.
One of the hardest things I have learned since bringing the altar home is not only to lay down my burdens but to lay down my self-reliance and the idea that God needs my help to do His work. Contrary to the hackneyed adage, God is not the co-pilot in our lives. Neither are we.
How humbling to realize that we are not equipped to even be the co-pilot in our own lives. We don’t have the vision to see ahead, and we can’t navigate the controls. What I have learned at the altar of my home is that I have to lay down my flight plan along with my burdens. I have learned that an ill-equipped person attempting to be a co-pilot is a horrible passenger and can throw the whole plane into a crisis.
From my altar at home, I have learned that God gives instruction as necessary, and all we are asked to do is follow His directions. Lay down the maps, the tools, the shortcuts and our ideas about what we perceive is the right way. He’s taking us where He wants us, and if we simply follow His directions without trying to provide feedback, we’ll safely arrive at our destination.
The altar is waiting for us to finally put everything down.
LaMonique Hamilton is a Wilson resident and former Times reporter and copy editor. She is the national deputy director of communications for Repairers of the Breach and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and blogs about arts and culture at iamlamonique.com.