The Empty Alter

I grew up in churches that were very well-defined. Behind every podium, a mounted cross, staring down. As messages of judgement and hope rained from above, those crosses would watch. Reminding me of just who I worshipped. Who I loved. Who I disobeyed.

Those crosses exhausted me. And I didn’t even know it. Not until I walked into the chapel with the empty alter.

The chapel that was silent, save for breathing and echoing footsteps. Some people sat on benches, a few at the front of the room, kneeling in meditation and prayer.

And the front of that room, what we all faced?
Gray panels.
I could cry.
Never had I felt such peace in a sacred space before.
I could have collapsed at the front of that chapel, closed my eyes and worshipped the universe for hours. Just me and…everything. And nothing. All at once.

When I first began tugging on the strings of my belief system, it was unnerving. I promised myself that as soon as I’d finished dismantling, I would put what I could back together again as soon as possible. I’d just burn it down first in some sort of refining fire.

But what I found beneath religious dogma, beneath systematic and interpersonal abuse, was far more beautiful than I’d anticipated.
I found a whole, spiritual being.
I found the kind of freedom that no sermon but the wind in the trees could provide.
I found joy they’d told me didn’t exist outside the walls of the chosen.
I found that surrendering to the flow of everything around me was far more important than defining my theology.

It would have terrified me, a few years ago. Worshipping at the empty alter. Letting go, and not chasing. Letting people cross my path without guilt or agenda. Letting myself live apart from what they told me that cross meant.

But I’ve changed. The empty alter is the safest, most peaceful place I’ve ever called home. And though I haven’t returned yet to that particular chapel, I love meeting people there in spirit. That place where we can wrestle, reach only the conclusions we feel we need, and live with open arms.


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