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I desire mercy, not sacrifice

by davesandel on March 15th, 2019

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

Friday, March 15, 2019

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

– From Matthew 5

Look up! The west wind blows our clouds away and blows them in again. The sun shines high in the sky and then sets on our Father’s world, to rise again tomorrow. All nature sings, and around me rings the music of the spheres.

At the altar, my small world meets its Maker. There is bowing, and kneeling, and scraping of my conscience to find what’s left beneath the scars. This is my time to recover perspective and remember that I am not God. “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” This is the place of reconciliation.

But there is more to this re-gathering than my own humility. God reminds me, just as Jesus told his congregation on the Mount, that we are all children of God and we are all in this together. “Mother, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”

*           *           *

Thomas Merton’s day of springtime shopping in downtown Louisville, begun without expectation, took a different turn. “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”

Whether in a church or on a street corner, altars carry the sweet residue of years of communion. I remember an altar where I visited as a tourist at the downtown Chicago Temple, home to First United Methodist Church. A “skyscraper” church across the street from The Picasso and City Building, its steeple rises above forty floors of offices, 568 feet into the sky. For six years after it was built in 1924, the Chicago Temple was the tallest building in Chicago. Clarence Darrow once had an office on the sixth floor.

As we approach the altar, several homeless men and women sleep in the empty pews. Dimmed lights reveal carved wood, stained glass, and candle stands. We knelt and prayed, and there were silent whispers around the altar of a hundred years, residue of communion, of prayers of men and women, of sins and forgiveness, of reconciliation, of God’s love.

Thomas Merton was a priest at the nearby Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. At 4th and Walnut Streets in Louisville, any sense of Merton’s “separateness” fell away. “I have the immense joy of being human, a member of a race in which God became incarnate … it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

No way. But we can work hard to clear out differences with one another. The gift God desires far more than “sacrifice” is that we love one another even as we love ourselves.

I trust in you, Lord, and my soul trusts in your word. My soul waits for you more than sentinels wait for the dawn. You are kind, and full of redemption. Let me follow in your steps.

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 140-142, 1966

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