As I age, I find that the experiences that thrilled me as a child carry considerable less emotional charge as an adult. Signing the potent credit card slip outside the gates of an amusement park squelches much roller coaster euphoria. Cartoons produce angst rather than enjoyment. And while my taste bud needle definitely points to the sugary side of the sweet-savory continuum, a piece of candy doesn’t tantalize like days of old.
I find in my quiet moments that what moves me now is a genuine encounter with the divine, an opportunity, however fleeting, to see a sliver of true light. Maybe the general growing-up process fosters this desire; maybe it’s simply a loving God at work in a fallen individual. The truth is that I’d much prefer an authentic moment of worship than pretty much anything else in my life.
As I look back, I find that the most powerful time of worship in my life occurred not in a sanctuary or at a retreat, nor even in a national park amid the verdant beauty of creation. Rather, a time of true worship occurred in a rather unlikely spot, a pork processing plant.
About fifteen years ago while celebrating Christmas with my family, my brother-in-law invited my dad, my other brother-in-law and myself along on a tour of a pork processing facility. Clad with hair nets, lab coats and iron stomachs, we saw first hand the process from start to finish by which Babe becomes bacon.
At the start of the assembly line, a truck backs up into the plant where the hogs are unloaded. As each hog comes down a chute into the plant, one worker zaps each pig with enough electrodes to immediately schedule its funeral. The next worker wields a large, razor-sharp knife and plunges and twists it into the upper torso of each animal, creating a flow of blood that looks like a crimson fountain. As the process continues, the hogs are cleaned and sawed and chopped and cleaved and severed and packaged, in a strangely efficient and fascinating way.
What stands out from the tour is the prevalence of blood and the gruesome nature of sacrifice. Though I’m accustomed to the occasional scrape on the knee or the cuts that come from growing up Boy, such copious blood-flow and gristly violence shocked me. It made me imagine life for wilderness-roving Israel. With a population of a million freed slaves wandering the desert and a book of the law prescribing a steady routine of mandatory sacrifices, the nomadic nation of Israel must have been a tribe awash in blood. Perhaps the barbaric, ancient peoples grew accustomed to the sight of blood. Perhaps God’s people simply understood the nature of sacrifice as the way to atone for sin. Either way they knew the process of slaughter. It became a routine part of their life. But I wonder if it left them longing for the sufficient sacrifice to come.
For me the experience of seeing first-hand the violent slaughter of animals made me contemplate sacrifice in a new way. It made me grapple with the shedding of blood and the reality of a loving father who would place his son upon the altar as the supreme sacrifice once for all. As a parent I try to keep my kids from harm, from danger and from the evils of this world. Born of a love I know little about, God the Father gave his own son over to be the gruesome yet beautiful sacrifice for a world awash in evil.
I still struggle to see through cloudy lenses and fathom the depths of this kind of unearthly love, yet one visit to a pork processing plant makes the glass a little less dark.