As you enter our chapel to sit in silence waiting for the Centering prayer gong to sound, take a few moments to gaze at our shining, black marble altar. Now consider this: But for the quick thinking of volunteer Don Shanks, the altar came dangerously close to being sliced into half-inch slabs and marketed for upscale home furnishings.
Until 1997, the Italian marble altar, veined in gold, sat in the chapel of Mercy Hospital in Denver. About the same time, the Center for Contemplative Living was moving to a new location on Warren Street and Mercy Hospital had closed, its building sold to developers. Center staff knew the former hospital chaplain and inquired whether the altar could be donated to Contemplative Outreach. Unfortunately, it already had been sold, destined for the mills of Denver Marble. When Don learned of the altar's fate, he asked whether it was true that altars contain a sacred relic, usually fron a saint, which prevents them from being destroyed or chopped up and put to private sale. His inquiry put an abrupt halt to the altar's sale, and arrangements were quickly made for it to be donated to Contemplative Outreach.
That was only beginning, however. The next challenge was getting the 1,600-pound marble out of the hospital chapel. The building's new owner insisted that nothing be damaged while removing the altar, especially the carpet. Don, experienced in electrical and contracting work, had just volunteered to oversee the Center's renovation of the Warren Street building. He and a crew of volunteers sprang into action. They consigned Duffy Crane to move the 1.600-pound altar out of the old hospital chapel, laying a path of plywood over the carpet. Next came the task of getting it into the chapel at Warren Street. Don realized that the chapel's floor simply couldn't withstand such heavy weight, so he brace the floor from the crawlspace below with 6x6 timbers. when warned he'd never get the altar through the front door, Don rose to the challenge and simply took apart the door jamb, enabling Duffy Crane to bring the altar right in. Fortunately, the floor of this chapel was strong enough to withstand the altar's weight with just a little beefing up, and Duffy Crane rolled it in without removing any door jambs.
The relic itself remains a mystery. No one is sure what saint's relic is burined in our altar. It's not even visible to observers. There's only a slight depression in the marble top where the relic was inserted long, long ago. We only know there's a saint somewhere whose spirit blesses us each time we gather together in silence to sit in the presence of Divine Mystery.