Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Basking in the Light

On Monday, I traveled in a car with a Republican, an Independent, a Democrat, and other people whose political affiliation I don’t even know. If pushed, one of us would have claimed Libertarian and another one of us Socialist. The youngest of us was twelve. The oldest of us was in their 40s. We were united by one goal: THE LINE OF TOTALITY.

None of us had ever seen a total eclipse. Our hometown was scheduled to experience 98% coverage and we were skeptical of driving two and a half hours to see totality. Nevertheless, we persisted, without a plan. We knew we wanted the longest possible full-coverage view without driving more than three hours, or getting stuck on an interstate. So we took off driving to Tennessee as one of us navigated the back roads of pig paths (a term I was unfamiliar with). When we got close to the line of totality, we saw a sign for a state park and pulled over. The state park was full, we were redirected to the overflow, a podunk air strip in the middle of somewhere Teneesee.

There we set up make-shift camp with 300 strangers. 100 of them had flown in on private jets. Some of them were in beat up, barely running pickups. There were pregnant women, there were newborns, there were those at the end of their life. There were Kentuckians, Tennesseans, Northerners, and Southerners.

And it was safe. The entry to the airfield was marked by make-shift plastic with a handwritten sign and a volunteer asking people not to walk out on the airtsrip if they didn’t have a plane. The twelve-year olds roamed free while interviewing folk for their YouTube Channel. There was no chain-link, razor-wire, armed guards, or riot gear. We were just there, one humanity, to experience together the extraordinary gift that Mother Nature was about to offer.

I’ve seen a lot of natural phenomena in my life. Moonbows, moon rises, sunrises, sunsets, dust storms, canyons, waterfalls, and all that God’s creation has to offer. None of it compares to a total eclipse.

At 1:31, the sky went completely dark. Folks took off their glasses and looked at the sun with naked eyes. There were oohs, ahhs, gasps, yells, tears, cries, yelps, and silence. The sight was so breathtaking, that hundreds of people let out emotion in whatever way they felt led, and they did so without judgement. For two minutes and thirty-one seconds we stood together. There was no male, female, black, white, or brown. There was no rich or poor, alt-right or alt-left, there was no straight, gay, transgendered, or bisexual, pro-choice, or pro-life.There was no Christian, no Atheist, No Muslim. There was just humanity, basking in the presence of an inexplicable phenomenon which caused the day to be night, and the sun to be viewed with the naked eye, and a 360 degree panoramic sunset of extraordinary and unbelievable colors.

On the ride home, we seemed changed. We seemed different. No one commented on the National Guardsperson, was a National Guardswoman, or the fact that she was clearly born in a country other than America. No one mentioned the transgendered woman and her partner who were in the car next to us. No one wondered what life on a private jet was like. Or, why the family next to us didn’t have enough funds to buy a car that like it ran. Despite our age, we spoke the same language of music. We listened to a podcast on breathe and life together. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain our experience.

This Sunday, in the Episcopal Church, we will pray a prayer that says, “Grant, O merciful God that your church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name.” For those of us studying Track 2, we will read the words from Isaiah 51, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” They are deep words that remind us we were all created from one place, one rock, one earth.

For just a moment on Monday, we were gathered in unity. We remembered we were all hewn from the same rock. We sat in awe, united by the beauty of creation. I pray we have the courage to stand in the light and remember in the days to come.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Dear Muslims, Immigrants, and Airport Detainees,

I have a message about salvation in Jesus Christ. If you have lived in the United States for any period of time, you have probably received a lot of those messages. However, this one is not about your salvation, it is about mine.

This morning, I read Matthew 5:1-12 to my congregation. It is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ teachings. It begins,
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
As I sit in the safe comfort of my warm apartment, I realize this is not a message for me. This is a message for you. This is a message for those of you who have traveled from war-torn homelands to create a better life and have nothing left but a few bags, faith, and hope. May you know the Kingdom of Heaven is with you, that God is with you. This is a message for you who mourn the loss of everything you knew - your home, your families, your village. May you be comforted. This is for you who hunger and thirst for a better way, a newer life, a life filled with hope, love, joy, life, and opportunity. May you be filled. This is for you, who have been persecuted in this country, who have been given sideways glances, who have been told to go home to a place which is not your home. May you know that God’s kingdom belongs to you. This scripture is for those of you who have been singled out, bullied, and had nasty things said you. This is for you who have stood up and offered words of mercy, forgiveness and kindness even in the midst of your struggle to be heard as true Americans. The mercy of God is with you.

This scripture is for you. As a priest in Christ’s church I bless you and say to you, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you, may the Lord turn his face upon you and give you peace, and may the blessing of God be with you this day and always.” I want to bless you and I want to thank you.

One of the most popular teachings of the Christian faith is the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:29-37. The story is about a man who walked from one city to another in his own country. While in transit he was robbed, stripped of clothing, beaten, and left for dead. One would assume someone would have come to the rescue. The priest walked by and didn’t help. A man of the same religious upbringing walked by and didn’t help. But the Samaritan, the foreigner, the person not welcome in the man’s country stopped, saved the man, took care of him, and showed him mercy. The story ends with Jesus’ question, “Which of these three, was a neighbor?” and the answer, “The one who showed him mercy.”

We often forget that this story comes to teach us about who is our neighbor. Even those in our society who do not claim to be Christian can state the Golden Rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the preface for the Good Samaritan. Right before the story of the Good Samaritan we read this -
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. -Luke 10:25-30.

It is Jesus way of telling us everyone is our neighbor, that you are our neighbor, and that you have lessons to teach us about the way in which we are saved. So, today, I want to thank you for the ways in which you have taught me about my salvation in the last few weeks.

1. You have shown mercy. Despite insults thrown at you for wearing your hijabs in public, despite having your family detained at airports, despite being asked to “go home” (even though you were born here), you have responded with mercy, kindness, and understanding. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

2. You are peacemakers. Time and time again, you have boldly stood between hundreds of people who do not understand you and proclaimed that being a Muslim is not the same as being a jihadist, that being a Muslim is not the same as being a part of ISIS. Time and time again, you have composed yourself, rid yourself of anger, and shown us what true peace looks like. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

3. You are pure in heart. You pray for forgiveness, guidance, and peace FIVE TIMES A DAY. Enough said. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

You are my neighbor, my friend, my Samaritan, and the one who reminds me how to act out the sermon on the Mount. I’m thankful for your witness and your blessing.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

What Would Jesus Vote?

So many times in our Christian life hot button topics of abortion and same-sex marriage monopolize our voting agenda.The way in which we vote for or against same-sex marriage or abortion involves deep wrestling with our relationship with a divine creator and the world around us. And, yet, these are not the only agenda items we have Christian obligation to vote for or against. As Christians, this makes voting complicated. There may not be a perfect candidate for all our values. But there are agendas, laws, and candidates within our cities, states, and nations which may better reflect those things we value because of our faith in Christ.

In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus has returned from hanging out with the devil in the wilderness, Jesus walks into the synagogue, full up on Holy Spirit and gives his mission statement for his ministry. Quoting Isaiah 61 he boldly proclaims the words - “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). For the rest of his ministry we see Jesus practicing this mission statement. As followers of Christ, we seek to pattern our lives by his example. So here are some issues Jesus would have voted for (not including same-sex marriage or abortion).

Jesus would have voted…

#1. AGAINST FEAR. I am told that “do not fear” appears 365 times in the Bible. Miraculously, one for everyday of the week. While I have not counted myself, I do know, “do not fear” comes up a lot in my own readings. This year, our church is reading Luke and I am struck over and over again by how many times Jesus says “Do not be Afraid.” When angels appear to Zechariah, Mary, and the Shepherds, the Lord says “Do not be afraid.” When the fisherman are called to be disciples the Lord says, “Do not be afraid.” When the Disciples are stuck on a stormy boat at sea, “Do not be afraid.” Even when it looks like an impending political situation would cause death, Jesus tells the disciples to not fear. Jesus votes against fear.

#2.FOR GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR. If there is one thing the Bible speaks about more than being fearless, it is the treatment of the poor. Jesus was sent to give good news to the poor, and part of that good news was encouraging those of us who have to share with those who do not have. Jesus calls us to sell what we have and give to the poor, reminds us that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, and tells us crazy things like it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus calls and encourages us to share and distribute our possessions to the poor. It is a non-negotiable value within Christ’s mission statement. Closing education gaps in poor school districts? Absolutely! Changing the tax system so that it favors the poor over the rich? Yep. Jesus would vote for the poor.

#3. FOR RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND AND HEALING FOR ALL. Have you ever noticed how Jesus isn’t picky about who he heals? If you read through the gospels you get a sense of Jesus’ universal healing nature. People who talk smack about him, get healed. People who no one else wanted to touch or pay attention to, get healed. Hated tax collectors, get healed. Alleged prostitutes and women, get healed. Even the Centurion's son, get’s healed. Jesus is not picky about who gets healed and he didn’t ask for an insurance card. Could Jesus be the first proponent of universal healthcare? Jesus votes for health.

#4. FOR RELEASE OF THE CAPTIVES. When Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61, about “the year of the Lord’s favor” he is calling us into the Year of Jubilee. A year of ultimate Sabbath to be held every 49 years when debts are forgiven, slaves are returned to their homes, and even the land is released from the burden that it carries. The year of the Lord’s favor, calls each of us to question how, why, and how long our judicial system incarcerates. It also calls us to remember that our land and natural resources need a rest from the way in which we hold them in captivity. Jesus votes pro-environment, for the prisoners, and proclaims the Lord’s favor on all.

#5. FOR THE REFUGEE. Remember how Jesus and his family fled from their country of origin to escape religious and political persecution from a horrible King Herod? Or that verse about how I was naked and you clothed me, a stranger and you invited me in? Yes to those who need housing! Yes to those who need clothes! Yes to those who need a place to lay their head! Yes to the stranger among our midst!

#6. FOR RESPECT FOR PEOPLE. Most people know at least four great Jesus stories - The birth narrative, the resurrection story, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan. You know the Good Samaritan - the story where the man from Jerusalem was traveling in his own country and was beat up, robbed, and left in a ditch to die. And the people who were expected to save him, the priest and levite who belonged to the man’s religious tradition, didn’t touch him. They walked on by. But the Samaritan, the guy who no one liked, the guy with questionable religious practices, the foreigner who knew no one, was moved with pity and stopped and helped the man. That story starts with Jesus reminding us of the two greatest commandments - to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is Jesus telling us a story about how the person we are least likely to perceive as our neighbor is actually the one we need to love most deeply. Jesus votes for those who are different than us, nationally and religiously. Jesus votes for respect and dignity for all neighbors, even those we don’t view as neighborly.

#7. WHEN THEY GO LOW, WE GO HIGH. I am not going to argue whether or not this is happening in this election. But, I will say, this sounds like something Jesus would say. In fact, this is something Jesus said. “‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31).

Pray. Vote. Discern. Go out on November 8th. Read your papers, do the research and let your vote reflect the values and beliefs you hold dear. In prayer and discernment, may we commend ourselves, one another, our vote, and all our life, to Christ our God.

Helpful Prayers for Election Day.

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 822).

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State/Commonwealth, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 820).

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 816).

Friday, March 25, 2016

News from the Tomb

If you ask me where I’ve been, I’ll tell you, “In the tomb.”

My amateur blogging career is sporadic at best. I started blogging as part of a 2013 New Year’s Resolution. My resolution was to blog at least once a month and only blog if I actually had something worth reading. That lasted a few months, then life got hard and I went underground. Then life got really, really hard and went to the tomb.

I went to the tomb the day my marriage surprisingly and suddenly ended. I went into the tomb the day my life partner of nine-years left, the day my hope for a family died, the day my life as I knew it died. I went and crawled up next to a dead Jesus, cried, and died myself.

My faith died in that tomb. Who I thought I was as a wife died in that tomb. My hopes and dreams died in that tomb. A life I had spent my adulthood building died in that tomb. My closest friendships died in that tomb. And I spent months, depressed, sleeping, crying in that tomb. Some days, Jesus and I talked, but most of the time, things were just dead. I spent a lot of time in bed and I spent a lot of time staring at a blank wall in my therapist’s office - which, incidentally, is painted tomb-color.

For those of you following the RCL readings for Holy Week, you will know that on Tuesday, we read these words from the Gospel of John, Chapter 12.
Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.
-John 12: 23-26, NRSV

Earlier this week, my therapist and I met to bury my marriage. We gathered on the outskirts of the cemetery, thirty-feet away from tombstones which read, “Love always” and “Together Forever” and “Love Endures.” I could have closed my eyes and thrown a rock and hit engraved, intertwined wedding bands on a tombstone in whatever direction I chose. Even the “Lovins” were buried within our line of vision. I can't make this stuff up.

I sat on cold dark earth with a shovel in my hand overlooking a valley filled with wind-blown, winter cemetery trash and dead trees not-quite-yet budding blooms of spring. My therapist said some words. I looked at her and said, “This is ridiculous.. Are we in a Lifetime movie?”

And then, I started weeding. Tearing out the way in which things terribly and tragically ended. Throwing out unwanted trash of the dark pieces of my soul. Remembering how I was uprooted. Destroying the shame of being divorced. Digging out the ways I was made to feel responsible.
And I dug and dug deeper and deeper into my anger, sadness, grief, fear, and darkness.

I planted a bulb. A dormant vine of hope in the middle of a hopeless winter. A seed which contained beauty and love. A seed which remembered laughter, love, joy, and life; a seed that is laughter, love, joy, and life; a seed that will be laughter, love, joy, and life.  And I gave thanks for all the ways my marriage held laughter, love, joy, and life. For my current relationships of laughter, love, joy, and life. And for the ways I hope to find those relationships in the future.

I buried the bulb. Amidst dark earth I buried the anger, sadness, grief, fear, and darkness I had just un-dug. I prayed with all my heart, that in the depth of that large, recently dug hole, new life would sprout forth again for both myself and my former husband.

I watered. I poured clean water over the sins of the past. I washed away hatred. I asked for forgiveness. And I looked forward to spring - new life, new growth, new beauty.

It no longer felt like a Lifetime movie, it felt real. And I thought, “That Jesus, he really knew what he was talking about.” He knew what he was talking about when he said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be also.”

Easter is on it’s way. New life, resurrection, are on their way. I know because I’ve seen Jesus in the tomb. But I also know, he didn’t stay there for long and he didn’t allow me to stay there for long.  I know because I've been there and I believe. I believe in Jesus Christ who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried. Who descended into the dead. On the third day he rose again, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

If you need proof, there’s a vine on the outside of a cemetery about to sprout up. The packaging on the bulb said, “Guaranteed.”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Today is not about MY family

Dear Mass Media,

Today is not about MY family. Today, for the first time in my life, I find myself watching television on Christmas. As I watch commercial after commercial, you say, "the holidays are all about family." The commercials are followed by beautiful stories of families reunited after prison, illness, and living far away. The implication is that Christmas is about my family. 

American media, you are wrong. For the first time in thirty-six years, I have come to the realization that Christmas is not about MY family. It is Christmas Day. I have no husband because he walked out on me. I am not surrounded by nieces, nephews, and countless loving in-laws. My sisters are in two different cities. Today, my mother and I have taken shifts with my dying grandmother. My family life feels destroyed, in shambles, and turned upside down. 

And yet, last night, despite MY family, Christ was born. Because this is where Chris is born - into messiness and brokenness instead of picture perfectness. He is born in a barn instead of a clean hotel. He is born into the literal feces of our mucked up lives. He comes to comfort those who mourn, feed those who are hungry, and to release the captive. He comes to bring peace, love, honor, wonder and hope. In a world where we are often hard on ourselves and others, he is born an infant of sweet tenderness. 

I am not saying Christ is not present in a perfect family picture, gathered around a table of ham. Christ always gathers where people call on his name. However, if we think Christmas is about OUR family instead of THE family, we may miss the point.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Puppy Crying: Christian or Southern Behavior?

An inter-web confession: I dropped a puppy and I feel awful.

Last Sunday, after I was leaving church a beautiful couple was walking through our parish parking lot. In tow, they had a six week old puppy. I love puppies! Who doesn’t? In the midst of striking up conversation, I crouched on the ground, distractedly playing with the puppy. They asked if I wanted to pick the puppy up. Of course I wanted to pick the puppy up. So I did. We chatted. And then, I dropped the puppy. In reality, the puppy preformed a dare-devil leap out of my arms, but it felt like I dropped the puppy.

The puppy hurt. It laid on the ground it cried. I felt terrible. The couple tried to calm me down, explaining that it had performed similar feats for others. They would use ice. It would be okay. But I left wondering what damage I had done – Would the puppy recover? Had it had a concussion? Would it have some sort of brain injury? There was no blood, but that puppy fell four feet and it was ugly.

We are not puppies. Unlike that precious puppy, who only had the vocabulary of whimpering, we have words to articulate the ugliness of our pain. We can say where exactly the pain is, what feelings it brings up, and what damage has been done. Although we may not be able to articulate all of that all of the time, we can, for the most part, articulate some of that some of the time. Over and over again this week, I have been confronted with the pain we have caused others and the pain we ourselves feel from the actions of others.

What is surprising to me is that we don’t often use our words. Just like the whimpering puppy, we often do not share outside our inner groaning. Sometimes the pain is too deep, sometimes we ignore it, sometimes we choose not to articulate it. I was reminded this week, by Kay Collier McLaughlin (Deputy for Communications and Leadership Development in our Diocese), that expressing our feelings of hurt is CHRISTIAN behavior. Often, in the South, we confuse being nice with being Christian. This is not always the case. Jesus, who we believe to be our ultimate example, used his words and actions to tell people he was angry when the temple had become a “den of robbers” instead of a “house of prayer” (Matthew 21). When the people of Israel were impatient from waiting too long on Moses, and God, they made a golden calf instead, and God expressed anger (Exodus 32). When the king threw a great wedding banquet and sent his servants out to invite people, his servants were seized, mistreated and killed. And the king was enraged (Matthew 22). Over and over again, scripture gives us examples of how we, God, and Jesus may express anger, hurt, and sadness to those who cause us pain. It doesn’t sound Southern, but it might sound Christian.

I am surprised that in nine full-time church ministry years, very few people have approached me to say, “When you did X, I felt angry.” In nine years of ministry, it would be impossible for me to think that I have not unintentionally hurt anyone. If I can unintentionally drop a puppy on one Sunday, I know I have unintentionally dropped numerous human feelings. Those conversations would not surprise me, and I would welcome them in order to reconcile people to me and towards God. I would treasure those conversations because they would give me an opportunity to grow, to become a better person, and to be closer to the person God desires me to be. If we don’t state our feelings, we don’t give the other person the opportunity to change.

God has gifted us a wonderful vocabulary of feeling words to express our pain. Psychology has given us wonderful tools to express those in ways without further hurt to our neighbor. Anyone, who has ever met with a counselor, knows how to use I statements. “When you did X, I felt Y.” God has given us permission to feel, psychology an example of how to state those feelings. Using a statement which owns your feelings without placing all the blame on the other person, is the perfect medium between Christian truth and Southern nicety. May you and I use our vocabulary for reconciliation, to make the world a better place, and to live into the people we are constantly being created to be.

And for all the dropped puppies out there, I am sorry. I truly am.

Further reading: Kay Collier McLaughlin, Becoming the Transformative Church: Beyond Sacred Cows, Fantasies, and Fears (New York: Morehouse, 2013). 

Monday, September 22, 2014

God's Healing is Yellow

Many moons ago, I had a particular experience in ministry that was particularly hurtful to me. It is not important what the exact experience was. What is important is how God’s grace healed me.

For years, I carried around what I call hurtful experience. It ate at me. It poisoned me. I was not able to let it go. In early December 2013, I made a conscious decision to let it go. I prayed, I discerned, but it would not go away. I tried my best to release hurtful experience on the Zumba dance floor. To no avail, I ended up with a debilitating, slow-healing, painful case of tendentious of the hip. Like Jacob wrestling with God in the Jabbok, I was wrestling with God over letting hurtful experience go, and I would not get up until God gave God’s blessing.

December, February, March, and April I wrestled with God, hurting hip and all. At the end of April, I attended retreat with female ministers sponsored by the Kentucky Council of Churches with funds provided by the Lilly Foundation. It was during this retreat, my wrestling ended and my hip was healed.

The purpose of the grant funds were to ensure that ministers were taking care of themselves by receiving hospitality and healing through peer groups. As givers of constant hospitality and healing, ministers do not often allow themselves spaces of grace, or finances to treat themselves to instances of hospitality. And so, off to the spa our group went.

Laying on the massage table, the therapist begins to vigorously work my hip. It hurts. It hurts like hell. I want to scream, but there is a colleague receiving a massage next to me, so I do not. A tear falls to the ground. The therapist continues to push. And as she pushes, the Spirit says to me- “Let it go. Let the hurtful experience go. Another tear.

She pushes more and more, and I start to let it out. The therapist moves down my leg, and as she does, I see a vision. A vision of myself, standing in a large open field. The field is full of yellow flowers. Janquils, yellow rod, daises, speckle the spring green grass. A bubbling spring runs behind me with clear water. It is peaceful. The sun is shining down upon me. I am ultimately, blissfully happy. I am dancing, twirling in a circle with a wide smile, holding a yellow flower.

The music in the spa changes. It is a rendition of “It is Well with my Soul.” My heart sings –
When peace like a river attendeth my soul
When sorrows like sea billows roll
 Whatever my lot, though has taught me to say
 It is well, it is well with my soul.

Thanks be to God, I feel well for the first time in months. It is gone, hurtful experience  is gone.

The vision continues. The dream calls me to the water behind me. It calls me to write hurtful experience on a piece of paper and float it down the river.  So, in my dream, I do. And as that paper floats away, so do the years of anger, contempt, and struggle. The music in the spa changes,
When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Yeah there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Five days after the celebration of Jesus resurrection, I sit, naked under my own shroud. Like the tomb, the spa is dark. Like Jesus’ broken body, I am draped in white cloth. 
            But Lord, tis for thee, thy coming we wait
            The sky not the grave is our goal.
            Oh trump of the angel, oh voice of the Lord
            Blessed hope, it is well with my soul.

Like the excitement of the Disciple’s who do not find Jesus in the tomb, I am ecstatic. Naked before God, I want to run, skip, jump through the fields praising God’s healing power. Like the man at the pool of Bethzada, I am ready to stand up and walk.
            And the Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
            The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
            The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
            Even so, It is well with my soul.

I am ready to rise, yet I cannot. I sit. Stunned by amazing grace. I cannot move. Tears flow, tears of joy and more joy. Tears of a new baptism, a remembrance of my calling as a minister to Christ’s church. Tears that I am God’s beloved child. And so I lay, peaceful. Non-moving, unable to arise from my state of new birth, enjoying the warmth of my burial shroud. Let it be.

 Later that afternoon, our group returns to our cabin. I already know that God plans my afternoon for more quiet. Members of my group go to take naps and prayer time. I walk. Carrying a journal, prayer book, and my colored pencils in hand, I travel away from our cabin. This is a new place for me, I’ve never ventured there before. But I have the sense, in God’s providence, there is a stream, and yellow flowers. I follow a stream to a large field. It is a baseball field, not a meadow. There are no yellow flowers, but is close enough.

I sit. I write. I write about “It is Well” and “Let it be.” I draw my vision – yellow flowers, me dancing, sun shining, the stream behind me. When I am finished, I write hurtful experience on a piece of paper. I walk over to the stream and I drop it in.

At first  hurtful experience moves slowly. It stops and pools. Then, it begins to run quickly over rapids. Like a child, I follow it with joy. Like an adult, I follow it pensively. My anger towards hurtful experience has become such a defining factor for my life, it feels like I am letting go all of me. Again, the paper floats slowly, then more rapids. I run, but I am blocked from its sight by a group of trees. When I reach the other side, the paper is gone – swallowed by deep cleansing waters.
            It is gone. I am not sure I am ready for hurtful experience to be gone, but it is gone. I thank God – for helping me to let go of the anger, the resentment, the unkind words, the hateful feelings I have towards the people involved in the hurtful experience.  I say goodbye, and I give thanks to God for healing. And, then, I see them! A great bunch of yellow daises growing between two rocks, planted directly between my two feet. Yellow flowers, given to me, on this day, by God, just for me.

I turn to walk back to the cabin. It is the field of my vision. Not visible before on my walk down, but everywhere on my return to the cabin – yellow flowers. Daises, natural violets, goldenrod, dandelions. Flowers everywhere, and they are all yellow. Thanks be to God, they are all yellow!

Art credits to Cliff Sullivan, Lexington, Kentucky. The picture does not do the painting justice.