Staying the course and adapting to change. Staying the course and envisioning 10 years down the road. Staying the course and living one day at a time. Staying the course and trusting that God wants good things for us. Staying the course and being flexible to learning and growing and receiving new information that may renew our thoughts and spirits. I’m aware that a paradox ain’t just two fowl-feathered friends walking down the street together! snort
All of that. Where I find myself on this threshold of October . . . OCTOBER! I walked our Labyrinth last Sunday morning after outdoor worship. It was misting and while we did get worship in before the huge drops came that brought 2” to our lawns, praise Jesus, it was thickly misting as I made my way through prayer and reflection and breathing and being breathed into through our labyrinth. I didn’t know I needed it, til I did. I’m not sure why I went up there. I started back to the building as the last human because I stayed and safe-distance conversed with folks after the service til even Chandler and his crew had taken all the worship stuff back in, is anyone surprised? It was kind of damp-cold, not really cold-cold, and I started back toward the building to the warm and dry, but then I simply turned around. And there was the labyrinth.
I took one step, and then another, and then another. I thought about the people to whom we are saying goodbye in these growing shorter days – fall is a bittersweet season already. I prayed in humble awareness of those who are confronting chronic illness with such courage and tenacity and realism that I pale in the face of their strength. I laughed out loud at a video of cats taking over dog beds from dogs large enough that the cats would be an appetizer but attitude, oh sorry “cattitude.” No, I can’t stay serious the WHOLE way through the labyrinth – sorry Pastors Cheryl and Shelly – my spiritual labyrinth heroins. smile I mused about how many different opinions there are on every issue of the day and the influence social media has on all of it. I gave thanks for life, for grace and Grace, for family and friends and colleagues and co-workers, for neighbors and firepits and legs that yet carry me on walks and runs and through labyrinth paths.
At the center I sat down on the bench. I breathed deeply of God’s goodness without the racket, either internal or external, and exhaled some of the sadness, a bit of the stress, and the worry of the day about the rain coming too soon for outdoor worship to have happened. I breathed deeply of the beauty of the hands and hearts that created this spiritual walk and those who have worked so hard to renew it in these days of great need. I exhaled the concern about schedules and timelines and data and steps forward and steps back and exact right answers when nothing is exactly right. And I breathed deeply the privilege to worship alone, or in a crowd, online or in person, walking a labyrinth or walking down center aisles of sanctuaries. Because it is you know, a privilege to worship this God who knows us by name. I FB’ed with those of you toward the end of the online service, thankful we can connect in that way and thought how odd to be sitting in the middle of a labyrinth typing messages on a too smart phone to one another on FB in response to a finishing worship service there. When I slow down, the peculiarity of all that sometimes hits me. Maybe you too?
It finally became chilly enough and the mist started turning to drops and I wondered if Pastors Cheryl and Shelly would knit their brows together if, because of inclement weather only, I walked across the labyrinth stones directly rather than retracing my steps back out into the world in a reflective and more peaceful manner. I won’t tell them what I chose if you won’t!
God’s sacred timing is confusing when you’re living in the midst of the journey without yet the benefit of hindsight. It happens all the way through our scriptures. One of the most poignant comes from the story of Abraham and Sarah’s twins Esau and Jacob. This part of the story begins the first night and morning Jacob is on his own after running from the only community and home he’s ever known. His twin brother and eldest, Esau, wants to kill him. Jacob has stolen the blessing from their father Abraham which rightfully always belongs to the eldest son. Jacob will not return for 20 years and will experience years full of struggle and celebration, or as we like to call it, life, without knowing when or if he will return. On the first night alone Jacob sleeps and has a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder between earth and heaven, and God’s voice comes to him saying, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” And upon waking up, Jacob says, “Surely the Lord in in this place – and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:15-16, NRSV). How often I have said those words myself upon getting perspective of a situation I could not see until after I “woke up.”
Today I want to say that I’m ready to wake up now. I’m ready for whatever dream this is to be over and for whatever comes next to be made clear. But it’s not that time evidently, at least not yet because I’m not certain there is much clarity about much. Can I, can we, envision God’s presence with us? Can we open ourselves to the communication of God’s affirmation through Jesus that we are not alone and won’t be alone because God is faithful to God’s promises? Are we living through that first night when it all seems darkness? And can we remember the dream? The one that reminds us that God’s ladder is still connected from heaven to earth and angels are still ascending and descending on it because God’s presence is yes, still in this place. And one day, 2 years, 10 years, 20 years? Might it be possible we will look back to 2020 and say together, “Surely God was in this place and we did not know it.”
So we will stay the course for today and for a vision long beyond today. We will stay the course to worship in every adaptable and flexible way we can because it is nothing less than a privilege to humbly visit and be visited by God’s goodness. We will stay the course and learn new things about one another and our world. We will stay the course and life will happen in sorrow and joy, in struggle and celebration. We will stay the course because finally and surely, God is in this place, even when sometimes we simply do not know it.