Friday, June 27, 2014

Tell Me, Why Are You Here?

 "I read your blog last night," he said as I stepped onto the front porch with my book. "And I just cannot figure out why a United Methodist pastor like you would want to spend a week at a Trappist Monastery. Don't you have United Methodist retreat facilities?"

I paused for a moment before responding. I could not tell from the tone of his voice if he was offended by something in my blog. Did he think I was too progressive in my thinking to be spending the week at the monastery? Or was he just curious?

"I really appreciated what you wrote," he continued as I breathed a sigh of relief. "And you'll have to forgive me, as I noted your name on the board and looked you up."

I then started to respond to his question.

Something happens to me every time I turn right onto Cool Spring Lane, the monastery's driveway. I started coming to this place several years ago, not long after I had first been appointed to my church. The monks start most of their services in the chapel with the words, "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me." These words have held many meanings for me.

In the early years of my appointment, I was longing for any kind of help. I was seemingly wandering in the wilderness with a task so great that I was desperate for all the help I could get. I had been appointed to turn around a church that was close to closure and had no idea where to start. I came to Holy Cross to pray, to find a sense of normalcy in the pattern of the days, to hear God's voice.

It then became my practice to travel to Berryville every Lent. I would come the week before Holy Week. The same prayer would be spoken, "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me." During these times, I was desperate for a rockin' Easter sermon that would mesmerize the Easter crowds. I would devour books by NT Wright and carefully craft sermons for Holy Week and Easter.

There have been other times when I've read six books while here (I read four this week) and then planned an entire year's worth of sermons (I also planned sermons through July 19 of next year!). The prayer is still the same when the object of my time is such a task, "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me."

My time at Holy Cross became such an important rhythm of my year that our Staff Parish Relations Committee held me accountable to coming. They even made me come just before marriage - making sure I was led beside still waters as a way of preparing me for such an important covenant.

This week is a little different. I came here this week to actually write a book. I used to describe myself as  "Writer Wanna Be," and I'm ready to write. I'm ready to make the dream a reality. I have stories to tell about the journey I've been on with my congregation during the last nine years. The book will read like fiction - sad, funny, honest and heart-filled - but it will all be true. My prayer is that it can be both a companion and a resource for pastors and congregations who are being led to dream a new dream for God's church. I thought I had a clearly marked path for my time at the monastery this week. I've written three chapters, something I now realize is like birthing a child - it's hard and painful. And yet, God had different plans for my week.

God knew we needed to fall in love with each other all over again.

My heart and soul have been the stage on which an intense battle has been unfolding between my ego and God. My ego has done everything possible to put God in God's place, to lead me off into the sunset where life is more about me than anything else - where my dreams of becoming a respected writer and speaker are fulfilled. I still believe God is going to use me in this capacity. I believe writing is part of my vocation - that it needs to accompany my first vocation of pastor. But what God has showed me this week is how God has been longing to hear the very same cry coming from my lips, "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me." God has been longing to take over the battle - to show me that it's not one in which I need to be involved but rather one I need to let go of completely. God has been doing everything possible to show me in a million possible ways of how God is at work in my life and in the life of our congregation. And so I'm preparing to leave - but only after rededicating my heart and life to Christ. I'm ready to journey again knowing that my soul desire is to be used - an empty vessel ready to be filled and then poured out for others - that they might know the joy I've found in Christ.

I've never been to the monastery at any time in the year other than Lent. The scenery is fully alive. Every living thing seems to be proclaiming the glory of the Lord - from the sunset to the bunny in the yard to the little white skunk found along the fence last night. It's a rather gorgeous thing to proclaim the glory of the Lord - don't you think?

I'm ready to go and do the same.

One thing I know for sure - God always keeps God's promises. Thank you, God.

1 comment:

Dred Scott said...