May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.
The desert us the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man. It is the scene of the exodus. You do not settle there, you pass through. One then ventures on to these tracks because one is driven by the Spirit towards the Promised Land. But it is only promised to those who are able to chew sand for forty years without doubting their invitation to the feast in the end. — Alessandro Pronzato
The collect (or prayer) for this past Sunday—the Sixth Sunday of Easter:
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: our into our hearts such love towards you, that we, love you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As I heard that prayer read out loud—Christine, our sabbatical supply priest, presided at the service so she read it—I was overcome by the expression both of love and of God’s preparation of good things that surpass our understanding. As I embark on this sabbatical, I am so overwhelmed by that love I’ve felt both by God and the people of St. Mark’s and our wider community. This grand adventure has many good things already, so I cannot begin to fathom how it may surpass my understanding!
At the end of the service on Sunday, Christine called me up and had the assembled body lay hands on me. Those in the front row and in the choir, directly and those who couldn’t reach me themselves put their hand on the person in front of them, stretching all the way back in that packed church. My eyes welled up when she began praying for me, words I do not recall, but I know they were beautiful.
A circle of love surrounded me.
I will carry that feeling with me in the days ahead, and cannot wait to experience and share the many good things of this summer sabbatical.
Any new beginning in one’s life involves a dissatisfaction with the past and a call to something new. It can be as unsettling as exciting. The Desert Christians learned that wilderness had a way of abruptly putting them in their place. It awakened them to a mystery that had no regard for their self-importance, yet welcomed them with an astounding love. Their entry into a life shaped by the desert required a stout readiness to commit, a weathering of disappointment, and a birth of irresistible desire.”
“Part of the grandeur of wilderness is that it cares so little about the things that absorb us so much. We find glorious, disarming indifference in its grand vistas and hidden niches. It shares its gifts with a prodigal extravagance, even as it ignores our imagined self importance. … Accepting what is—for what it is—is the place to start.” — From Backpacking with the Saints, Belden Lane
I have a confession to make: I didn’t get it all done.
This sabbatical I’m about to embark on has been in the planning for about a couple of years, and since last Fall I’ve been earnestly making lists of things that needed to be accomplished before I left, both personal and professional. Updates that I wanted to conclude, tasks to work through, projects to complete. I had fitness goals to achieve, cluttered spaces to be organized, and home improvement undertakings to finish. Of course there were the regular aspects of my job, the joy of meeting some of you to grab a cup of coffee over at Red Barn. The pastoral concerns that have emerged in the past couple of months, communicating the exciting things happening here at St. Mark’s, searching for a youth director. Add to that the personal things: sports and music activities for the kids, supporting Melissa in her doctoral program, dinners to cook.
The picture I had in my mind grew to fantastical levels: I would be the male equivalent of the Proverbs 31 woman. Going to bed late at night, and rising before the sun, I would do more things than humanly possible all before I set out on this adventure of a lifetime. (And a friendly reminder, that the woman described in Proverbs 31 is actually Wisdom personified, but I digress.) The image I held up for myself was utter perfection.
To imagine that you know, to populate the unknown with projections, is very different from knowing that you don’t, and the old maps depict both states of mind, the Shangri-las and terra incognitas, the unknown northwest coast and the imagined island of California (whose west coast was nevertheless drawn in with some accurate details and names). When someone doesn’t show up, the people who wait sometimes tell stories about what might have happened and come to half believe the desertion, the abduction, the accident.”
“Worry is a way to pretend you have knowledge or control over what you don’t—and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown. Perhaps fantasy is what you fill up maps with rather than saying that they too contain the unknown.” — Rebbeca Solnit from A Field Guide to Getting Lost
One of my favorite Disney characters is Edna Mode, the designer of superhero suits from “The Incredibles,” who also answers simply to “E.” The not so average Bob and Helen Parr—better known as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl—have been underground in their forced retirement from super hero work, and both have reason to visit her. Bob to repair his old suit which has gotten a tear—and that E will only fix if she can design him a new suit.
While cleaning one day when Bob is out of town, Helen notices the stitched up sleeve on that old suit and wonders what Bob is up to. While at E’s mansion, it dawns on Helen that she doesn’t know where Bob currently is in addition to the midlife crisis he’s been having. Ultimately, Helen breaks down, sobbing. We see Edna holding a roll of toilet paper for Helen to use as Kleenex, as she recounts the recent past. Edna puts down the roll, and grabs a newspaper to push the used tissues into the trash.
If we reflect a moment, we will see that to fly into the desert in order to be extraordinary is only to the world with you as an implicit standard of comparison. The result would be nothing but self-contemplation, and self-comparison with the negative standard of the world one had abandoned. Some of the monks of the Desert did this, as a matter of fact: and the only fruit of their trouble was that they went out of their heads.
The simple men who lived their lives out to a good old age among the rocks and sands only did so because they had come into the desert to be themselves, their ordinary selves, and to forget the world that divided them from themselves. There can be no other valid reason for seeking solitude or leave the world. And thus to leave the world is, in fact, to help save it in saving oneself.
—Thomas Merton from The Wisdom of the Desert
Frankly, it was bound to happen. Last weekend while doing a training hike, I twisted my ankle.
I had been making good time, getting my legs under me on a longish trail up Mt. Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire. A couple of days before it had rained and rained and rained. The trail still glistened in spots, especially on the steeper inclines when it clearly had been the designated run off route for the water.
I took my time there, of course. I’m no fool.
But on the trail just beyond it, about two miles in on a nine mile hike, my right foot slid on a rock as I descended in a small area. At the same time, my left foot got jammed, hyperextending my toes back toward the front of my shin, and putting a significant amount of pressure on my ankle. I yelped.
Anyone here ever read Charlotte’s Web? While many of you may remember the overall plot of EB White’s classic book, I suspect the beginning has gotten a bit fuzzy for most of you. Fern—the delightful girl who befriends the farm animals—sleepily asks where her Pa is going with the ax one morning when she come down for breakfast. Her mother explains that some pigs were born overnight and that one of pigs is a runt. “It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything,” her mother says. “So your father has decided to do away with it.” Fern will have nothing to do with this and wakes up quickly. She runs down to the barn lickity split and stops her dad from killing that poor pig. Later that day while she’s at school she decides to name him Wilbur, and she takes wonderful care of him. It’s only later, after that pig has grown quite a bit, that Wilbur makes his way to Zuckerman’s farm up the road.
Wilbur soon discovers that farms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. He can’t find a friend to play with among the other animals and loneliness sets in. He cries himself to sleep one night when a voice tells him that in the morning she will be his friend. At the sliver of dawn, he asks all of the other animals if they were the one who had spoken to him the night before, but they all tell him to go away. Finally the same voice calls out to Wilbur, “Salutations!” White describes what happened next in this way, “Wilbur jumped to his feet. ‘Salu-what?’ he cried. ‘Salutations’ repeated the voice. ‘What are they, and where are you?’ screamed Wilbur. ‘Please, please, tell we where you are. And what are salutations?’ ‘Salutations are greetings,’ said the voice. ‘When I say “salutations,” it’s just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.’” It’s how Charlotte meets Wilbur.