Nearing the End

I’m down to just a few more days in my sabbatical. I saw a few parishioners around town and in the parking lot last week as I was home with my family (who has returned to full school year mode). This week I’m tenting at a campsite near Acadia National Park, soaking in a last few days of the outdoors at a time when I’m usually in full getting things done mode at our parish with a return to an active schedule.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

There’s a light rain today; I’m sitting under a tarp at the picnic table. I’ve been reading a book this morning on wilderness spirituality as a drank my coffee.

And I’m feeling very grateful.

The announcements for this year’s Lily Clergy Renewal Grants came out recently, and I’ve seen a couple of friends share that their parishes have received them just like St. Mark’s and I did a year ago. Soon I’ll be writing up my experience for a report to the Lily Foundation and St. Mark’s vestry. I’ll do the final bookkeeping of the money. While the accounting will take place and be done with in short order, the impact on me, and by extension St. Mark’s, will be carrying on for a long time.

On the way up to the Visitor’s Center, I passed a sign with a quotation from John Muir: “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in… where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.” That’s what I’ve had in spades this summer. Places in nature to heal and cheer and give strength. I’ve received beauty as well as bread. And I’ve been restored.

What I’ve felt most of all is God’s deep compassion, care and mercy for me and for this amazing world of ours. In the deep wilderness of the desert, on a lake in the remote northern reaches of Minnesota, on the way to the highest peak in Africa, and camping out in our National Parks, I encountered again and again the immense love of God. These experiences allowed me to feel surrounded and embraced by the Holy One.

The book I read, A Way Through the Wilderness by Rob Renfroe, has these words, “In the wilderness, everything shakes. Nothing is steady. Even the ground you’re standing upon feels like it is about to give way. The one and only thing that is true and unshakeable is God. Seek [God’s] presence when you and in the wilderness and you will find—as countless others have—that [God’s] promise is true: Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 NRSV)

May it be so for me and for you.