I left last Friday for Saltaire, Fire Island. I am serving this week as priest for St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea, a summer chapel in Saltaire.
I am taking time during this week as sort of a retreat. I will be by myself all week with no real TV (2 so-so independent channels on a great flat-screen TV with no DVD… ugh). Internet access is intermittent and may go away after today (Sunday) if this hot-spot is no more during the week. I kind of really do feel isolated, although my phone works, thank God.
This is going to be a tough week. This is the weekend a year ago when I found out that I was to be single, once again. Believe it or not, this past year has been one of the worst in my life. It has been a hard year, but God keeps me and helps me and I know there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is difficult because as a priest there is a point where the stuff of life I’m dealing with cannot be put upon the people I serve. Being a priest can be hard in that way.
Years ago, when I was going through another very difficult summer, God gave me a few verses of Scripture that enabled me to hang on. These verses may at first sound a bit odd, but for me then and ever since they have been a mantra for me and sustenance during times of trial. The verses come from James, chapter 1:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (NIV)
Because I’m not a Calvinist, I believe that there is an openness to our lives as God deals with us in relationship and during all phases of our lives. His engagement with us is dynamic, in that way. The present and future are open. I hang on to wanting to be “mature, complete, not lacking anything,” and if trails and tribulations are a help in gaining such things, gaining wisdom, gaining the ability to understand myself and others better, gaining discernment, then so be it.
I would rather life be easy, of course, but we all know it is not. So, during the past year of trials and tribulations, of dealing with deep seated issues in my own life, as well as in the life of the one who I once called my partner, I know that my Lord will see me through and bring me to the other side where I will be made more complete.
Today’s readings talk about God calling Abraham and Sarah to a new country. Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, and Matthew does – leaving everything, even unto death. If my life is to somehow be a blessing to others, then my life needs to be purged of all that our prevailing culture and the systems of this world load on. I want to be wise, to be a blessing, to move in the whole realm of “peace that surpasses all understanding,” the fruit of the Spirit, and loving God with my whole being and truly, intuitively, sincerely loving others as God enables me to love myself, honestly.
In this new country where God calls us, this Kingdom of God, there is a bit of culture shock – trail and tribulation – as we are made new and transformed into citizens of this new country, this Kingdom. As we are inevitably changed, we become an example and a witness to a hurting and confused world of what it means to be a people living in the midst of God. As we are blessed, we become a blessing to others. All we have to do is look at this Church and the Anglican Communion to know how easily it is to be subsumed by the prevailing culture – the systems of this world – and to be pulled away from the new country and to be anything but good examples. We have not heeded His call, have we? Yet, we go on with hope and faith in grace. Thank God we are in grace!
This is what I am learning, even in the midst of heart ache, loneliness, doubt, confusion, and all that stuff we wade through in life before we come to that shore where all things are new.
Funny thing, too, I am reading Harry Potter for the first time. A balm for the soul.