I’m the sort of person who doesn’t mind going to a movie alone. That’s weird I know, but then again so am I. All of the voices inside my head get along pretty well most of the time so the occasional time alone is positive more often than not.
My new preaching gig graciously allows me to attend some sort of conference each year, but since nothing particularly appealing fit into my calendar and since I never really had a chance to reflect prior to jumping from one job into another, I opted for a personal spiritual retreat this year—retreating today and returning on Friday. I suspect that I will talk to a person or two along the way at a restaurant or convenience store, but the plan is to spend time alone in silence. Listening to the sound of stillness. Meandering on a couple of scenic runs. Praying and meditating. Reflecting and planning. Dreaming. Preparing my mind, heart, and soul for a new year (as our church family marks time) that is rapidly approaching.
Utah is my chosen destination, partly because I have never been, partly because it is far enough away and yet not so far either, and partly because of a landmark there that may or may not have something to tell me about the sermon series I intend to deliver in the fall. We’ll find out soon enough.
We are all different. For some, such a week ahead may sound like torture, but I am almost giddy with excitement. Who knows what might emerge when I get away from routines and responsibilities, meetings and appointments, emails and notifications long enough and far enough to take a deep breath and truly listen?
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged breathe, contemplation, dream, listen, meditation, prayer, reflection, retreat, running, silence, solitude, soul, spirituality, utah
Our church family has long prepared and served periodic meals for the weekly meetings of a local ministry that serves marginalized people in Malibu. After the meal there is a Bible study for those interested in staying, which ends up being a decent number of people. Last week, the message from the ministry leader was part sermon and part motivational speech that encouraged those in attendance to live with courage. I was particularly impressed by the connection he had with the motley audience. It was obvious that they liked him, which I suspect is in large part because he likes them.
At the end there was a short time of prayer — short because it was getting dark and the audience was well aware of when the city bus made its last run through Malibu. As the leader went person to person for short prayer requests, I was stunned to hear that the emphasis of a majority of people was on how thankful they were to God for their blessings.
Marginalized. Poor. Damaged. Broken. Homeless. And thankful.
I got in my car as the sun descended over the Pacific Ocean and drove back to a beautiful home on an immaculate university campus. And as I headed out I drove past this slow line of individuals that will cause citizens to roll up their windows and lock their doors. They were headed to the bus stop. To the beach. To the woods. To God knows where.
I have much to learn from those good souls. The car and the house and the job and the respect of society — none of it is worth very much if I do not live thankfully. To live thankfully regardless of circumstances is a true sign of success regardless of the outside packaging.
Norman Rockwell’s historic 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With, serves as an important-yet-disturbing reminder of the enduring legacy of Ruby Bridges. At age six, Ruby integrated an elementary school in New Orleans, although calling it integration is a little misleading since white parents pulled their children from class and white teachers refused to teach little Ruby. Thankfully, one brave teacher from Boston agreed to step up, and for a full year Ruby experienced the ultimate in student-teacher ratio.
She also experienced pure hatred. Rockwell captures the hatred in his painting, but Ruby experienced it firsthand. The screams, threats, and nastiness came hot and heavy, directed at a sweet little girl simply trying to go to school.
At her mother’s suggestion, Ruby did something special as federal marshals escorted her to and from school each day: little Ruby prayed for forgiveness for the people screaming at her.
Remind me, what is it that I have to be upset about today?
I can think of two things that I have in common with Ruby Bridges: first, both she and I lost our homes in Hurricane Katrina; and second, we were both at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures on Wednesday evening this week, although I was a bald head in a vast crowd while she shared her captivating story from center stage.
Ms. Bridges said that she loved the first grade because of her wonderful teacher. She said that her teacher looked like the screaming crowd—but she was different—and that the lesson she learned that historic first-grade year is that you cannot simply look at a person and make a right judgment.
Embracing that lesson is the third thing I want to have in common with Ruby Bridges.