While It Was Still Very Dark…
Last week was CRAZY! For the first time in my almost twenty-nine years of ordained ministry I officiated at two funerals, one hour apart. Winter is a difficult season for our elders. In addition, we were dealing with the wreckage of not one, but two floods in our Thrift Shop. Then of course the snow, snow, and more snow. My heart, mind, and soul focused mostly on praying for healing light to fill and surround a member of our community, beloved friend, father of three, who is in the ICU after an aneurism burst in his brain. Unfortunately it is also the season for lots of year-end administration, annual reports, and final preparations for our annual meeting last Sunday. Then late Friday afternoon in between my two wakes, I came back to the church office to discover our church secretary looking totally frenzied because a hacker had taken over her computer, our church computer!
Ironically, the Gospel for last week was about Jesus feeling overwhelmed. He had been healing the sick and casting out demons (see last week’s blog), and the whole city gathered outside the door of where he was, pressing upon him. Talk about the needs and concerns of this life overwhelming us!
What did Jesus do? We read: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) In fact we find one-liners like this sprinkled throughout the Gospels. Jesus needed to get up early, to carve out even a few moments, to be in communion with God in prayer. If Jesus needed this, how much more do we?
Tomorrow night our women’s spiritual support group meets. We call our group “S.O.S.” How apropos. It stands for “Sisters of Spirit.” It also stands for “Help!” This group was started almost nineteen years ago when I began my ministry at this church, by two women who worked in the church office, and I. Day after day we would give each other moral support for all of the overwhelming tasks and concerns of our daily lives and ministry. We would pray for each other. Then one of the women said, “Hey, maybe other people could benefit from some mutual support. We should expand our group.” That was the birth of S.O.S. At our first meeting we shared a story that summarizes what we are all about: “When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant always says,’If you need to assist someone, make sure you first put on your own oxygen mask. Then assist your neighbor.’” What an appropriate metaphor for this life. Each and every day Jesus needed to get up early, while it was still dark, and spend time in a deserted place, in communion with God in prayer. So also do I.
Martin Luther said he had so much to do every day that he couldn’t get by on anything less than two hours of prayer! If you do not put on your own oxygen mask first, you will be no help to anyone else.
This coming weekend, in fact, Christian churches celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Jesus took with him his closest friends, and hiked up a mountain. This was no small hill. The mountain bible scholars think they hiked up was over 9,000 feet high! Mount Washington, the highest mountain in New England is only about 6,500 feet. This was a major hike, at least a sunrise to sunset kind of day. But on top of that mountain, Jesus and his friends experienced a kind of “epiphany.” Jesus was filled and surrounded with a brilliant, dazzling light. There also appeared to him Moses and Elijah, who lived about 1200 and !000 years before, but who represented the Law/Torah and the prophets.
Sometimes when I pray I feel myself in the presence of my parents, who now live in God’s brilliant, dazzling light, or of Mary the Mother of Christ and Mary Magdalene, or of my favorite saints…famous and not so famous. I spend time in communion with them too, drawing strength from their presence.
Because guess what? The gospel for last week tells us that when Jesus was off praying in that deserted place “Peter and the disciples hunted for him.” HUNTED for him. Hounded him. Ever felt that way? I think we all have. This coming week, similarly, we read that when Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain, the needy crowds were there, waiting.
In the midst of our busy, sometimes overwhelming lives, take time to go off by yourself even for just a few moments. Sometimes, like Jesus, really get away, like up a 9,000 foot mountain. Put on your own oxygen mask. Pray. Spend time with close friends. Spend time with God, and let God’s brilliant, dazzling light shine into the darkness that can be overwhelming. Because the needs never do end.
Photos: Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico, sunrise; Ted’s photo, Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico, sunrise; Ted in Turkey; Linda and Iznik, Second Beach, Newport, RI; Top of the World Road, Montana; Linda in the Cave of Saint Tekla, Turkey; Linda, walking toward the light, Turkey