Recent photo of my parents in my office

Recent photo of my parents in my office

June 17, 2007

A Blessed Weekend

Margie and I were given a great privilege this weekend to take a retreat together. I left work early (after Friday radiation), and headed northward with her to Woodstock, IL. There is a Catholic retreat center there that has quiet rooms with no TV or computer. We dropped off our overnight belongings, and went into town for a meal. Woodstock happens to be the village where the film Groundhog Day was made (thus were we informed by the welcoming attendee at the retreat center!) So we had a laugh remembering the humor of that old Bill Murray story, and located a great French Creperie on the square for dinner. Tired, releasing tension and the burdens of our ongoing challenges, we went back to the retreat center for bed.

What a great opportunity simply to sleep for nearly 10 hours. My right shoulder and side were in sharp pain, but after a night of sleep and prayerful meditation, I awakened refreshed and energized. We had breakfast, and returned to pick up Josiah at his grandparents' place (my in-laws') and Charlotte from the home of our friends the Kruses. It was Charlotte's first night-out, and she wasn't that enthusiastic about leaving, so we felt relieved at not having left either child in distress. And great thanks to those who hosted, funded, and blessed us to go.

That evening, we had another privilege, as we went to see a production of Dorothy Sayers' novel Gaudy Night, performed as the conclusion of a conference on Sayers being hosted by Wheaton College's Wade Center. The play was well-directed, and somehow the privilege of being outwardly-directed in the midst of a potentially morose time becomes highly rejuvenating. I do have to be careful, though. On the drive back from Woodstock, I find myself using the vehicle as an outlet for the energy I still wish I could exert physically. This means plunging to the front of the line whenever possible, bypassing leisurely drivers (who are driving the speed limit -- of all things! -- in the left lane), counting it a great privilege to have anticipated which lane was likely to move ahead more quickly given the probability of who was going to make a left turn, etc., etc.

As we approach Margie's parents' place, I see the bike trail along which I had last approached their home, prior to the seizures in 2005 that essentially ended by dreams of biking long distances. I dream of doing it again, I hope that perhaps I can, I fantasize that I could do it even now, simply by willing it to be. But I am more sobered by reality these days, and I know how cautious I must be, and I recognize that my "drivenness" in so many ways reflects a lack of stillness and focus on the call of God.

As I return home with Margie after the play, I am reminded of the fragility of my body. It still hurts to get up too quickly into bed, or to pick up a heavy item (including our children!) Elevating my arm to pull dishes from the dishwasher to the cabinet can be painful. But I sleep well, and we are full of thanks for what we have been given.

Sunday -- a blessed service of worship. It is Father's Day, and as I hear the music of the younger musicians who have taken over most of my responsibilities at Church of the Resurrection, I am moved by their love for the Lord, the stylistic beauty and simplicity of many of their musical choices, their willingness to bring old texts to new life -- values that I care about passionately. What a freedom to rely on the leadership of others.

I suppose that theme should bring me to the end of this entry. It became clear to me in the night recently when I felt wakeful, and went out into the living room to lie on the floor with my feet up on the couch, stretching my back, and listening for the voice of the Lord and meditating on the Scripture. During times like these, it feels as though I'm being massaged by holy, angelic presences. As I release the pain in my body, I sense the Lord bringing to my mind some areas of past sin or mistrust that I confess. After that, I experience a release of peace --

Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above; sweep over my spirit forever, I pray, in fathomless billows of love.

And I hear the word of the Lord: "Do not strive to do more than you can do. Simply rely on me, obey me, and trust me to accomplish through you all that you should do."

Then I realize how poorly I have learned that lesson for most of my life. Effort and engagement is one thing; continuous drivenness and activism emerging from the sense that one's productivity is being measured by an incomparable perfectionism is deadly. It has caused me to approach the evil of the man given the one talent. In Jesus' parable, he measures himself by his own standards, believes that God is unjust in his distribution of chances, and decides in advance that nothing he ever does will measure up. "I knew you were a hard man. So, here you have your gift back."

How often my frantic escapes (even in driving or biking!) have emerged from the fear of risking investment in more important things that just might not work out. But what pride and unbelief this is. I hadn't seen it that way as clearly before. What autonomous rebellion I have shown in determining my own identity rather in submitting my human imperfection to the Lord for his use. How did I ever imagine I could accomplish anything worthy on my own anyhow? It takes sickness, disease, an encounter with mortality to be brought face to face with the delusion of one's own control. God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

But then, he is. This is part of the lesson of suffering. I come out of this weekend a bit less anxious, a bit less tense, a bit more still. I am just a little better equipped to give, to submit, to be used, to release control. I am captured by God's love -- the love that would privilege me to partake in the suffering of Christ in a quite tiny way -- thereby yielding the fruit that he thinks worthy, even if it seems laden with imperfection to me.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever. Amen