Sunday, June 23, 2013

Doubt, Washed By The Water

Lord, have mercy.
The view from the booth; the pastor, via video

What a day.

From the challenging situation of a senior pastor physically unable to deliver his message (thank God for technology and a pre-recorded, high quality video!) to the steamy hot, muddy river for a baptism of sixty people, it's been a day that required stretching.

In the grand scheme of things, our challenges were not difficult at all. Our basic needs are met. I ate. I drove. I enjoyed the air conditioning.

But it was not a typical day, and in the midst of the challenges it presented, I learned a few things.

I awoke with questions. I didn't sleep well, I was already mildy anxious about whether or not our pastor would be able to to teach in the morning, and I'd had a hefty dose of caffeine late in the afternoon. It was very late before I heard that daughter number three was safe and sound. Plus there was that Saturday afternoon nap...all combined to keep me up until 1AM. That made the 6AM alarm unwelcome. I stumbled into the kitchen, put the coffee on and reached for my Bible. I was wondering, thinking, pondering.

What did Jesus really tell us to do? Remind me of his parting words again. Tell me, again, why we are doing this. Tell me, again, why it matters.

So I read, rubbing the sleep and doubt out of my eyes. The words rang true, partly because they are embedded in my soul, a product of the culture of evangelical Christianity - and partly because I know.

They are true.

But there are days when I do not feel them as true, when I pull out the phrases and words and roll them in my hands like soft, pliable globules. They reflect light and absorb sound and I'm just not sure what to make of all this, the truth that drives me to work every day. The truth that propels me to a weekly celebration of life and grace, proclamations of words and worship and feelings that bear enormous weight.

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight."

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

I worked this morning, this odd mixture of work and worship that those of us in ministry embrace and push through and fight with and generally, find some way to live with. The tension never abates; the praise and the people, the worship and the work, the majesty and the mess. I worked, and exhorted the people, and worshiped, focusing my own attention and affection on the Creator.

And then we went to the river. We lined up sixty people. We offered guidance and instruction, and then one by one, they walked into the muddy waters of the James. Brian and Sammy and Chauncey and Winston and Anna and Gwen and Tim baptized them, each one.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I know these people. Not all of them, but enough. Their stories - sometimes complex, occasionally complicated, always authentic. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, they walk into the water as followers, making a declaration. Sometimes they get it - the theology, the transformation, the witness. Sometimes, it's simply the next step in a hard journey towards wholeness, or sobriety, or reclamation of a lifetime of wasted opportunities.

We go, and we make, and we embrace, and we give. We strive to obey, and to call to obedience, and it's the best we can do.

Truth is not relative. It does not always sing with clarity, but it resides within and without, and it eventually finds its home and reveals itself. 

Just as he said.

It was a very good day.


Lori said...

This surely rings home for me today too, in a couple of different ways... but I felt much the way you did. Rubbing my head, hoping this persistent head ache would somehow go away... up late, consoling a friend on the phone, no nap, overtired, dehydrated, and adding to that weepy... questioning... "what AM I doing?" And wander in aimlessly to get ready for church, still rubbing my head, praying for relief.
Sitting in church, in the quiet of my own mind (heart) I hear, "what have I written upon your heart?" That stops me short.
I go for healing prayer after communion and after choking out a few short half sentences, fighting the tears, Althea nods, lays her hands on me and begins to pray... I don't hear everything she says.. maybe really nothing. But I go back to my seat and weep.
Quietly, softly, so heavy I cannot breathe, and then I feel a hand rubbing my back. It is the hand of a friend sitting behind me. Reaching to comfort me. My friends husband who is sitting in the same pew reaches over and takes my hand. And I sit until the service is ended. I turn to hug Teresa. And then Kevin. Then Maggie... Teresa's eldest daughter who is 11. That is the community of faith in action. That is what the gospel is... and says. To love one another as we are loved.
In case you're wondering what he wrote on my heart... it is "I am loved"

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Beth. You have such a transparency in expressing your soul. You demonstrate this one that Oswald Chambers speaks of: "The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you dd not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance."

Lori said...

After my rambling of last night, what I wanted to express really was to welcome them into the family. Into the community of faith. Because for whatever their reasons are, no matter.. they are now part of a much larger family. One that will, in all hope sustain them, carry them, nuture and love them, through all things. Love, as we are loved.
Welcome to the family!