My biking siblings and me: Harry, Sylvia, me, and Ron
Every couple of years my siblings, Fred and I go on a three-day bike trip. The first trip we biked from Banff to Jasper, the second was a 400 km section of the Oregon coast, two years ago we biked in Osoyoos-Oliver wine country, and this year we cycled up to Highwood pass, the highest paved mountain pass in Canada.
After cycling each day, we returned to our campsite to enjoy wine and cheese, made dinner together, and then relaxed around a campfire. We loved having this time together. I think my parents are still shaking their heads when they see how well we get along. It wasn’t always that way when we were growing up, as you will see in this week’s post.
“God in the Dark: Theory” is from my soon to be released book, Stories of an Everyday Pilgrim. It took place seven years ago when I was training to be a spiritual director.
It was lab day for our spiritual direction class. That meant we took turns giving each other spiritual direction. Our teachers called these sessions “real plays” because we weren’t role-playing; we talked about what was really going on in our lives.
“I’ve tried three times to explain to this woman that there’s a problem, and she keeps ignoring me. I hate that,” I said when it was my turn to be the directee. “If I confront her, I feel like I’m being too critical; if I don’t say anything, I’m afraid it’ll happen again.”
“How does that make you feel?” my classmate asked.
“Frustrated. A few years ago I never said anything when things bothered me. Now I wonder if I say too much. I don’t know what to do.”
After a long pause, he asked, “What is it like for you when you don’t know what to do?”
My stomach dropped and took my shoulders with it. I struggled to name what I felt. “I feel helpless, I guess.”
“Helpless.” He let the word sit in front of us. “Tell me what ‘helpless’ is like.”
“Awful. Like I’m stupid or don’t matter.”
“Was there another time when you felt like this?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. “When I was little, my older brother and sister locked me in the curing room of the cheese factory my dad managed, and I couldn’t get out.”
“I panicked. I screamed, but they couldn’t hear me because the walls were thick.”
“How did you get out?”
“My brother opened the door. Then they laughed at me and said, ‘All you had to do was push on the handle.’ I felt stupid.” I took a tissue from the box on the table beside me and stared at the floor.
“Esther, do you ever experience something like this in your spiritual life?”
“Yes. Often I have a problem to solve and pray for help. But God just stands there and expects me to figure it out myself.”
Then I looked up and heard myself declare, “But that’s not God! God isn’t outside the room laughing. God’s inside the room with me!”
After I wiped my tears, my classmate asked, “Can you picture Jesus in the room with you?”
I closed my eyes. “He’s with me, and I’m a little girl.”
“Take a few moments to be there with him.”
At first I saw Jesus near me weeping because, when they shut the door, a wall as thick as the curing room walls went up between us. Then, the next minute, we were outside the room and he said, “Let’s go in again.” I didn’t want to do it, but I let him take my hand and lead me back into the room. This time, when we went in and the door shut, Jesus pulled me onto his lap and said, “Hey, look. I’ve got a lighter.” And he flicked it on. Then he said he kept a ball in there, and we could play with it.
I smiled and explained what I saw. My classmate smiled too, and I felt full.
We prayed, thanking God for this precious revelation of love.
After a few minutes of silence, our teacher invited us to talk about what we had experienced and observed. Long pauses bracketed each offering; no one wanted to disturb the sense of awe.
Finally my classmate turned to me. “I’m just curious,” he said. “What are you going to do about that woman that keeps ignoring you?”
“I’ll likely say something,” I replied, “But at least when I do, I won’t hold her responsible for locking me in the curing room.”
∗ ∗ ∗
Love Mischief for the World
“For a few weeks now I have been trying my best to help a family of robins raise their young. We have a lot of cats that visit our garden, and one of them is particularly skilful when it comes to hunting. So I made a few deterrents in the form of temporary fences to discourage her from the top of the garden where the nest is, and this helped, and left meal worms for the birds so they could get some easy food. The single baby (it was a late brood) fledged at the weekend. But sadly just hours later I saw the cat with it fluttering in her mouth. The parent birds were frantic. All is quiet now and I’ve removed the defences. I was very angry with the cat for a while, but visiting friends at the weekend who have two cats I was struck by their beauty and great affection. They are themselves beautiful things. This is such a small thing, yet quite a hard lesson.” —Michael Cook, Derbyshire, UK