Monday, October 18, 2010

"So Were There Any God Moments?"

That's the question a friend asked me at breakfast this morning. I've been away on a three-month Lilly Endowment-sponsored sabbatical and my colleague asked me, "So were there any God moments? Did God speak to you?"

A group of us was sitting at a table at Perkins and I stammered...searched for words. "Yes," I finally said, "there were a lot of God moments." All sorts of memories and moments and places ran through my head.

There was time on the beach at South Haven, Michigan. Right at the beginning of the clergy leave. Walking. Reading. Swimming. Spending the day on the beach. Taking a break for lunch and then going back. Until it was time for supper. And then returning to see the sunset and walk along the sand under the stars. Psalm 8 tells us that the glory of God taps us on the shoulder as we look up at the stars.

Shortly after that Sharon and I were at the Art Institute in Chicago. The room that stopped me was full of paintings by Monet. The artist had a way of catching the light. Finding the light. Even in a stormy seascape...there is light breaking out in the waves and sky.

We took several trips over and back to Columbus. Visiting Ella and Olivia. Going to a nearby park. Playing in the pink "Princess Castle" tent set up in the dining room. We spent some time at local lakes -Koontz and Webster- where we swam and I water-skied. All good. Both those little girls have a way of releasing my heart from whatever prison has locked it away.

There were eight days on a ship crossing the Atlantic. I was on my own...Sharon gets seasick. So I read and walked the deck and swam in the pool and attended a few lectures. Mainly, though, I looked at the water and sky. Journaled.

Sharon and I then spent the better part of a week with good friends in a small town 50 km from Stuttgart. We took the train to Florence where all three adults sons, and their wives and children, met us for a week outside the Tuscan city of Lucca. The house we had looked down on a small town...a river valley. We swam. We sat and talked. We made pizza in a wood-fired oven. (My attempts were a spectacular failures!)

One evening we took Olivia and Ella down to the piazza of a small town in the evening for gelatto. People in Italy come out of their homes for the evening. Old men on benches. Young couples on dates. Children riding bicycles in the plaza. All under a full moon. Another evening we went back and I ended up dancing with Ella outdoors as people did karaoke (which sounds about as bad in Italian as it does in English!). We danced and she laid her head on my shoulder.

There were two days in Rome with Michael while some of the family flew home and others
-including Sharon- went to Paris. The girls and us played in the city parks. The Eiffel Tower was three blocks away and was the first thing we saw when we opened the windows. Sharon and I walked into Notre Dame just as evening vespers began. Light was pouring through the windows of the great church and a beautiful soprano voice was calling God's people to prayer.

The last chapter of the sabbatical included a Miata trip south. The Spirit of God surrounded me, filled me, as I spent three days with Trappist monks in an abbey in central Kentucky. We worshipped in the middle of the night, early in the morning, the middle of the day, and in the evening. I walked...I journaled...and prayed. And God wouldn't let me step away from his presence...it was an experience of such holiness that I sometimes felt like my soul needed to shout, "Glory and enough!"

Right after that I spent several days in Nashville. Going to the string of country and western clubs on Broadway. Listening late into the night to all sorts of music. Surrounded by people who aren't the sort of people I usually hang out with. It was great! I laughed. There was this lightness, this playfulness, this delight in trusting God to take care of the world while I just enjoyed the music and the place, and it was good.

I drove on south towards Florida. Through Alabama on a moon lit night with the top down on the Miata. At the end we spent a few days in Fort Myers. Reading. Walking the beach. Eating grouper. And then we headed towards home. Through the mountains of north Georgia where we left the interstate and found a beautiful, winding river we might have otherwise missed.

There have been so many moments when God has been so close... One of the most powerful experiences with God, though, took place this weekend at Trinity. Being home. Being with you. Looking out and seeing your faces. Singing great songs. Seeing what Jesus has to say to us in Luke 12 about how we can move beyond worry and anxiety over money. God is here...the floor and walls and air hum with the Presence of the God who is Creator, Redeemer and Spirit. Jesus is all over this place!

It was good. Oh, there was a bump here and there, now and then, but it was good. I am so grateful you let me go. And I am so very glad you have loved me back!

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