One of my favorite memories of an experience of God’s presence and God’s Creation glory is captured in this photograph. It was a family trip of sorts as Laura and I ventured with our son Ben to a hilltop condo overlooking mid-town Ruidoso, New Mexico.
On this adventure, the scenery refreshed our souls. The timing was different than most in the tradition of our family vacations. It was mid December, Advent in the church calendar, and I was off on medical leave. The reasoning for our excursion was to ground ourselves spiritually as a family after a major health challenge. The experience of that trip brings great joy to my heart and mind.
A fresh overnight snowfall had coated the grounds. Everything was glistening in the lamp-post light of an early dawn. And then with coffee and camera in hand, the sun came up over the hill. New every morning! A reminder of God’s faithfulness and presence.
I wonder what stories you have to share… of God’s abiding presence. Those stories are dear to me and I want to listen to you tell them. Call me if you would like to chat.
In the Pecos Wilderness east of Santa Fe, New Mexico there is a very special place. I have probably written numerous posts before about this place. But it is time again to remember. In remembering, I give thanks for the experience Along the Way.
You see, it is August and that is the time of year most often used in my work schedule for wilderness hikes and camping with family and friends in places different from Texas. Mostly it is a time to escape the hot temperatures of my home state. And also to enjoy the higher elevations, usually greener environments, and nature's beauty and majesty. This place you see in this photo afforded a sacredness on multiple occasions when my spiritual life needed a boost. God was present. Indeed, God is present each time I remember this place in my heart and mind. More to that matter in a moment.
This year our family will be taking several day trips around the Austin area so that my 97 year-old father can participate. He enjoys getting out of the house just like we do, but the gear involved to make a longer trip is cumbersome. We traveled out to Bastrop State Park earlier in the week. As we enjoyed a late afternoon picnic seated on a refurbished day use table under a remodeled roof top leaning on a 1930s stone fireplace, we told stories of when Mom & Dad brought their three children camping here in the early 1960s. Fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, nighttime shuffleboard, board games (remember those played before smart phones or Ipads or Xbox), and so much more crammed into one week of vacation for an itinerant minister and family. Great memories indeed. You can imagine the smile on my father's face as he remembered the one-that-got-away. Yes, we have lots of fishing stories in our family about catch and release fishing. The release part was not always on purpose.
Now back to the matter of sacredness and God's great glory displayed in the wilderness. So many of our wandering stories of the bible reflect the imagery of wilderness as a time rich with the experiences of God's presence. Abram journeyed from his home in Upper Mesopotamia into the drier hill country of Canaan. He journeyed in faith believing in this one God among many that called his name I am the Lord. A sacred call, a sacred journey, a sacred covenant - we remember the story and tell it as it was our own. And as Abraham's descendants, the people called Israel, journeyed in the wilderness with God upon leaving the forced labor of Egypt, they wandered through a sacred time. So many more stories from the Hebrew scipture tell us of God and the names that he was known for... the purposes of God's relationships.
Beginning August 28 at Manchaca United Methodist Church, we will examine some of the names of God. We will remember the sacred stories of God's love, God's provision, God's healing presence, God's breath and re-creation in this world. Let us come to worship and praise the name of the One who created all things. Let us remember our role in the covenant of God's blessing. I invite you to remember the experiences that bind you to each other as a congregation and a family of faith. Bring your families. Give thanks!
Along the Way
You may be wondering what the new lead pastor at Manchaca UMC is reading? In addition to several spiritual formation and spiritual direction resources, this month I am reading and digesting this book by Rebekah Simon-Peter, "Embracing the Next Normal: forging a new path; moving the church forward in a post-pandemic world."
I have questions as I assume you do regarding the practice of worship and the near future expectations for our assembly of Jesus-followers. If we can agree that "post-pandemic" now applies in our context, then RSP offers some questions and her insight into those questions that may be useful for our discussion.
She states that most pastors and church leaders she knows are asking three (3) persistent questions:
When Do Things Go Back to Normal?
How Do We Get People (Back) to Church?
How Do We Do More with Less?
In her book, RSP compares the impacts of pandemic in our current context with that of the bubonic plague on the church of an earlier day. Even though the current pandemic has only lasted several years as against the waves of death experienced over earlier centuries, she posits that the impact to people's lives and the impact to the church can be similarly viewed. And she believes lessons can be learned from the earlier pandemic(s) as to our actions going forward in the church.
I am still digesting her work and finding my own agreement and disagreement with it. Maybe her truth-speaking is still too difficult for me to hear. I will be praying over this reading and discussing it with our church staff and church leaders. What we choose to do with it may be a blessing for our church? If so, I will report back to you in a later edition.
In the meantime, allow me to say to you these things that come from RSP in this book:
Something new emerged then for the church. I believe something new will emerge for the church in which we serve. We must begin to embrace that something new and engage our communities of faith in the unfolding future. Community and belonging in community continues to be a spiritual necessity for all believers. How will we engage that need and invite our neighbors, friend and stranger alike?
In the almighty presence of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the comfort and advocate Spirit of God, may you find blessing in your faith journey. May it be shared so that glory comes upon this world in our time.
Peace. Along the Way.
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend