I like to share this story I have heard somewhere along and the way. It is about a tribe of first peoples who wondered where Christopher Columbus and his group came from when they were first seen. The Europeans tried to explain about the ships on which they had sailed. The local residents hadn’t ever seen anything like that before. They did not have a frame of reference for such a way of traveling. So, the locals only saw the water where the ships were moored, not the ships themselves. For a good amount of time, the holy man in the tribe stood on the shore and stared out upon the water. Eventually, in his pondering, he noticed strange ripples in the water. One day he was able to see the ships that cause the ripples. Then the holy man was able to share with the rest of his people in a way that helped them to see the ships too.
Welcome to the first week of Lent. In our blog posts we are pondering the restoration of our spiritual selves. Instead of looking for ships, in Lent we look to our relationship with God and with one another in Christ. There are times when we look and do not have a sense of God’s presence. We may feel alone or disconnected from community in Christ.
Christopher Martin, in his book The Restoration Project asks the question, “Are you there God?” Linda Mercandante, in her conversations with people who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious” shares about people believing in God as transcendent but not imminent—God out there, but not nearby. Mercandante has written the book Belief without Borders. Both Martin and Mercandante are akin, I think to the holy man pondering what there was to be seen upon the waters.
So how do you watch for God? Are you wired in a way similar to the holy man from the story, one who watches and ponders? Or, is there someone to whom or a resource to which to turn hoping for help in seeing?
Watching for God, or for insights or for guidance sometimes works for me in this way. Through people, the news, or “just because” I’ll feel a lack, or long for something specific. Sometimes I stare. This can be prayerful staring. Focusing my eyes can free up other parts of my thought/spirit for discovery. I often stare from the green chair near my books. Sometimes I dream. Practically speaking, there are day-to-day responsibilities we tend to, yet our subconscious is still at work, and so ideas and insights can show up in sleep. Also, I just ask, “what about,” or “what do you think?” I express out loud what I wonder about to the universe, to God, or to a trusted person. Working a puzzle, like sudoku, crossword or jigsaw can provide a re-boot for otherwise stalled processes inside. I walk. I straighten the kitchen counter. I also take moments and even days to watch purposefully for what God is doing. Bidden or unbidden, goes the old wisdom, God is near. So too, watched for and noticed or not, God is active around us.
Pondering faith and life is set forth for us in the worship and life of our churches. At St. Paul Lutheran and Christ Episcopal churches we are providing different kinds of interaction for spiritual pondering and restoration. These blog conversations give a dimension to our watching for God. Conversations in person or on page speak to our spirits, stir utterance, create ripples that may eventually point to something we do not yet see. I pray many blessings on your watching, and trust the mysteries of faith to be at work in us.
(The Rev. Colleen Kamke-Nieman)