Chapter 22- The roar of my race

From my journal of  
Monday, June 30, 2008, walking from Washington  D.C. to Pittsburgh while learning the gospel of John by heart.

For the second time today the sky grows heavy.  Rain soon spatters the dirt path at my feet.  I step onto grass to open my pack and pull out the rain gear that is still damp from the earlier storm.  On goes the turquoise-flowered raincoat.  I must sit down in order to guide my bulky hiking shoes through the rain pants.  Then I help Chester poke his head through his bright yellow slicker and adjust the velcro straps under his chest.  He and I both think this coat looks silly, but he hates getting wet in the rain.  Damp fur and a camping trailer’s close quarters do not mix well. Finally, I put the orange water-proof cover over my pack.

Now that we are decked out like a carnival and visible to any interested thundercloud, we continue through open land.  Here shrubs are scattered sparsely amid remnant mounds of wet-slick coal.  Ahead, however, I see that the path leads toward a hill covered thickly with trees.  There, in contrast to the threatening darkness over my shoulder, one wispy, white cloud lingers low along the ridge.  Thunder mutters behind me, but I watch this lone cloud slowly, patiently snake and skim along the tips of the maples that seem to scratch its pale belly.  While the other stormy clouds start throwing lightening to my left, when their rumbles move in circles that echo around the mined cliffs and off the swollen river, this little cloud lowers its soft body deeper into the hillside branches, as if seeking refuge from the fray.  I hurry my pace to reach the hill, but, by the time I arrive, the cloud has withdrawn completely into the dripping, green canopy.  Searching through tree trunks, I think I see its lighter haze among some vines.  Or perhaps its tail is over there, where one ghostly wisp trails from behind a tree.

The rain pounds us, and each sudden beat of thunder sends involuntary shudders down my arms and legs.  Unlike the now camouflaged cloud, there is no safe place for Chester and me to take shelter.  On either side of the path, the tall trees or the surging river tempt strikes of lightning.  So we do the only thing we can reasonably do, keep walking straight ahead, sloshing through deepening puddles towards the goal of a park and shelter only a mile ahead.

I understand the cloud’s disappearance.  There are thunderings this year among denominations, congregations, and clergy colleagues about who’s right and who’s wrong in the Church.  I, too, would prefer to hide rather than face the threatening power displays of my own human brothers and sisters, rather than endure their stabbing light shows of rhetoric that accomplish little, rather than watch their self-justified roughness and verbal violence to one another.  Perhaps I exaggerate, and perhaps my withdrawals from these debates are a weakness.  Oh, but at times such is the roar of the religious that I would rather go for a walk down by the creek and sink my nose into the wet, earth-scented fern.  Yes, I would rather turn from brassy, self-righteous declarations of certitude and train my ears, instead, to hear the delicate vibrations of the granddaddy-long-legs stepping gently over the fallen twig. Or focus my eyes to track the slender, viscous trailing that leads to the silent, soft slug.  Such a humble creature it is!

The beloved disciple tells us that after a heated conversation with religious authorities, Jesus said to them:

“Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8.58-59)

And so I find myself in this thunderstorm praying:  O Christ, when I withdraw, it is sometimes to enjoy the outdoors, sometimes to have space to reflect, to enter a wholesome stillness, to talk to you.  But other times I withdraw to ward off speaking, to avoid the painful realities of being Church together, to enter the realm of  protecting myself from chafing debate.

What did you do?  When the violence and the antagonism ran rampant, you withdrew, yes,  more than once.  Sometimes you hid or went into the wilderness for awhile.  Not from fear.  Not from anger.  But for love.  For time to be able to love humanity more.  Then, in the end, at the hour you chose to be the most compassionate, you allowed the roar of the human race to spend its fury and demand to crucify you.  You did not withdraw, not that time, but opened yourself to spill out God’s healing and forgiveness.  Love again.

So when I get back from this pilgrimage, help me discern, like you, the differences of ebb and flow, the times of  withdrawing and stepping forward, that are neither chased nor pulled by the roar of human words, but only by the heart-beat of you, the Compassionate One.