With Jeremy out of town for the day on Thursday and both girls away at summer camp I took a day to have my own personal retreat. Previously, I had arranged to spend the day at a local Catholic convent for some quiet time away from my normal everyday life, the dishes, the laundry, the yard, the garden. Things and places that could easily distract me from focusing my thoughts on God. I really wanted this day to be set apart for prayer, bible reading, contemplation-a day to hear that still small voice.
I set off for my day arriving at the little chapel at 8:00 a.m. I had my bible and journal with me, some water and a granola bar in a giant white purse that goes everywhere with me.
“We’re not Catholic,” Jeremy told when he called the church for me.
“That’s okay. As long as she loves Jesus.” The Sister told him.
I walked up to the chapel doors and heard what sounded like a service taking place. I peeked in the door and sure enough. It was a service.
I hadn’t expected this and was in no way prepared. I honestly wouldn’t have come had I known there would be a service.
It was High Mass. Candles, communion, Bishops dawned in gold embroidered gold robes.
Did I mention it was 8:00 in the morning?
I was just inside the door and was at this point committed to finish my walk through it. I chose the seat furthest in the back and closest to the door.
I looked around the sanctuary, high purple tinted windows straight up the middle of both side walls, concrete floor polished perfectly, the brick walls resonating each echo of the Bishop’s voice. The altar was gated off and the nuns to the side, where we couldn’t see them, but could hear them.
The altar was filled with relics, each representing a significant part of Christendom’s History. It was stunningly gorgeous. Perfect really. Beautiful.
It turned out it didn’t matter if I was Catholic or not.
This was an Orthodox Church.
I listened to the Latin service and found myself sitting on my own hands at one point. It was clear that I was new. Everyone in the congregation had muted colors, long dresses or suit pants for the men. I had a floor length wispy, brightly colored sundress on, with a white sweater in case the church was cold. The ladies and girls, with the exception of one, each had prayer coverings on their heads. I did not.
By the second I felt more and more incredibly out of place and pulled my sweater a little tighter over my shoulders.
I sat and stood and knelt when the others did. I watched as each person made the sign of the cross from their heads to hearts and back across their shoulders. I decided that next time they did it, I would too.
When the time came I joined with the others. I drew the cross with my left hand and then realized everyone else had done it with their right hands. I stumbled through the service booklet reading back and forth between Latin and it’s English explanation before finding what part of the service we were in. Communion.
I know communion, but know that some traditions don’t allow just “anyone” to receive it (this is disappointing to me) so I stayed in my seat as the rest of the congregation moved toward the altar to receive the elements from the Bishop.
As the time went on I found myself feeling more and more out of place. Normally I love liturgy, traditions, signs and symbols. They point to a story thousands of years in the making. They remind us that we are not on this spiritual journey alone. That so many others have made this journey too. I love the monastic lifestyle, making God, prayer and spiritual disciplines one’s day. It is a way of life I long for.
But this wasn’t the spiritual “high” I was hoping for.
I prayed silently to God, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.” That’s when I realized I was sitting on my own hands, and my stomach hurt from feeling nervous for close to an hour.
Ah….that was the point. I got it. When I have no idea what to do, look to Jesus not relics, not schedules, not my own plans. Jesus first, second, last and everywhere in between. I needed that reminder.
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind. The to-do list. Checking things and people off as we do what we need to do, talk to who we need to talk to only to finish the day and wonder what meaning any of it had. I’ve had too many of those days this past year.
I heard the still small voice calling me to seek Jesus. Not look to man, traditions, relics, spiritual highs, but Jesus. Sought after in the everyday things of life. To intertwine my heart with His in the midst of dirty dishes and piles of laundry. In the middle of the night conversations with friends and family. With my babies when they can’t sleep.
To honor Jesus with my words and actions. Even when I don’t like what I’m doing. Even when I’m tired or frustrated. Or when I don’t feel like being around the people I am around at any particular moment.
When Mass was over I stayed a few minutes longer, opened my bible and began to read. Everyone left the chapel and milled about outside the doors, or in the narthex just to the left of me.
After all the nuns had said it was okay that I was there for the day, even though no one else was, and despite that I was the out-of-place-one coming late to an 8:00 a.m. High Mass.
The breeze was flowing through the front, open door of the chapel, a bee had made it’s way in. I opened up my bible to Jeremiah, then read a bit from Ephesians.
My journal and pen was beside me, waiting in expectation for recording some bits of wisdom from my day at the Convent.
It just wasn’t happening.
I wasn’t settled.
My heart wasn’t here.
I couldn’t focus.
I still felt awkward. My stomach still hurt.
Disappointed, I made the decision to leave. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t want to go home, I really did want a day with Jesus.
I hopped in my car, drove across the street to the gas station and bought a cold Starbucks drink. Because, what else is there to do? Starbucks helps me think.
I closed my car door, turned the ignition on and put it into drive. I had decided to drive until I found it. I knew that when I did, when I came to “the place” it would be the place and I would know.
I drove the 20 minutes home, thinking the entire time about seeking after Jesus. What it meant to honor Him in everyday. How we can honor Him with what we have-our finances, our bodies, our homes, our material items. How we honor Him with the use of our time and how we treat the people He has placed in our lives. How we take care of the things and people we’ve been entrusted with. How are decisions point others to Him or away from Him.
I crossed the mountains and navigated the curvy roads finding myself driving down an old country lane. A dirt road that ends at two old farm houses and a barn.
Sunflowers filled two of the three fields that lined the road. Large, plentiful fields.
I parked in a parking area to the side of the road, and begin picking wild flowers.
I used a bottle of water in my car as a vase, a perfectly prepared and available vase. My handful of fresh picked flowers fit well.
I walked up the lane, stopping as the older gentleman on the mower made his way past me. I crossed to the freshly mowed side of the road, turned and watched the flowers.
Tears filled my eyes as I saw these flowers with their faces toward the Son. Toward their creator. I got it. I found God here, in His creation, not a replica of His creation. The creation itself. I took a closer look and saw the bees collecting pollen. The yellow dust having fallen from the yellow petals onto the green stems and the ground beneath. I saw a butterfly flitting from one seed center to the next. He or she was beautiful.
“You look like you’re deep in thought,” the man on the mower said as he pulled up in front of me and turned the engine off.
“I am.” I told him. “They’re beautiful.”
“They are,” he said. “I saw you picking Queen Anne’s Lace back there.”
“Yeah, I was.” I said.
“There’s a lot of it this year. All over the place. You can make jelly with it you know.”
“Yep, my wife and I were at a Bed and Breakfast in the Finger Lakes one time and the hostess had made it. Tasted real good,” he told me. Somehow he knew that I would like to know that.
“I’ll have to try that,” I told him.
“Well, have a good day,” he said.
“You too,” I told him and watched him finish his job of mowing along the edge of the sunflower field.
I touched one of the petals, wanting to soak in the gentle texture of this gift.
I started walking a path through the woods, finding a bench along the way where I sat for a few minutes.
O, Lord, My God,
When I in awesome wonder
consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
thy power throughout the worlds Thy hands have made.
Then sings my soul! My Savior God to thee
How great thou art, How great thou art!
I didn’t have my moment with Jesus in the man made cathedral on a schedule that I had written in a way I expected. Jesus met me in HIS creation, a bigger chapel than any man could make. He showed me the importance of honoring him in the everyday. By doing just like those bees and flowers and butterflies were doing. By doing what the man on the mower was doing.
I need to honor God in every moment the Holy Spirit convicted me. Honor Him through the words I share with others, through the patience I have with my kids, while I’m folding one more pair of socks, while I’m painting or writing or spending time with my husband.
Whatever you do, do it all in the name of Jesus.
I walked back to my car taking in each smell and noise the forest offered me, caught a glimpse of the sunflowers before heading back home and picked some more Queen Anne’s Lace to attempt making some jelly with it.
I entered our house feeling a new resolve, a new purpose. I threw a load of laundry in to wash, picked up the girls’ bedrooms, made our bed, washed the dishes, paid the bills, painted my nails, texted my husband, replied to some emails and wrote some words on my computer.
Honor me by having your life point toward me, Jesus told me. I want a relationship with you every day, not just once in a while, He told my heart.
I had learned exactly what I needed to hear this day.
In Jesus’ time, in Jesus’ perfectly orchestrated way.