Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Our Lenten journey is drawing to a close but not without some final flourish. Sarah Parsons is asking us to look for signs of our growing closer to God, and we may have a few stories to tell at this point. We may have some “accomplishments,” as she calls them. Where this week have you sensed healing moments of clarity or release, a time when you have been brought out of darkness and into the light of awareness, of freedom, of peace and greater understanding? As you’ve been making room and honing your spiritual practice, perhaps you’ve begun to notice more light around the edges. Have you felt, as she did, that you have more creative energy? Are you more aware of God’s presence in your life, surrounding you with peace and a greater sense of trusting that your needs will be met? Parsons suggests that a good indicator of spiritual growth is openness to surprise, and if we are willing to yield control and trust that God’s surprises are always good, acceptance brings with it peace. I believe this!
A few months ago I found myself about to leave for home at the end of my work day when the gas light in my car immediately came on as I started the engine. So like anyone would do in this situation, I drove a mile to the nearest gas station and reached for my debit card. Not in my purse. I rifled through my car and pockets for loose change. Nothing. I used the last bit of battery on my cell phone to send my husband a text message along with a picture of the needle below the empty line: Leaving work and left wallet at home. You think I’ll make it? I won’t repeat what he said in reply, but afterwards, my phone died and our communication was lost.
Now, home is 35 miles away, and I drive a car that gets about 18 MPG on the freeway if I’m lucky. I had no money and no way to call someone for help. A significant stretch of winding mountain highway lay between me and my house and there were no gas stations or emergency services along the route. I was heading off into the wilderness for real! So like anyone would do in this situation, right, I trusted God would take care of me — I felt a deep sense of comfort that in my faith, I had all I needed. And I don’t mean to say that I was confident I’d make it home on the fumes in my tank nor was I certain I’d meet with disaster. I mean to say that I knew in that moment that I was not in control, and I was at peace with whatever came my way. Either I would make it home without incident. Or I would make it home with incident. My car could run out of gas on the mountain highway, let’s say. It could even happen somewhere without a shoulder, and I’d become one of those infuriating lane blockers at peak rush hour. Prepared for those scenarios, I said a prayer and placed my trust in God that whatever happened, I would survive. If I ran out of gas, someone would help me. Come what may, I would eventually get home and might even have a great story to tell.
I can’t tell you how at peace I was during that drive. Forced to slow down to the speed limit to conserve fuel — which those who know me will tell you is very unusual for me — I waited and listened. I played tranquil music I loved and honestly drove into the unknown road ahead of me filled with serenity and patience, with good humor even for whatever surprises God had in store. I know. I know. You’re hoping I’m going to tell you I drove off a cliff. People like this, you know, calm when you’d be in the midst of a panic attack, they drive you crazy. Sometimes you want to push them over the cliff yourself! But there’s really no big secret to achieving this kind of peace. It’s right there in front of you, too. I was only willing to be surprised and open to any possibility; I knew everything would be OK in the end. And a situation that once would have filled me with anxiety, fear, self-loathing and fury turned into an opportunity for me to live in faith and with gratitude for the “God who saves those who hope in him.” It’s no wonder then that I safely traversed those 35 miles home to retrieve my wallet and continued on to the gas station.
In this fifth week of Lent as we continue to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Passion and the glorious celebration of Easter, the lectionary readings are filled with similar stories of peril and refuge. God hears Susanna’s prayer and saves her from false accusation and death (Dan 13). Three servants refuse to worship the tyrannical King Nebuchadnezzar and survive his fiery furnace by their trust in God alone (Dan 3). God promises to protect and cherish Abraham; he promises to remain with him and makes an everlasting covenant with him: I will be [your] God (Gen 17). And we read of Jeremiah’s faith and trust in this pact (Jer 20). These are stories of the saving power of grace for those who believe, and each day this week we sing some of the most beautiful psalms extolling God’s nearness and refuge, even in times of distress.
Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
~ Ps 23
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
In the day when I call, answer me speedily
~ Ps 102
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O Lord, my strength,
O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
~ Ps 18
These stories and songs are infused with hope and healing, and leading into Holy Week, they not only prepare us for the Passion story, they can be salve for our sadness. Taken alongside the readings from John, who again and again reminds us that the way to salvation and healing is through belief in Jesus and the One who sent him, we gather to ourselves the greatest story every told, and the peace that passes all understanding.
If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
~ John 8:31
If you are making your way here for the first time, we are discussing Sarah Parsons book A Clearing Season. If you don’t have the book, you can still catch up and follow along.