Sunday, April 13, 2008


"Some of us have been reading your blog... to get to know you better."
(Oh dear)
"Well, I haven't been writing much lately because I've been focusing on the retreat."

Those words were said in the context of a conversation I was having with one of the Oregon conveners. Since I'll be leading an Associates' retreat there in just under two weeks, there were aspects of the schedule (and my responsibilities) that needed to be discussed. That's the easy part. What do I do? When do I do it? Where do I stand?

My own internal response to the fact that this is a huge responsibility and that time is ticking away, has been less manageable. I vacillate between humility and arrogance, fear and excitement, trusting completely that the Holy Spirit will give me the right words at the right time, and thinking that if I don't plan every single talk in specific detail I'll fall flat on my face and fail them. I have reason to be concerned. The Oregon associates are used to Sr. Lucia (one of their own) and more recently, Sr. Leslie, the Sister-in-charge of associates. They don't know me. I'm new. And not just new to them, new to the life. Is there anything I could say of any importance or interest to them?

My friend and mentor Barbara Crafton sits down, looks around at her audience, and starts talking. Or so it seems. She makes such things as meditations and homilies and retreat addresses look like child's play. She's done it a long time and can draw on a vast store of wisdom that I never feel I have.

Our celebrant this morning is another one who speaks without notes and just rattles it off, always astounding me with her deep understanding of the Gospel stories, always able to relate her message to something in my life, to this 21st century world. Amazing.

She spoke today about "another Shepherding Sunday, another comforting Sunday" and she asked the rhetorical question "Why do we need to be comforted? It's Easter!" I always rise to the bait and start answering the question for myself, when her words stop me midstream as she gives yet a deeper, more profound answer to her own question.

She also gave an interpretation of this specific Gospel lesson (John 10:1-10) that I can own and run with. These particular words of scripture have been used so many times to exclude people... those of other faiths, those who, though they profess Jesus Christ, aren't the right kind of Christian... words that can turn me off and leave me wondering which historical agenda was being hammered with them? Yet historical agendas aside, one of the profound beauties of the Word of God is that it lives.

So today's living and life-giving message was essentially this: Jesus says in today's Gospel: "I am the gate." Not the barrier gate that we immediately imagine, but the open gate, the pathway gate, the all-inclusive gate that makes crystal clear that the power of resurrection lies in the fact that everything is restored. And... the shepherd also had a shepherd. He was not alone.

Many, if not most of us, recite the 23rd Psalm in the old King James language. It's the way we learned it as children, and even though the actual words themselves may have made little or no sense at the time, it's still the most comforting version when we are in distress. It's said at funerals, and in our prayer book the burial rite uses the old language. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. David, the shepherd-king is attributed with these words. He had been a shepherd as a boy, but then he was anointed King. Not the kind of king who was set up to rule, but the kind who was enthroned to protect and defend his people. Huge difference. And yet we say... the Lord is our shepherd. It is He who defends us, protects us, looks after our best interests, whether we can know it or appreciate it or not. Serendipity? One of my retreat themes deals with this very thing... We have nothing to fear.

No comments: