February 5, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
There is a park on the Oregon coast that I like to walk whenever we are vacationing in the area. It is forested with coastal pines. Under their canopy lies a carpet of composting pine needles and windfall. That understory is dotted with Oregon Grape and Salal. One of the most enjoyable features of the forest is that you can see up to 50 yards through the trees. This is unlike the forests I am used to in Southeast Alaska. The trail I follow through that park emerges at one point on the edge of an estuary where the local river and Pacific Ocean meet and commingle. The purpose of my walks down that trail through the woods is to come to this spot, and stand and wait.
Stepping out of the forest and coming upon this bay is a liberating experience. The tunnel of trees that had narrowed my field of vision is suddenly gone. The smell of salt in the air heightens my memories of simpler times. The sound of the water lapping against the banks lightens the burdens I carried to this place. All I have to do is to stand by those waters to feel a renewal of life and freedom of being. Thankfully this experience is portable, and I am able to carry it with me as I continue on through the rest of the forest.
I write this at 69 years of age. There is a certain vantage point one gains with a little age. Some might describe this by saying “been there, done that.” Our lives are filled with competing demands and commitments. When we are very young we spend our energies on education and learning how to establish an identity that is our own. Later, in adulthood, we struggle to develop a career, make a home, and pay the bills. Somewhere in here, if we are lucky, we fall in love, get married, and begin a family. All of these bring with them joys and corresponding responsibilities. Looking back on these years it could be said they were a little like walking through that coastal forest I love so well. Those years are filled with love, accomplishments, and happiness which lie beneath a canopy of intertwined commitments and responsibilities.
Along the way, we may not always have lived up to our personal expectations. I have yet to meet anyone who has been able to live more than a few days without falling short of a commitment made, or making some kind of mistake that affected someone else. Our shared faith refers to acts that work to break relationship between ourselves and others, and inhibit our relationship with God, as sins. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that we are able to travel a path that is surrounded by such great beauty and abundance, while all along being internally bound by our past (sins).
The Christian faith community is an interesting fellowship. It is not a community of the perfected. It is a community of the walking wounded who are seeking healing and renewal of life. Christians are simply folk trying to live God’s call to be the best version of themselves as possible. There have been wondrous examples of saintly and new lives emerging from this fellowship. But that transformation happens only after they have come to edge of their own forest.
This coming Sunday our church will invite us to step out of the woods, stand by the water, and pray to our God asking for release from the bondage of we carry within our hearts; the hurtful things we have done, the words spoken in haste, and the opportunities to help that have been lost. In other words we will ask for forgiveness. The next part of our prayer will be even better. We will pray that in our forgiven heart we find the liberty and abundance of life which God has already given to us in Jesus. After all, both God’s gifts of liberty and abundance of life have surrounded us at every step throughout our lives. Our hearts have simply not been able to embrace them as our own, to this point. It’s the old expression of not seeing the “forest for the trees” all over again. So as our pastor or priest will say this Sunday, “Let us pray.”
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 216)