Walking the Sea

Walking the Sea: May 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Where in the World is Sarah?

It's been a busy week!  For some reason, I saved the busiest schedule for the last week I am here.  Last Sunday I was in Chorley with Hetty and her family.  After lunch, we took the train back down to London where I stayed the night with her before leaving in the early morning with a tour on Monday to Stonehenge then Bath.  I then stayed in Bath for two nights where I was given some soap and had a shower in the rain (along with seeing many wonderful places!) and then took another morning train on Wednesday back to London to explore Kennsington Palace, see a show at the Globe Theatre where I ran into someone I last saw in Switzerland, whizzed through the Tate Modern, and saw the musical Love Never Dies at the Aldelphi Theatre.  Thursday morning I woke up early to catch a morning train to Cambridge where I went punting and enjoyed a long walk before giving a talk in the evening.  On Friday morning, I woke up early to, you guessed it, catch a morning train to Lewes which went through London.  Arriving in the afternoon in Lewes, I had another walk and a good dinner before getting about nine hours sleep!  I am here in Lewes for another night before catching the train back to London tomorrow evening.  I then get a full day to explore Greenwich, the Tate Britain, and see Wicked before flying home on Tuesday.

It's nice to have my last weekend here in a small town near the coast and though it involves two talks, it's still a way to unwind a bit and get some rest.  I'm getting a hang of this traveling thing though, all the trains and the tube system.  I now know what to look for, where to go, and am feeling quite confident.  It's a nice place to be, it is what I am used to.  (I have spent a lot of time stepping on and off trains!)  For example, yesterday to get here, I had to take a bus, a train, the tube, and another train.  No problem.  Easy as pie.  Even my backpack has become a friend, that traveling companion ever nearby.

Today George and I are walking to see the castle here in Lewes before I give my talk tonight.  I also get to wash all my clothes today which is pretty exciting as well.  I'll try to create a post of pictures later today for all of you to see.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tramp for the Lord

In the Corrie Ten Boom Museum in the Netherlands, I saw a picture in an upstairs hallway of Corrie standing on a road with a suitcase in hand and a smile on her face, the caption underneath reading, “Corrie, tramp for the Lord”.  Corrie traveled extensively sharing her story of The Hiding Place with the entire world, speaking in an untold number of places, talking about tolerance, compassion, and diversity with whoever would listen.  I loved this picture and felt an immediate affinity for what it represented.  Being a traveling minister myself, I thought this picture was hilariously funny and immediately decided I too, was a tramp for the Lord.

As of today, I have been on the road with my backpack for one month, one-twelfth of the whole year.  By the time I am done with this trip and adding in all the other travel I have done for the book in the last twelve month period, it probably comes close to one-sixth of the year.  I think this definitely gives me “Tramp for the Lord” status.  This pleases me.

In addition to being greatly amused by this new title, it has also given me an opportunity to think about what being a tramp for the Lord means.  Going into this ministry trip, I knew the hardest part would not be all the moving from place to place or carrying the backpack, which I am told is probably at least fifty pounds, but that it would be handling the roles of speaker, guest, representative, and author on a nearly constant basis for almost six weeks straight.  It’s an admittedly, tall order.

When traveling on a journey like this, you aren’t your own person, your time is not yours to use as you wish.  When you are a tramp for the Lord, you lay down some of your own desires, preferences, and even needs.  You give when you think you can’t give anymore.  You engage with people when you would rather disengage and sneak off to be alone.  You put one foot in front of another when you would rather sit down.  It is very much a laying of one’s life on the altar, giving it up, casting your net out on the water, and praying, “Not my will by thine be done.” 

I’m not saying that it’s not fun.  I’m not telling you that there aren’t times when I have more freedom to go do as I choose than at others when I’m on someone else’s schedule or that I haven’t had delightful periods of peaceful rest.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it all over again in a heartbeat, that all the things I have seen, explored, and learned are not entirely worth all the planning and the daily challenge of being present.  The rewards are more than worth the price.  In fact, the Sunday before I left, friends at church said with generous sarcasm, “Way to carry the cross Sarah!  Suffering for Christ in Europe!”  And it’s not as if all my needs go unmet.  But you never get as much time to rejuvenate as you would like, as much quiet without someone wanting to talk to you as you need.  You have to learn in the fire when to keep going when you don’t think you can and when to excuse yourself for some rest.  I probably error on the side of staying to talk with people but I know my time here is of limited duration and I need to be open while I can.

One image that has inspired me continually as I go along is that of scattering seeds in the fields I have the honor of passing through.  Hanging against my hip is a “bag of seeds” and everywhere I go, I reach my hand in, grasp a handful, and throw them out among the furrows.  I pray they take root.  I pray they find a place to grow.  I pray God brings along other people to water the seeds I’ve thrown.  But where the seeds land and how they grow I will never know.  My task is to walk through the fields faithfully, to throw the seeds lovingly, not to know what happens to them after I leave.  But there is great pleasure in this, pleasure in knowing I get to throw the seeds and joy in being a planter in hands I adore.  Tramping along the dirt roads beside stone walls, I do what needs to be done to get the seeds out there. I have faith God has reasons for exactly where I go.

So here I am, giving my time, my efforts, my life.  Because that is what we do in the ministry and we are all ministers.  We acknowledge that our lives are not about us.  It’s about the larger story of God redeeming the world and everything in it, seed by seed.  It’s about being a light of his everlasting and steadfast love, of his joy and inner peace.  It’s about grace.  But the great thing is though, that God takes care of his children. The Lord makes sure all our true needs are met while we scatter his seeds.  Though we sacrifice our lives, God does not.  He takes what we give and makes sure we have what we need.  He gives us the space we did not expect to write in our journal, or take a walk by the sea, or a train ride that’s quiet, or makes sure an activity is more life-giving than we thought it would be.  I know I’m in good hands.    I am still a whole person and God respects that more than anyone else.  But if I am not willing to sacrifice for a greater good, what is my faith worth, let alone the service I give?  We all want to leave behind us something larger than ourselves, something lasting longer than our lifetime.  The Bible tells us to die to self so we can live, a verse I think Corrie must have liked and I am proud to walk under the same banner, a tramp for the Lord.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Art of the Ages

While traveling throughout Europe, I have seen a great deal of art and religious art in particular.  During medieval times and the Renaissance, most art was religious in nature and there are certainly a lot of religious sculptures and paintings in the churches and cathedrals.  After examining all these extraordinary works from throughout the ages, I have had several questions to wrestle with, things I have pondered and asked about our view of God and self.

Look at the sculpture pictured above.  What do you notice?  What do you see?  One of the things I notice as I look at it is that everyone is dressed in the clothes of the time this sculpture was carved.  This it true for much of the religious art I have seen.  Rarely are the figures dressed in clothes they may have actually worn.  Think about the amount of fabric here, would they have actually worn that much?  Of course not!  Fabric fibers were harvested, cleaned, carded, dyed, spun, woven and then sewn. There is an immense amount of work in that process and they would have not wasted fabric on extra folds or trains.  They would have needed to be able to move around to do their work.  Only the rich could afford flowing robes.  So why are they pictured in clothes such as these?  Why go so far out of their original context?

The reason the artists went outside of the character’s context is because they weren’t painting the Biblical context, they were painting their own.  They weren’t concerned about staying true to the historicity of the times, they wanted to paint theirs.  They painted and sculpted to bring the stories of the Bible into their own world, into their understanding.  If we did that today, the disciples would be wearing jeans and t-shirts that say, “Gone Fishing”.  But in the modern western culture, we spend immense amounts of time understanding the “original context”, the Biblical cultures, clothing, and way of behavior.  We want to find out what they ate, what their houses were like, and the practices of their social structures. 

So we have two different cultures with two different views on the Biblical stories: one culture that put them into their own context and another who study the context in its original setting.  So here is my question: which is it?  Were they wrong to try to understand the stories through the lens of their own culture?  Are we wrong to keep the stories at such an objective distance?  Do one of us have the better idea?  Are we both wrong?  Are we both right?  Is there even a right and wrong in the first place?

I believe that when it comes down to it, we are both right and we are both wrong, if right and wrong are even the best terms for it.  I love the truths both views represent.  On one end, we study the original settings which help us better understand what the writers meant, the importance of some of the details in the stories.  But if we leave the stories there, they mean little.  We need to then bring these stories and characters into our own contexts, into our time frame and find out how these stories written so long ago are our stories, how they hold the truths of our lives.

At the same time, if we go too far in one direction, if we forget to look at the writers’ original context and read what they said entirely into our own world, or if we spend so long studying what they said to their culture and forget what they are saying to our own, then we are missing the whole point of why they wrote.  God’s word is always new, always speaking.  It spoke to their time, it spoke to those in the Middle Ages, and it speaks to ours here and now.  Art is supposed to be creative, to make us see things we might have missed, and whether that art places characters in clothes of their time or in ours doesn’t matter so much as the message those stories convey. 

To take this to an even broader level of Truth, I have also been asking myself a question on top of the first: do we insist on clothing God in what we see as the truth of our times?  Do we play dress-up with God?  Do we place our values and desires upon God, assuming the Lord agrees with what we hold as important?  There must be a reason most religious art of the past hasn’t even tried to portray God directly, only Jesus.  Did they know this could never be done?  So why do we try to do the very thing they never even dared attempt?  Why do we portray God in metaphorical modern day clothing and ideas, that same pair of jeans and a t-shirt that proclaims, “Turn or burn!”  God is so much bigger than that, better than that.  He outstrips us, our understandings, our ideas, our conceptions.  God wants us to search after him, to try to understand him, but not to put him inside our understanding.  He is the painter, we are the painted.

So take a step back and take another one forwards.  Put God in context then let God get back out again.  Study the art before you, either on canvas, in stone, or written onto the bark and brooks of the larger world, and see what stands out to you.    How do you see the origins of the story?  And how do you see the one who originated you?  The painter is still painting.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ahava Auto

Note: I wrote most of this last fall and then finished the story tonight.
"Screeeeeech... screeeeech!"  That is the noise of my frustration coming from somewhere around the front wheels of my car. "Grrrr" is the noise coming from me.  Resisting the urge to pull over and exercise my kicking skills against the car, I turn into the parking lot at work instead and try my best to put the noises out of my mind until I can tend to them later.  Praying over the car and then making it a burnt offering crosses my mind. 

In the afternoon, I nervously walk back to my wax-long-gone vehicle and start it up hoping the first fall rain miraculously has wet enough of whatever is making the noise to finally make the car be quiet and not let the noises cast the "shadow of the valley of death" onto my automobile's valuable life.  "Here's to hoping" I think.

Following the advice of a friend, I turn the radio's volume up so I can't hear the noise because if you can't hear it, the noise doesn't exist, right?  This is what I have been telling myself throughout the several weeks as my car has elected to make one noise, or two, after another but I can no longer stand the aggravation.  "That's it!" I decide. "I'm taking you in!"  Windshields wipers making back and forth trips across my window, shooing the raindrops away, I find my way through the rain over to where I know I need to go.  I often avoid this place and I wish I had a good reason for doing so but until I actually get there and talk with the guy, it's hard to go to this shop because I'll take the car in for one thing and the mechanic points out something else that needs to be fixed.  Or a couple of things.  Take your pick.  It can be a heart-rending experience, especially if I haven't been in for a while and I know work needs to be done.

Parking the car in an otherwise empty parking lot, I grab my little purple backpack from the seat beside me and try to cover the lenses on my glasses as I hurry to the front door of Ahava Auto.  Bell jangling to announce my entrance, I wipe my feet on the matt and look up to see the mechanic coming in through the shop door to my left. 

"Sarah!  How have you been?  Car giving you trouble again?  You know, you can come see me anytime, not just when the car is making noises.  I miss talking with you!" 

Sheepishly, I look into his face, "Hi God.  I know and I'm sorry.  I miss our talks too.  It's been a busy week but I really need your help with this.  I've got nowhere else to go." 

"No problem but you don't have to save me till last." he cheerfully replies with a wink and a smile.  "Let's see what we can do.  Give me your keys and we'll take it for a test drive first."

After opening the front door for me and unlocking the car, we slide onto the bench seats of what I like to call, "my grandpa muscle car" and he pulls out onto the road with a master's skill.  "So how have you been this week?"

"Okay. I have too much on my plate. I really appreciate and am grateful to you for the house sitting work and the full-time hours for a little while but they are demanding and other things aren't getting done. I don't know what to do about it."

"Don't know what to do or are too scared to do it?"

"Both." I admit. "I know I need to unload a few things, that I say yes to too much.  I know what I am supposed to be doing, but I'm not putting my priorities on the top of the list.  I'm not putting first things first." 

"You know, a car like this runs well.  It's a good engine but it's meant to drive.  It can serve in other capacities when you need it to such as a place to sleep if you're homeless but that is not what it is made for.  You can do it for awhile but it feels uncomfortable if you do it for long.  A car is made to drive.  What are you made for?"

"Writing.  I know it's writing.  I love to put words on paper. It feels like painting.  I also love being in that place of prayer with another as a spiritual director.  I feel 'in my place' when I do those things."

"But you haven't been.  Why not?"

"Busy.  Not willing to take the time, to sit down and share.  Some days I feel I don't have anything worth saying."

"But you always do, eventually.  It's not yours alone you know.  Your gift is meant to be shared.  The car is meant to be driven."


"Is this the noise?"


"Ah.  You know, there is a difference between what need to be done and what is just getting done.  What needs to be done will help your car run like it is supposed to.  What is just getting done is what comes up which may or may not be what the car is made for.  Understand?"

"I think so.  So all those little things I think need to be done may or may not be what I actually need to be doing and the things I am made for are not even on the list."


"That is rather disheartening."

"Why is that?"

"Because most of the things I do feel like they need to be done!"

"Try it this way: make a list of the things of top priority to you.  Keep the list short then do those things.  All those other little things will either go away or you learn to say no to what does not fit.  You can only fit so much in the trunk of the car."

"I'll give it a whirl.  So what's wrong with the car?"

"The hub assembly, rotars, and brakes all need to be replaced."

"How much is that going to cost me?"
"More than you could ever pay, but there isn't ever any charge.  Just do me a favor okay?"


"Do what you were made for.  I made you to be you.  Stop trying to be everything else."

"Thanks God."

Pulling back into the parking lot, God turns off the car and gives me the keys.  As I walk around to the driver's side, he wraps me in a big hug which he knows I need. As he heads back into the garage, I am left standing by the car, wondering why I ever wait so long between visits.  Then I take my seat and look at the steering wheel, smiling at the note he's left. "God was here - Come back soon!"

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Daring to Open the Door

I have long heard tales about the glories of the Woodbrooke library, how it is a literal treasure trove of hundreds of years of Quaker thought, writings from as long as Quakers have been practicing this particular spirituality.  I have been told how people come from far and wide to study here and to open the books held within its walls, how there are many nuggets of gold among the pages never fully explored.  I had also read guests could borrow the books while they were here.

Thus, when I saw the stained glass door with the word "library" incorporated into the design, I was rather excited.  Being a very curious person, using my key, I unlocked the door, walked down a short hallway, and entered a cream colored, small room.  On my right was a locked door labeled "library office" and I could see through the glass window there were shelves of material stored in there.  On my left, were bookshelves full of fiction and poetry and while scanning the volumes, I was pleasedd to see they had the full sets of Harry Potter and Narnia.  Still, I wanted to write while I was here, not read, and besides, I would be more interested in non-fiction anyway.  I figured they stored the old books in the office to protect them while no one was on duty.  Rather dissapointed as this did not live up to the glories I had heard of, I turned around and walked out. 

The next morning, I was eating breakfast with several of the other conference participants when one of them was telling us about how she spent a very enjoyable time the evening before in the library and how when she left, there were several other people still up chatting.  This didn't match my impression of the room and when I told her so and shared what I had seen, she told me I had to keep going through that room and into another.  Quickly, I finished breakfast and headed back to see what else there was.  This time, I let myself into the first room, and walked straight through it to another door I had not noticed before labeled "library".  Letting myself into this room, I saw before me shelves of non-fiction books along with moveable shelves to my right and while they looked very interesting and I figured the old ones were on the moveable shelves, I was still dissapointed.  What I saw and experienced was not what I had heard about.  So much for great libraries.

But then as I looked around, I spotted yet another door.  Pushing on the door handle, I walked through and finally saw what everyone had been talking about.  From floor to ceiling were locked book cases with glass fronts and behind them were shelves and shelves of extremely old looking books, book after book after book after book.   Looking down at a sign on a table in front of them, I read, "All books published before 1800 are now on restricted access.  Please ask library staff for help."  It took me one second flat to realize where the books published after 1800 (!) would be.  Sure, enough, turning to my left were high shelves full of both old and new books and eagerly, I ran to these and started scanning titles.  Freely, I pulled off and perused books from years such as 1818 and 1826, people's journals and periodicals, records, and theological thoughts about the goodness of God in a world with so much trouble and pain.  There were early Quaker documents, people I had never heard of, a whole library full!  The glories of reading were open for all.

As I walked back through the rooms of the library that day, I thought about how similar this is with our experiences of God.  We hear about a God who is loving beyond end, who wants to spend our daily lives with us, and how he will renew the whole of creation, glory beyond measure  We hear of wonders and miracles and joy and peace and love and those sound fantastic so we decide to explore this God of which we hear and go to church or pray.  We pick up a book or write a book, we go hear a speaker and start speaking ourselves.  We look for God in the flowers, in the smell of freshly mown grass, among the bricks and motar of the world.  And we come up dissapointed.  We do not see the God of which we hear.  Some walk out, some stay in the room trying to make the best of the situation, make the best of a dissapointment we don't even admit to.

But then we sit down to breakfast one morning, or talk to a friend and they tell us of their experiences with a God we do not know.  A God we have hoped for, but have never seen or touched ourselves.  We have heard whispers but have never known where to look, caught glimpses but never knew where to run.  But we give it a go, we decide to go back to what we have known and look again.  And this time we see a door.  Do we dare to walk through it?  Do we dare to leave what we have known behind and see what is on the other side?  Yes, we dare!  Turning the handle, we step into a whole new view of the Lord we thought we had known, new vistas are opened, new horizons before us yet this is still not the God we have heard of so we, having learned our lesson in the first room, look aroumd and explore, searching for yet another door.  Then there it is and we walk boldly before it in great reverence suspecting what is beyond. 

Grasping the door knob in our hands, we slide it open and are immediaetly in awe of what we find beyond.  Everything we have heard of is true. Everything we have longed for is there.  And God is there, full glory, eternal majesty, with our favorite cup of tea wanting to be personal, to talk, to listen, to walk the road with us, to show us this whole new creation.  Wisdom of the ages at our fingertips, love beyond measure around us.  It's all true, it's all solid, and there is so, so much more. 

We are all in such rooms.  We are all looking, searching, even if we have come to uneasy terms with dissapointment.  We suspect there is something more to God and this world.  We suspect there is deeper love and healing and we know that where we are at is not it.  And we are right.  The rooms we are in are not it and here is where the metaphor breaks down.  There is no final room.  There is no place we finally get to lay down in and say we have seen it all.  There is only door after door after glorious door.  This doesn't mean, however, we need to go right from one room into another.  It is okay to stop and take a look around, to pull some of the books off the shelf, find a chair, and open them up.  The shelves are a gift.  The books, the writings, they are to guide us as we walk through these rooms, words to teach us and let us know there are doors beyond and when we learn from them, we are better able to see the door into the next room.

I have walked through many doors in my life and it comstantly amazes me when I find yet another one waiting for me to open up and walk through. Some doors I am searching for and some are given me.  Some I find in great surprise and others are pointed out.  Sometimes it is a book I've read, or a place I have seen, but they are always there one after another, calling me to keep looking, keep knowing, and keep growing.  It's a beautiful garden that fills your soul with peace, it's the song of the birds, or tears of a new realization.  It's the love of a friend, so deep, resonating in the very core of your heart that you look at God and think, this must a part of what your love is like.  We think we know.  We think we understand.  Then something comes along that brushes our hand and haunts us, telling us there is more.  Do we stop?  Do we dare to look beyond?  Do we open the door?

Do I?  Do you?

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