Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Wandering in the Wilderness

The Rev. Sheila McJilton
One recent Sunday, I wandered around at coffee hour between the services. It was a “Sunday between”—we’d just finished one adult book study and were taking a little break before beginning the Lenten one.

As people gathered at round tables, the parish hall hummed with energy. Folks drank coffee, ate brownies, chatted. At one table, a woman spread out a quilt in progress. Several others eyed it thoughtfully then all agreed that one piece didn’t work and should be removed.

At another table, a husband and wife sat quietly, reading books. At another, one studied his computer. At another, two parishioners huddled over an iPad about committee work. At another, a group of older teenagers gathered with adult leaders, then all disappeared into their classroom for deeper conversations.

As I watched, people moved from one table to another. Colors and sounds shifted, mixed, separated and flowed. I was aware that all of these little “islands” of people were not solitary ones. There were lots of conversations going on; yet there was a sense of family gathering. This family had chosen each other, it honored each other’s boundaries, it was perfectly comfortable spread out in the same big room, doing different things. 

Later, as I thought about family gathered, I remembered a recent conversation with a neighbor, whom I do not know well. She asked whether St. Philip’s was going to do Ashes-to-Go at the Laurel MARC station this year, said she would like to come by, then asked if we could put a good friend of hers on our parish prayer list. In our conversation, she noted that she felt “a little spiritually lost.” My response to this woman was that she is always welcome in our parish, because we are all wandering in the wilderness together. But I have found myself chewing over that phrase since then. What, exactly, did that person mean by being “spiritually lost”? I was brought up Southern Baptist, so I know what that term means in that tradition. Yet I am convinced that God loves us much more than we love ourselves. Now, I tend to wonder if our sense of being “lost” is more related to our own harsh self-judgments. We measure ourselves against some ideal—always seen in someone else—and come up short. 

Yet each one of us is God’s beloved child, each on a journey. At some time or another, each one wanders in the wilderness. I feel sad when one thinks s/he is so unworthy, s/he must wander alone. No one has to; we need each other as we wander through our wildernesses. If we are lost, that doesn’t mean we are bad people. We’re just in need of company, of being loved. We need to lean on someone else, talk with someone else, drink coffee together, critique a quilt together. Someone has a gift I don’t have. I have a gift they don’t have. If we share our gifts, we may discover deep treasure. The important thing is that we choose to walk together in the wilderness. In that journey, as we stumble along and help each other, there is grace and community in the family gathered.

The Rev. Sheila McJilton is the rector at St. Philip's, Laurel.