Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’Genesis 28:16
I am here in a pastoral retreat setting; here to form my spiritual life. Here among the beauty of nature and the kindness of others. I am here to learn from the masters, and I am here to ponder deep thoughts and to reconcile my understanding of God and myself. But I find that I am not having very much luck in my pondering. Maybe it is because I am not fully invested in the topic or question. Maybe it is because I am a rebellious child within, and am dragging my feet to do homework. Maybe it is because I would rather watch others than to focus on my own self. On this particular occasion I was to be contemplating a question.The question I was to contemplate was, “in order to fulfill my religious life, what obligations do I have?” I quickly thought about the obvious answers of following a call to ministry, being a faithful spouse and parent, loving others. But before long my thoughts were wondering as they tend to do. In my boredom with my own musing, I do what I tend to do, and observe others. I looked around and spotted a man I know, and the relationship we share was immediately brought to my mind. This thought led to the question of obligations, and I pondered, finally, how relationships were obligations in all our lives. Then I wondered how I got here in my thoughts.
I am here with a man whom I hold in high esteem and high regard. He was an important part of my life at a pivotal point of my life. I love him. Not in the romantic sense, but definitely beyond the love we must have for all our brothers and sisters. More in a familial sense, although I feel that is presumptive on my part. My admiration for him does not fit into the parameters of hero worship, because that would be disrespecting his life of humility. Does he have any idea the impact he has made in the lives of others? Does he recognize despite any detractor that he may have that he has done so much more for God’s kingdom than he may realize? Does he still search for significance, or is he comfortable with the work he has done for God?I am here with his wife, who is such a gentle soul I feel unworthy and yet deeply loved in her completely serene presence. She has also done a great deal for me in the way of furthering my spiritual side. She quietly encourages and speaks louder with her actions than her words. The same questions apply, does she know?
I am here with a woman who struggled along-side me and kept me from quitting my calling and, thereby living a life that would have been “less-than” because I would not have been fulfilling my purpose. She was my sage, my mentor, my rock and my friend. She is still that for me, but now maybe I can be that for her as well.I am here with a man who was once a close friend, and although we still consider ourselves friends, we are not as close as we used to be. I still remember the talks we had that helped me along, and the ability to lean on one another when times were rough. I cared very deeply for him and I grieve the loss of the fullness of this friendship, but understand and recognize that things will never be the same, and there is nothing that can be done about that.
I am here with several people whose spirits are high in spite of physical limitations or set backs. One is an old friend with whom I had a time of closeness and then we grew apart; another is a new friend that I may never talk to again after this week.I am here with acquaintances in ministry that I recognize and greet, and those who are closer and I confide in. I am here with a friend who is a mother figure to me, and a friend who has fatherly words of wisdom for me.
I am here with a woman I identified with and related to before we ever met, and a man I thought I would have nothing in common with and yet feel a bond. They teach me and I learn from them. I have so many questions for them…I am here with those who are on the path with me, and lead me and guide me. I am here with those for whom I am the guide.
I am here with a young man who is extremely and incredibly talented, and rather than being vain about his abilities, has a humility and grace and love for God that he is passing onto a new generation.I am here with a man struggling with personal problems, but knowing that in spite of or perhaps because of these issues, he needs to connect with God and take time out to fill himself. He is a good man, a decent man, and a man of integrity that I am just beginning to know.
I am here with a man who has a great gift of poetry, and every thought he has comes out as brilliant prose. I am here with a woman who is confident in herself and her choice of a lifestyle that others may criticize. I am here with a woman who is a friend of one those who face physical limitations, and she is here to support her friend and walk this journey with her.I am here with those in whom my confidences are not safe, and those with whom they are. I am here with those who know me, those who love me, those who dislike me, and those who have no clue I exist.
I am here with a man who, a woman who, a friend who, a superior who, I am here. I am here and God is here, and what matters is, my obligation is, that I recognize God in this place.