'A Sunday Morning Walk... Deerfield, MA'
At times, what appears happenstance or coincidence is an orchestration of circumstances. This sacred synchronicity reveals we are not alone, sometimes provides specific guidance for our lives. As we move out of the way, such moments are more likely to happen, and we are more likely to see them for what they are.
On the first Sunday morning of October 2008, I arrived early at the sanctuary. I had come to prepare myself prayerfully for the worship meeting to begin at 11AM. In the last few days, I had felt the church was falling apart. And I, as the pastor, had decided I could do little about it.
I was told several persons were leaving the church. Some said they were going due to being displeased with me. And several persons had resigned leadership positions, presumably leaving from displeasure with the denomination. And this was a small church, so the loss of a few seemed like a lot. I felt caught between those who strongly supported me and those who vehemently opposed me. There seemed no one in between these glaring opposites. I could not resolve this split, for I could not compromise my beliefs or inclusiveness. I could not preach against gays and lesbians, proclaiming they were sinful. A large group in the church was strongly anti-gay-lesbian, believing they could not be Christian unless they admitted they were wrong. This group believed its "god" would send them to a hell. A member, representing the fundamentalists, told me all would be well if I stood before the church and said gays and lesbians were living in sin. He had come to my office, representing the opposition. I told him, forthrightly, "I will not do that."
Yet, more, I, then a progressive universalist in an evangelical denomination, The United Methodist Church, had been appointed in the last months to this conservative church. And the church was in a conservative region of Florida - Fort Meade, in Polk County. I had come from a church of moderates and liberals in a university city. There, in Gainesville, I had flourished as a pastor. This church was more like the conservative Southern Baptist religion of my childhood and youth. I was doomed from the day I stepped foot on the church grounds. It was only a matter of time. I felt it on the trip to the church. Moving my belongings south, I stopped and stood by I-75. It was sunny in Florida, but storm clouds gathered within me. I felt it - this is not going to go well. My spirit felt a haunting feeling; it was a sign of the tempest gathering on the horizon. I was soon to be welcomed with smiles. But as soon as some knew I would disagree with them on their dogmatic agenda, my loving them and being devoted to Christ would not matter. I have noticed that - some humans disown your love and deny you when they see you differ from them (But is that really love?). As a pastor, it can shift quickly. One day, "You're wonderful! You're a messenger of God." The next, "You're liberal. You're a heretic. You're wrong! We don't want you anymore."
* * *
This October morning was three months after my arrival. I was concerned almost no one would be in worship - based on a few persons' forecasts. And I was tired, having been awake until 5AM. I had lost my morning message on the computer and redid it.
Just before worship was to begin, I stood in front of the people. I saw the hymnal on the podium waiting for me. I opened it. Someone had placed a card inside the back cover. It could have been placed there that morning, or it could have been there for years. I read it, stunned at the message, which seemed so well-suited for what I needed to hear that morning.
For My Secret Pal -
God bless you. Wait
and see what the Lord
will and can do.
Peace & Love.
During the worship time, a woman was to give a talk on her relationship with God. This was the first time this kind of testimony was to be part of our Sunday morning worship. She stood up before the people, telling them she would not give words about her faith but something else. She spoke of being awakened at midnight. After awakening, she said the Spirit led her to talk about the power of prayer. Hearing these words, I smiled widely. The Sunday prior, I had given the morning message on that same subject.
I affirmed the testimony, and so did the people. Later in the worship, I shared with the congregation about the card. I said I did not know if it was put there for me to find.
We had beautiful worship together. Persons were joyous; they were affirming of my sermon and encouragements I gave them throughout the meeting. I left feeling different than I had in the last days. I was confident the Spirit was to bless the church in the weeks and months to come. I did not know in the months to come, the bishop would reappoint me to another church. He said he did not like moving me, for that meant the opposition would succeed in its plans to have me removed from the pastorate there. Yet, he wanted to protect both my lay leader (a member who represented the church to me and vice versa) and me - we were both under a lot of stress. I did not want them to have their way. But I was glad to be sent elsewhere. Sometimes, you bless people to have their way, and you move on, knowing they are digging deeper into the hole they live in, sadly. You leave, not feeling you let them down, for nothing you could have done while keeping your integrity would have stayed the storm.
* * *
Twelve years later, I am cheered by those words I found in the hymnbook. Whether they were put there for me or not, I do not know. And I have peace about those days and peace about leaving. They could run me out of town, but they could not bend me to their ways. They could not close my arms to anyone. I left with heart wide open. They did not win; such persons never win when they seek to kill the truth. They could not take away the words of truth found in that hymnal and planted in my heart for always. And they could not take away the veracity of the woman's testimonial on the power of prayer. Those were gifts they could not take away or tarnish, for they were given from loving hearts devoted to the Truth.
I am now age 60, and I can look back and see these divine surprises have happened throughout my life, ever since my teenage years. They remind me I am not alone. They remind me you are not alone. Despite what may appear to be the truth, we are being taken care of. There are unseen sources of strength and wisdom. We go through difficult times, feel abandoned or deeply hurt by others, and ache with loneliness. Still, we are not alone. Love finds a way to say, "Hey! I'm here. It's gonna be okay. Cheer up, and hang in there. I love you."
* * *
When we follow the heart, trusting in the Divine provision, we find sacred synchronicities happening. Squire Rushnell writes, in When God Winks, "Your life is not a series of random experiences taking you like a twig on a moving stream to destinations unknown." This could sound simplistic. For those who experience it, it is not; yet, it is simple. When we receive these divine surprises, there is no need to over-think them. They arrive as sweet gifts. We are not alone, and we are being loved. These reminders inspire us to keep walking the Way, to persevere patiently, and to cheer up. They remind us what others think or say about us is not of first importance; in fact, it is of little to no significance. And they remind us, we can spread love in an oft loveless world. After all, if we hold to love, what have we to lose? Nothing. With love, we have everything. With love, we can gladly, unapologetically welcome everyone into our heart when we are wedded with the Heart of Life.
* * *
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.