Renewing Waters

At Holden Village, the Lutheran retreat center where my family will live for 19 more days, we have a summer theme around which to organize our programming. Every Monday, our vespers service revolves around the theme and one of the visiting teaching staff will give a homily about that theme and the passage it comes from. Three years ago, in the summer of 2012, our summer theme was ‘Where the River Flows, Life Abounds.’ This phrase was taken from Ezekiel 47, where Ezekiel is describing a vision he had of the temple and a man shows Ezekiel a river that flows from the temple and brings life and renewal to everything that it touches. It was a nice passage and very apt in our situation because the village was in the middle of an enormous remediation project to clean up the water leaking through the waste piles from the old copper mine and into the creek. In the midst of heavy construction and a creek coated with heavy metals, the image of a renewing river of abundant life was apt. I know that the teaching staff gave thoughtful and meaningful homilies full of images of hope and new life. However, I do not remember any of them. The only thing I do remember is that, as the summer continued, and we continued to hear the same passage week after week, the homilies turned stale. There can be a lot of value to sitting with a specific text over a long period and continually coming back to it because each time, I hear it in a different way. But after three months of the seeing the same people all the time, being limited in where I could go hiking because of the preponderance of heavy machinery, and just being tired of summer, all the water metaphors and imagery in the homilies came to sound exactly the same and the Ezekiel passage became meaningless, the waters stagnant.

The only vespers that I do remember from that summer is when our artist-in-residence led the Monday Theme Vespers. She started by saying that she was sick and tired of hearing about water flowing and life abounding. So instead of delivering a homily full of more water metaphors and messages of renewal, she set a bowl of candles on the altar and we sat there watching the blue silks draped from the ceiling undulate and dance and flow as the heat from the candles wafted up to them. It was a simple gesture, but as we sat there, mesmerized by the water-like movements of the silks, we felt renewed. Even though the silks had been there all summer, we finally took the time to look and them, allowing us to experience the theme in a new way and once again engage with a text that had become tired to our ears.

This is the kind of renewal that I have wanted to bring to the vespers services at Marsh. I love the 11 am Interdenominational service, but sometimes it becomes routine and I zone out or the words feel tired. Sometimes, I need to sit at a table strewn with colored pencils, markers, and crayons and spend ten minutes drawing my prayers. Sometimes I need to share a meal with fellow seekers, laughing and talking and thinking within the frame of the communion meal. Sometimes I need to sing familiar words that remind me of a community that embraced me for six years of my life. Sometimes I need to sit in silence and not worry about the radio broadcast. Sometimes I need to hear the same text three times in a row before I can pick out the phrases that God is speaking to me. Sometimes I need something different, something that pulls me out of my routine, something that helps me see the undulations that the Spirit is causing all around me. Something that helps me see God.

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