by the Rev. Ginny Wilder, Trinity Parish
There was a sense of familiarity in sitting on the rocks, dangling my feet in the water, the sun nestled in a beautiful blue sky. I’ve been here before, at least that is what kept circling in my mind. I’ve been here before staring out at the sea, watching birds splash down and feed, listening to the lapping of the water against the tiny sea pebbles. In the familiarity was also an ache couched in understanding that it had been a long, long time since I had taken a moment to sit by the sea, and the ache was dull and present. I was waiting for Jesus to come along and tell me to throw down my nets, let go of the work I was doing, empty my life of my own plans and agendas, and sign up for a once-in-a-lifetime journey that would lead me to places and communities that I would otherwise never experience. Although I held no tangible nets in my hands that late afternoon, I held so many nets and worries and wonders in my soul that the space in my heart had become crowded, clouded, and I longed, yearned to hear Jesus speak my name and say, “Follow me.”
Along the Sea of Galilee while on a journey with St. George’s College in Jerusalem, I got to visit many places that are rich with history, stitched with sacredness, steeped in the stories I have been hearing since my earliest days. Our days were packed with travel and teaching, exploring and wandering. The design of our class, “Intro to the Bible Lands” took us on an adventure that included the Dead Sea, Mount of Olives, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and so many other places that held threads of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The sacredness of the churches we visited was not lost on us. We understood the inspiration for their existence, and we were enraptured with the beauty of the artwork, stained glass, the care given by the stewards of these houses of worship. The sights, the smells, the sounds were breathtaking, overwhelming sometimes but always beautiful.
When I recollect this trip to the Holy Land that we took in February, the places that I am drawn to in my remembering contain no walls, no floors, no ceilings but are spiritual and thin places just the same. Along the Sea of Galilee, my feet immersed in the chilly water, the shock of the cold brings to mind what Simon, Andrew, James, and John must have felt daily when they were fishermen. All day, in and out of the water, working for their father, the hardest work for the smallest return. Jesus spoke to them, called them to come and follow him, and they did without hesitation. My prayer on that rock, as the water gathered below me and then withdrew back into the sea was to be ready to say yes, without hesitation to follow Jesus where he leads me. Hands emptied. Heart ready. Let my prayer be yes. The desire of answering Jesus with a yes birthed many daydreams about what I might actually be opening myself up to and the hope of possibility coupled with the fear of the unknown were met in the gentleness of the sea stretched out before me, big enough to hold all of my worry and all of my heart. I sat there and gazed out in wonder and amazement and repeated over and over into the wind, “Let my prayer be yes.”
When we were driven to the Judean wilderness where the Wadi Qelt and St. George’s monastery are located, the vast open space took me by surprise. In all of my growing up and in my adult understanding of wilderness, I had romanticized the notion of wilderness into a canopy-covered hiking path with a pleasant brook running by. Lush and green, my wilderness offered hospitality and respite. I couldn’t have been more wrong in how I perceived where the Spirit drove Jesus after his baptism. This wilderness was wide open, exposed, barren and with no place to hide. The glare of sunlight off of the off-white, yellowed stones was painful with no other place to gaze except out — out at the distant hills with not much in the way of scenery except more rocks, more sky, and more sun.
In addition to romanticizing the wilderness, I had also become quite at home in wandering in the wilderness, being tempted in the wilderness of my own spiritual journey. This place, so high above and so exposed to the sky, it was easy to see why the devil tempted Jesus by asking him to turn these stones into bread. The stones were everywhere. My wilderness, my time in the wilderness in my 20s and 30s was filled with temptation, and I said yes to most of it. My yes back then wasn’t so much a prayer as it was an escape, an excuse, a reason to do anything else except listen to the call in my heart to come home, come back from the wilderness and be received with grace and forgiveness. My wilderness wasn’t like the one in Judea but the feeling of being utterly alone was very similar.
While in Judea, up high on a loose rock mount, I climbed higher still to a cross that was placed about 200 yards away. Shielding my eyes from the glare I took each step with great care, stopping every so often to draw a sip of water. I felt compelled to make it to the cross as if it were the X on a treasure map that I was carrying in my heart. Step by step, up and up, I made it to the simple cross and gazed out as far as I could see. There was very little relief in any direction except for those who were journeying with me. They were my relief. Their presence in my life happened only because God led me through my wilderness, forgave me of my discretions, and loved me through every wrong turn I had made and still make. I came home from the wilderness to a community of faith that nurtured me and nourished me until I was strong enough to say “yes” to where God was calling me. That yes led to a string of yeses that brought me to Wilmington and through Wilmington to the wilderness in Judea, surrounded by 10 other souls journeying with me from Trinity. I was lost, then found, and taking a moment by a cross in the true wilderness to say, “Thank you for not giving up on me.”