When I was in college at Sewanee I often got stressed out over tests and papers and plays. Adding the angst of relationships, sorority drama, and the general difficulties of being a young adult, I could get quite overwhelmed. One of my strategies for dealing with the stress was to walk out to the dairy. It sat on a hill near a couple of trees, and at that time there were no lights around it at all. I would stand in the road listening to the snuffling of the horses in the field nearby and stare up at the sky. So. Many. Stars. I could see the Milky Way clearly and pick out the stars and planets I had learned to name in my Astronomy class. I have heard people say that when they look up at the vast expanse of space they feel insignificant and disoriented. That's what I loved about it. Feeling insignificant. I would remind myself that I was one small human on one small world in one small galaxy in the whole universe, and suddenly whatever I was worried about just didn't seem quite as overwhelming. I would spin around in circles while looking at the stars until I got dizzy and fell down laughing. It was almost as if the spinning shook up my brain and reorganized it so that worry was no longer at the forefront. Recognizing my insignificance has always been good for my ego and my compulsive worrying. I'm just not that important in the scheme of the universe. And that's okay.
On the other hand, sometimes we can get to feeling so insignificant and powerless to have any affect on the principalities and powers and systems of the world that we can lose hope and give up trying to make a change. On those days we may need a sign that even as insignificant as one individual is, our presence on the planet makes ripples that extend far beyond the tiny ponds we inhabit.
Today I sat inside the rotunda of the student union at the prayer station. At one point I got up to take a picture from across the floor. The sign and chairs looked so small in the rotunda area. A little spot of peace and comfort on the edge of a room on the first floor of a building in the middle of a campus. What difference could it possibly make? And yet it has. I get credit for showing up. But God gets credit for making a difference. Several new people walked by the station today, read the sign, paused, and then came back to ask for prayers. Probably 50 people walked by and smiled or waved. More walked by and read the sign and kept moving, but I could see something clicking inside their brains. Regulars stopped by to check in and share a hug. I even got to see the Humans of CNU guy again!
Thrive, started by a young friend of mine named Luke. He has a vision of unity among Christians. One of the main purposes of Thrive is to gather all the Christian campus ministries at CNU to worship together once a month. Hundreds of students attend their events, and they have made a huge impact on the campus. That's one way. How I've connected with Thrive is through the prayer station. Some of their leadership members come and sit and chat with me and ask for prayers. Although I have been unable to attend a Thrive event so far, I have enjoyed my connection with these bold students who are on fire for the Gospel, and I'm looking forward to their event tomorrow night. The prayer station is a much quieter expression of the Gospel than Thrive, but it has also had an impact on hundreds of students. One by one.
How grateful I am for the body of Christ, infinite in its variety, each part with its own gifts, all contributing to the whole. How grateful I am that we, merely human beings, can make a big difference with small acts. How grateful I am that even a tiny prayer station can offer something that strengthens, encourages, and uplifts those who stop by. God loves all God has created, small and large, in incredible diversity, each one of us and all that is around us. Thanks be to God!
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Sunday, January 24, 2016
It was almost too bright to see, but I didn't want to head back in for sunglasses. I walked around my house and then headed out into the neighborhood. There is a pond in the back of the Mews, and I wanted to see if it was frozen. Half way. I was making new tracks on the path that goes around the pond - though I felt a little guilty at disturbing the smooth blanket of white. I was surprised at how few people were out and how few birds I saw. It looked like someone had been out walking a dog on parts of the path, but other than that, I was the pioneer. The surface of the snow glittered in the sun, and ice cracked under my feet as I went. Sometimes I was light enough not to break through the layer of ice, but in other places I crashed through, and my boots sunk inches deeper into slush. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain, sleet, snow. That's what had happened in the past 48 hours, and I could feel each of the layers as I walked.
When I got to the front of my neighborhood, I decided to head for the labyrinth. Again I was surprised that no one had been out on the sidewalk I take to Eastern State Hospital. With the sun reflecting off the snow and the wind at my back, it wasn't long before I pulled my hood down, unzipped my coat, and removed my gloves. Though it was only 27 degrees, I was hot! The road was reasonably clear, though slushy at intersections. On the hospital grounds the road was wet with no slush at all. Someone had plowed well.
The labyrinth looked very different than it had when I was there at the beginning of the storm. I could barely see the path at all. Animal tracks cris-crossed diagonally over sections of the labyrinth. I thought maybe they were from deer, but closer inspection looked more like paw than hoof tracks. Dog? Raccoon? Fox? I have no idea. Whoever it was didn't feel a need to stay on the path but scampered across to the other side. I wasn't sure if I wanted to step out onto the smooth surface, but once I was there, I couldn't resist.
Heading back out, I walked in my own footsteps. Much easier to find the way. No cracking of the ice this direction, though. Instead, stepping in my boot tracks, I went much deeper into the snow, often down into wet slushiness. I guess the sun was melting the places where I had walked. It was a much faster trip out since I no longer had to pause at each turn and discern the way forward. I smiled at the end. I did it! If anyone else wants to walk it in the snow, they will know the way now. These footsteps will not disappear as quickly as the last, though in time the snow will melt and the concrete and paving bricks will emerge once more.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
When I got to the labyrinth, I saw a light coating of snow on the path and paving stones. I hesitated to mar the pristine surface with my footsteps. Pausing at the entrance I said a prayer for CNU, for discernment, for guidance. And then I began walking. It was hard to tell which direction the snow was coming from, but at times I turned right into it and got a face full of cold wetness. I was glad I wore my hiking boots because my steps were sure, and I did not slip at all. Plus, my feet were warm in a way that they wouldn't have been in my running shoes that are intentionally designed to allow my feet to breathe. Good in summer but the feature that allows the heat out also allows the cold and damp in.
Psalm 103 says,
"Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field;
When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more." (15-16)
So too with our footsteps in the snow. On my way back home, the snow was already much deeper. More people had been out walking and even bicycling in the snow, but my tracks had been obliterated.
I know, though, that I was there. And now, others do, too. My footsteps may be buried beneath the snow, but they are there, marking my path to the center and back. I wonder if part of my yearning to write is about leaving footsteps that will remain. All this snow makes me reflective. Perhaps watching my footsteps disappear in the snow is a good lesson in letting go. One that has always been hard for me. I could have sung Elsa's theme song from Frozen when I was in the center. "Let it go, let it go." Please help me in the letting go, God.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
One of the ECM students brought his roommate and a new hallmate by the station. Turns out the hallmate was raised Episcopalian and wants to start coming to church. I love when the students evangelize. She was wearing a light sweatshirt and no coat, shivering as we chatted, and we all commented that it might be good to wear a coat. She said that the sweatshirt was a gift from a boyfriend and a friend and that it smells like them. I suggested she was receiving emotional warmth if not physical warmth from the shirt. She said yes, that it was emotional comfort for her. We all agreed maybe she could wear a heavier coat over the sweatshirt as a way to provide both for both physical and emotional needs.
The roommate is an ROTC student, and so I learned all about the officer training program and what is involved. It was a really cool conversation. I also learned that Cards Against Humanity ("adult Apples to Apples") can keep college students up until the wee hours of the morning and that as a priest I would not be invited to play what they described as an "irreverent, offensive" game. I doubt it could be more irreverent or offensive than some games played when I was in college, but I wouldn't have wanted my priest around for those either. ;) They chatted for about half an hour before heading off to Spanish, English, and Economics classes.
Today was like old home day at the station. I saw so many of the students who have come to talk or pray with me. The Humans of CNU guy greeted me and said he was going to come back to chat when he has more time on another Thursday. Another person invited me to come to CNU Tonight in a couple of weeks. One girl in a sorority jersey stopped by to tell me she was glad I had moved inside, that she knew it was Thursday and had been worried I would be sitting out in the cold. Another student stopped by and said he wasn't religious but that he's a religious studies major and he wanted to thank me for being there, that it was meaningful to him to see me sitting there even though he didn't have a prayer request. Interested in the Abrahamic religions that he described as "beautiful," he wants to be a religious studies professor. Two other students I know are graduating this semester and are planning to start their own clothing company together. I learned today that they want to design men's blazers and coats and trousers. They're so excited! I told one of them that I would pray for the start of their business.
I shared the rotunda area with members from the student assembly. They were passing out free cups and frisbees with information about student assembly. I went up and asked what the free cups were for. The student said, "You have to give them free stuff, and then they get interested."
You have to give them free stuff. I reflected on whether I should be handing out something at the prayer station. But in truth, they do get free stuff. It might not be a cup or frisbee, but I hope what they receive gets them interested. A listening ear, a prayer or blessing, a smile, eye contact, a wave. I hope that, at least for a moment. they feel the warmth of being loved and that it comforts them on a cold day.
Friday, January 15, 2016
One of the Canterbury students, Sam, is studying abroad in Scotland this semester. She usually stops by the prayer station, so I missed her presence today, but she is keeping a blog about her travels, so I am able to follow where she is and what she's doing. A very cool thing to be able to view Scotland through her eyes.
After the prayer station, I went over to a local elementary school to help St. Stephen's with a new
food pantry project. Local churches are working together with the food bank to offer food, including fresh produce, to families of students at the school. Each family received a grocery cart full of food, including fresh pineapple, pears, potatoes, onions, greens, and sweet potatoes. There was also meat, canned goods, juice, and cereal. My job was to walk with a family around the room "shopping" for food and then to go with them to help load up their car and then return the grocery cart so the next family could shop. The first lady I helped asked me if I would take a tip. I told her no I wouldn't, that my gift was that I got to meet her. She gave me a big hug. She works at the school and said she had never needed to do this before. We had so much extra food at the end that we were able to offer it to teachers at the school as well, and several of them took food to their rooms to be able to give out to their students. We're going to be doing this once a month so I'm hoping some of the CNU students will join me.
Helping with the food pantry project and sitting at the prayer station today made me think about feeding people. How many stories do we read about food in the Bible? Jesus was all the time feeding people, both with food for their bellies and spiritual food. What a blessing it is to be able to participate with him in that work. There are a lot of hungry people in the world. I know we need to address the issue of how they have come to be hungry in the first place, both physically and spiritually, but in the meantime, it feels good to be helping to provide the sustenance. May God continue to bless these ministries and to bring the people to us who need them.