All. The. Things. Seriously, the last two weeks have been the busiest 14 days of the year and there is no letting up in sight. Two weeks ago, on the eve of Labor Day weekend, I fell and broke two fingers on my right hand. When I met with my spiritual director a few days later, he asked me if there was any kind of spiritual metaphor in my fall. At the time, I laughed and said something like, “Sure. If I go too fast without paying enough attention, I fall. I fall because my depth perception is non-existent (eye-surgery scheduled in two weeks) and I need to be more careful when moving more quickly.” The conversation moved on from there.
I hadn’t really given much thought to the question because I don’t think God communicates with us through such physical experiences. God didn’t make me trip so I would slow down and be more attentive. Then I read the texts for this week and was thrown back to a very vivid memory of my eight-year-old self in church on a Sunday morning. And then my spiritual director’s question hit a little closer to home.
I was in third grade when I started attending church. Of course, in those days kids stayed for the first 10 or 15 minutes of service and then went to Sunday School. It was during one of those children-exiting-worship moments when the congregation began to sing what I heard as, “There is a bomb in Gilead to heal the seasick soul.” I had been seasick and knew how awful that felt, and I really wondered what kind of a bomb could blow seasickness right out of a person. And was Gilead any place near enough to go and get it?
Of course, I eventually saw the lyrics and understood my mistake. But all the activities of the last two weeks and my packed calendar create a kind of motion sickness. Team meetings. Sunday School lessons. Bible Study lessons. Worship preparations. Pastoral care. Doctor’s appointments. Congregational leadership retreat preparations. Conference leadership retreat preparations. Rallies, protests, trainings, and actions in the community. The list goes on without end. I’m not complaining and I am truly grateful for the vital and energetic congregation I serve. It’s just that right now I’m having trouble finding balance.
However, there is a balm in Gilead for sure. Jesus is pretty clear about how to find it, too. We cannot serve two masters. It’s not possible. We cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon, though an outdated word, better describes what Jesus is getting at here than simply saying, “wealth.” It’s more than just money. It’s the kind of richness or riches that inhibits a person’s relationship with God. These days, it could be nearly anything that is valued for its own sake rather than those things which draw us closer to God in gratitude or service.
In these last few weeks, I’ve felt the pull of these powerful, little gods often. I’ve wanted to just keep going and make sure everything is done perfectly. I haven’t wanted to ask for help or even acknowledge that two broken fingers have slowed me down in any way. I’ve wanted to get things done more for the sake of achievement and checking them off my to-do list than in service to God. Several times I’ve had to take a deep breath and remind myself that these things I have on my to-do list are holy things. They are to be done in service to God and the people of God and not for any other reason.
The “motion sickness” I have experienced frequently over the last few weeks occurs when I forget to breathe deeply in the Holy Spirit and just focus on tasks to be done. When I stop to remember that my busyness is useless if I am not deeply connected to the God I serve, balance and mindfulness are much easier to maintain. I was correct in my early hearing of that hymn, though. There is a bomb in Gilead to heal the seasick soul. The motion sickness we get from trying to do all the things, can only be blown out of us by the power of the Holy Spirit. You know, that balm that can truly heal the sin-sick soul. My spiritual director was also correct about the metaphor. I fall when I go too fast to pay enough attention and allow my flawed depth perception to guide my feet.
In this season of busyness as the church program year comes into full swing, it’s easy to forget what we are about. It is easy to get distracted by the glittering little gods of our day. We need to choose repeatedly, day by day or moment by moment, which god we will serve. Will it be the pretty ones who will keep us off balance and stressed? Or will it be the One who calls us to the way of peace?
To quote another old hymn, “Guide my feet while I run this race. Yes, my Lord. Guide my feet…”
RCL – Year C – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 18, 2016
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 with Psalm 79:1-9 or
Amos 8:4-7 with Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7