What I am about to tell is strangely scary for me to share. This experience is SO NOT ME.
Often my stories are full of pride and individuality, force of will, intellect and separateness. This story humbles me, levels me and empties me to my very least. And that is hard to bear.
For four weeks I’ve pondered and puzzled and more than ever I’ve prayed. I don’t know what else to do but share my truth just as it came to me.
I awoke Easter morning eager to worship here with you and celebrate the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Loren left early to practice music. At 10 a.m. I got into the car to go to church but the car would not start. It wouldn’t even try. I felt disappointed and then asked myself, “Now what? Well, I’m ready for the good news, I’m ready for prayer and thanksgiving, I’ve prepared myself for communion. I’m ready to praise. So, I’ll do my own worship right here, right now, in my own house.”
I sat in the morning sun window with my Bible. It came to me to read the Gospel of John and so I did, from beginning to end. Then I read the entire gospel again. While silently reading, instead of hearing the words in my mind’s ear, I felt the words reverberate in my heart. Then and there the living words breathed within me. Then and now is Jesus fully alive and, to quote Marcus Borg, I am meeting Jesus again for the very first time.
Thanks to my pentecostal grandma and the three-hour services three times a week during the summers of my childhood, I’m fairly familiar with scripture. John’s narrative has always been my favorite gospel. I’ve always believed in God and I love God. I’m a kind of wild outdoor person. I’ve seen God at work from wilderness at 9,000 ft. to the expanse of desert solitude, from oceans to the sacred space of light and darkness; and for the past eight years, by stepping over the rock wall into the constant New England woods. God is overwhelming grandeur, from cosmic infinity down to the cellular and sub-atomic levels. For me, God is mystery and vastness, both remote and mysteriously intimate.
For more than 60 years I have keenly felt God’s presence in my life. For 30 years I have been a practicing Christian and believe me, I am still practicing. I’ve read and studied, gone on spirit-fortifying retreats and attended classes led by prominent religious teachers and scholars. I’ve participated in all aspects of church life and I have prayed honestly and sincerely and with compassion for others. My life’s work has led me to serve the oppressed and excluded, the last and the least.
You might say Jesus has been the measure and model for my work and life. I know about Jesus. But I have never prayed in the name of Jesus. I have never said or even sung the words, “I love you, Jesus.” It’s impossible for me to love someone I don’t know personally, just because others tell me that I should.
You must think at this point I am a very slow learner or very stubborn. I agree with you. But my stubbornness has been an aspect of me that I have treasured.
So, back to Easter morning. I’m reading John for the second time and Jesus is in my face. “Until now, you’ve not asked for anything in my name. Haven’t you heard me say, ‘Ask and you shall receive?’ Believe I am who I am and act on it.” Especially this part: Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in Me does not believe in Me only, but in the One who sent Me. Whoever looks at Me is seeing the One who sent Me. I will do whatever you ask in My name so that the Father may be glorified.” Don’t you get it yet? I am in My Father. You are in Me and I am in you that all may be one.
To frame this realization in a slightly more contemporary way, when the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, wrote, “If your heart is as my heart, take my hand,” he was paraphrasing John. Wesley made it clear that all of the differences in our ideas and theologies don’t matter if our hearts are one in Jesus.
And so, on that Easter morning my heart was burdened for my son — my artistic, musical, athletic, crazy, silly, optimistic, non-stop energetic, attractive-to-women, outgoing son. He loves his life, which is full of friends, business ventures in all stages and directions. But now he was in a slump. For about six months a series of personal losses and closed doors had plagued him. In Hollywood, that can be terminal. I could feel his uneasiness and depression, so unlike him. I was afraid and suffering from intense awareness of my own powerlessness to help. I was brought to my lowest place by that undeniable helplessness and this burden was so heavy.
And I began to pray. I prayed to my God in the name of Jesus. “You told me to do this, Jesus! I claim your promise right here, right now for my son. Jesus, help my son. He is in peril.” I don’t know how long I prayed. There was loud shouting, foot-stamping, crying. I don’t even know what I prayed. My mind was not engaged, just my heart and soul. Finally exhausted and my voice gone, a lightness of spirit filled me and my burden floated away. Something shifted inside me. A power moved me from within and the desperate sense of helplessness and hopelessness was gone. And I experienced an indescribable deliverance at the center of my life. Light and lightness filled me and lifted me out of that dark place.
Here I thought I was praying to Jesus strictly for my son’s sake! Come, Jesus, come! Be present for him now! Actually, Jesus came to me and delivered me from my smallness and emptiness and self-importance. I felt that peace that passes all understanding and the assurance that God through the Holy Spirit of Jesus is at work in my life now and in my son’s life, in God’s fullness of time and purpose.
I know this isn’t the end of the story. It’s a beginning. I know there is something of me that I am withholding, something I must release and give up to God and only I can do that. I also know I have been transformed in a way that I could never have imagined and now I can honestly and unambiguously say, “I love you, Jesus!” because you know me and I finally know who you are.