Rhythms of The Spirit Group
Rhythms of the Spirit
The first week of August David and I had the opportunity to attend the Rhythms of the Spirit retreat (www.RhythmsoftheSpirit.com) at Camp Canonicus, RI. This contemplative retreat is an American Baptist initiative to encourage pastors and lay leaders to explore how to deepen their journey with God. Since this is the focus of our new role as Regional Missionaries with International Ministries, we decided to attend. It would give us a glimpse of what is happening in our denomination, and expose us to a model that we could perhaps replicate in Latin America.
Unexpected Friends from Cuba
You will recall that six weeks prior to this, we were on a mission trip in Cuba. When I came home from this trip, I discovered a week later that some intestinal friends came home with me! One round of medication took care of one set of symptoms, but I was still plagued by stomach pains. Another round of tests revealed a bacteria that usually comes from drinking infected water. So, I began taking another medication, and headed off to the Rhythms retreat anticipating that my symptoms would soon alleviate.
Only they didn’t. In fact, four days into the medication, I felt worse. My stomach was constantly churning. I developed a gag reflex. And sometimes I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had people praying for me, there were moments of relief, but I didn’t seem to be improving.
Letting God Speak Through Scripture
Each day of the retreat we spent an hour focusing on a passage of Scripture. We would read the passage, paying attention to where God seemed to be speaking to us through the story, and then reflect on how we were to apply that truth to our individual lives. This particular day the scripture was John 4:7-15, The Woman at the Well. It’s a text I know very well. I’ve preached it numerous times. I’ve led retreats on this theme. I’ve studied the meaning of many of the Greek words and phrases. I know much of the cultural context of the setting. And I really wondered if there was anything new that was going to speak to me from this text. Let me share with you what happened . . .
Encountering Jesus at the Well
At this point, I am no longer sitting in a chair like everyone else in the room. I’m sitting on the floor, against a wall, trying to ignore my stomach, and attempting to breathe. I listen to someone else read the story out loud. Then I glance at my handout and read it to myself. I lay my head against the wall and imagine that I’m the woman at the well. And instead of hearing Jesus say, “Give me a drink,” I hear him say, “Tell me your story.”
Lord, I’m here at the well alone. I’m thirsty. I’m seeking. I don’t feel like I have anything to offer you. I need healing. Physical healing. I want to believe I’m getting better, but I can’t see it. I’m worn out. Sometimes, I can’t even breathe.
It’s not a question of knowing you are there. You’re right beside me. I thought I was asking for the right things. Praying for the right things. I went where you called me to go. I went to Cuba. I’m trying to serve you to the best of my ability. And now, I’m sick. What’s that about? I’m so frustrated I want to scream! I don’t know what to hold on to, Jesus.
Moving Into Silence
The facilitator of this exercise invites us into a time of silence. To quiet our thoughts. To listen to what God may be revealing to us.
I sit there, eyes closed, trying to breathe. I don’t feel anything. Hear anything. See anything.
The silence is broken when we are invited to share out loud what God spoke into our silence. Others in the room begin to share their insights on this passage. To be honest, I’m not really listening. And the fact that I’m sitting on the floor in a corner of the room doesn’t make it easy to hear their responses either. But then, from the other side of the room, a male voice rings out clearly.
“This seems like a paradox,” he begins, chuckling a little. “But I hear Jesus saying, ‘Breathe in the water’.”
Breathe in the Water
The words hang in the air for a moment. Then they coalesce into an arrow that pierces my gut. I know those words are for me. Okay, they are probably for him, too, but they were also for me! I hear Jesus saying, “Take my cup of living water. Breathe it in. Breathe the water.”
I feel something shift inside of me. A truth that shimmies its way through a crack in my armor.
The session ends and we have a 15 minute break. I stand up to see who spoke those words on the other side of the room. It was Pastor Dave DeMott from First Baptist Church of Grand Junction, CO. A pastor we know very well. He serves a church that supports us. I didn’t find it a coincidence that God spoke to me through a person that was already a part of my faith network. That’s the power of community. A word given to you, may also be a word for someone else you know. God’s Spirit weaving our hearts together.
The Unexpected Phone Call
As the next portion of our program is about to begin, I notice that my cell phone is vibrating. I glance at it and see that the Urgent Care Facility in Philadelphia is calling me. This is the clinic where I’d gotten my diagnosis. Why were they calling? I slip out of the room to answer the phone. I speak with a Dr. Kate. “Joyce, I’m just calling to see how you’re doing?” Astonished, I tell her that I’m half way through the medication and that I feel lousy. I tell her my symptoms. She says, “Yes, the medicine you’re on is nasty. It really does a number on the stomach. But finish the prescription and wait a week. You should see a change by then.” I thank her and hang up the phone. Never, in my entire life, have I had a doctor call to check up on me—let alone a doctor from a walk-in urgent care facility. Who does that?! But our five minutes conversation alleviates some of my anxiety, and I begin to trust again that I am indeed getting better.
God Loves Paradox
Breathe the water.
I’m learning that God is mysterious and delights in paradox.
May I have the eyes to see. The ears to hear. Amen.
Epilogue: I finished the medication, and now, a week later, am beginning to feel better.