As I begin life at Laurelville, I’ve been re-reading and reflecting on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World. During the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the first chapter: “The practice of waking up to God”. Before moving on to the second chapter in the coming weeks, I wanted to jot down some final thoughts on the first.
In chapter one, Taylor reminds us that God is not constrained by the walls of our church buildings. The whole world – indeed, the whole of creation – is God’s house. We may just as easily meet God lying on our backs staring up the sky as we can sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning.
This isn’t a message I have trouble embracing. Indeed, I’m thrilled to be living and working at Laurelville because of how I’ve encountered God on the trails, beside (or in) the creek, and in the mountains. Instead, there is a different, but related, challenge for me in chapter one:
In the same way that God isn’t limited to the walls of our churches, God isn’t limited to the people in our churches.
When I worked at Argonne, I felt I was unable to connect faith and occupation. I had trouble waking up to God in the faces of my colleagues. I couldn’t see Jesus in the guise of the people I worked with. And I’ll be very clear: this says more about me than about my colleagues. It always felt as something of a personal failure that I couldn’t make that connection.
During our move to Laurelville, I became even more keenly aware of this failure. In some ways, it seemed like I was giving up and running away. But I also felt some grace to let it go. Maybe the gift of waking up to God anywhere or in anyone is a lesson for another time. Maybe it’s one that I’ll never learn. Maybe Laurelville is the place where I’m to learn it. Or maybe I already understand more than I know…
On my last day of work in Illinois, one of my colleagues said, “There have been few bright spots working here. You were one of them.”
That touched me deeply. It humbles me. What can I learn from that?
Now I’m in a place that I love. It’s easy for me to see God’s presence all around me. Each day, my “morning commute” (a five-minute walk from my house to the camp office along Jacob’s Creek) is an act of waking up to God. Yet even here, I expect to be challenged and surprised. I look forward to saying with Jacob…
Surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it!