In my life, lessons come in seasons. I like to think that this is because all of life is learning, growing, and cyclical, but it’s probably just because I’m thickheaded and it takes a few whacks with a 2×4 upside the back of the skull for me to realize that God is trying to tell me something.
Example: one semester while I was in seminary, the lesson of the season was Sabbath. Everywhere I went, every class I took, for a period of about a month, we were discussing Sabbath. We read books on it. At my internship the pastor planned a retreat on it. I encountered a clergy woman who was suffering for lack of it. Finally I practically screamed, “Okay, already, God! I get it! You want me to make sure I observe Sabbath. Enough already!” And just like that, the Sabbath convergence went away.
The lesson this season in my life is that all things contain a trace of pain or sorrow or death. In fact, I think this may be the true brokenness of the human condition, the true loss of innocence, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden with its tree and the fruit that was All Good and All Evil, not the two mixed and woven and swirled together. But this is my life lesson. In the joy and excitement and anticipation of being ordained (after more than 10 years in this process), there is the deep sorrow that this will be nearly the last action of my Annual Conference gathered together in full for the last time. In the joy and exuberance of pregnancy and the triumphant wail of new life (whether another woman’s pregnancy or, I hope one day again, my own), there is the deep grief of the hope I carried and lost. Even in the thrill of this learning, which feels like wisdom and treading lightly in life that is fragile, there is also a kind of sadness that is the loss of innocence. Perhaps that is actually what heaven is– coming back to a place where we can experience joy and peace, untinged with the sorrow and pain that suffuse so much of life. Weeping and death will be no more.
Reflecting on these things during a time of silence and retreat, I found myself a beautiful, serene patch of grass near the edge of a lake and sat in the early morning sun. Absorbing the stillness and beauty of the moment, I found for an instant a near-painless experience, and then I noticed an object on the ground, not six inches from my knee. A rock? A piece of driftwood? It looked charred a little, blackened in an odd but natural way. I used a stick to move it slightly, and then recognized the shape. A dead bullfrog, its body as big as my palm, partially frozen and decaying and hollowed out.
I laughed out loud. “You don’t give up, do you?” I asked, breaking my silence. “God, you have a sick sense of humor.”
Returning to the group, we shared our reflections, and I spoke about how God reminded me, once again, that all beauty, all life, contains sorrow, loss, pain, death. Another retreatant also got a message from God. He was sitting in a clearing and a bear cub came and sat on the opposite side of the clearing with him for about 15 minutes. He was possessed not with fear, but with a deep calm.
Another life lesson for me; some people are the ones to whom God sends bear cubs and burning bushes.
Me? I’m the one God sends dead frogs. And I think I’m comfortable with that.
This pretty much sums up my spirituality.