Above the Din

Sunset from Campsite #2 on Mt. Mitchell

I watched some of the families and survivors of 9/11 this morning before I went to church. It was very meaningful, in fact, maybe more so ten years later than it was at the time. I was a very distracted person ten years ago. I’m no less busy now, but maybe I’m more reflective. Perhaps it was 9/11 that had something to do with that. Maybe it was the need for time away in the cacophony that comes from the tyranny of the urgent. Anyway, listening to the recorded phone messages from those who perished on 9/11, and hearing their families experiences of reassurance was powerful. I heard a theme of God’s presence and it gave comfort.

For the past ten years, truly since I was a little boy, I have found that kind of reassurance on top of Mt. Mitchell. Solitude and reflection are easy to come by up there. I went there as a teenager to sense God’s call. All alone. Me and God. I went back during college a number of times. I have been going there multiple times a year ever since just to be, to listen, to soak up God’s presence. It’s such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place. It’s the highest mountain east of the Rockies. It’s always 30 degrees cooler than South Carolina. There are balsam and spruce and it smells like Christmas year round. It snows every month of the year. It’s a Canadian climate zone. There are no showers, but they have a restroom and two hand pumps for water. There are only 9 campsites so you’re never really overwhelmed by noise. The photo is from just a few weeks ago when I went with a fellow clergy friend to scout things out for our district retreat. He’s spending the night with us tonight and in the morning 15 of the Columbia District clergy are heading up for our yearly retreat. I wish more were going, but we do have some newbies. I hope they will find it as wonderful as I think it is.

We all need a place to hush our runaway minds. Perhaps you have read one of the many versions of the story that I will call “The Overflowing Tea.” The setting changes, but the cast of characters remains the same. There’s always a wise monk or hermit living in a remote place, and an earnest student who has made a pilgrimage to see him, traveling a long distance to find the teacher who will give him all the answers that he needs about life. The student arrives with all kinds of questions and the teacher just sits there saying nothing. The student asks for his questions to be answered. The teacher finally says, “Pour me a cup of tea and I will tell you when to stop.” The student pours away and keeps pouring as the tea overflows the cup. Exasperated the student speaks up, “Can’t you see the cup is full? It can hold no more!” “And so it is with you,” the wise teacher replies. “Your mind full of too many things. Only when you are empty will there be room for more knowledge to come in.”

I am headed to Mt. Mitchell to open my mind to God and others, or maybe it’s better said that I’m going to open my mind to God THROUGH others. We will hike together, laugh together, eat and fellowship together – know God together. Distractions will be few because cell service is non-existent up there. We will have a wonderful fire and hopefully it will warm our souls with God’s comforting presence. It’s the day after 9/11 for a lot of people. Listen to God’s voice above the din of sirens and tears. Aren’t we all ready for that extraordinary sense of God? Yep!

Spinning Wheels and Fiery Furnances

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I know that this story flies in the face of my theodicy and why people suffer, but it helps on a rough day, especially for a potter like me. God doesn’t cause the crud in our lives but God does use it for good, if I will wait and see. Here’s the story:

There was a couple who used to frequent crafts shops. They both loved pottery, and especially vases. They saw one in a shop that immediately caught their fancy. They asked the shopkeeper if they could pick it up and look it over more closely. As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the vase spoke, “You don’t understand.”

It said, “I have not always been a vase. There was a time when I was just a lump of white clay. My master took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, “Let me alone,” but he only smiled, “Not yet!!”

“Then I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. “’Stop it!! I’m getting dizzy!’ I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked at the door. I could see him through the peep hole, and I could read his lips as he shook his head, ‘Not yet.’

“Finally, the door opened, he put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Stop it, Stop it!!!’ I cried. He only nodded, ‘Not yet!’

Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, not like the first one. This one was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged, I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf.

An hour later he handed me a mirror and said, ‘Look at yourself.’ And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me; that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful.’

“I want you to remember, then’ he said, ‘I know it hurts to be rolled and kneaded and patted, but if I just had left you alone, you’d have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have collapsed. I know it hurts and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have crumbled. I know the fumes were bad when I poured the glaze over you, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened and been made strong. You would not have had any color in your life, and if I hadn’t put you back in the oven for a second time, you wouldn’t survive for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”

God is the potter and I’m the clay. If I believe that the the spinning wheel and fiery kiln will be worth it when it’s all said and done. Lord, Give me patience!