I’ve only read The Hobbit and the first Tolkien book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but one typical scene stands out in my memory. Even though Bilbo and his crew go through desperate situations where they’re always almost getting killed, they are always given a time of respite. Miraculously, they come or are brought to the houses of healing, places of rest where the pressures let up and they are healed of the ravages that their mission has made on them. It’s not just their physical strength that returns, but also their vision for the journey is rekindled.
This is what came to mind last Sunday night when our house church received a visitor from the States. A few months ago, our pastor began to pray that we’d be able to connect with other house churches. We are an independent house church and know that there are increasingly more house churches out there.
At the same time, Dan Wolpert began praying the same thing. He is a Presbyterian minister of a congregation of about 120 people in small town Crookston, Minnesota. Dan is also the co-founder of a retreat centre called MICAH (Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing), in the countryside just outside of Crookston. Dan found our website, Paul and Dan began corresponding and phoning, and soon he decided to come pay us a visit.
One of the things Watershed loves to do is eat together, so as usual we organized a pot luck with awesome food. Rain forced us indoors, but it didn’t dampen our spirits as we began to visit with Dan. We found a laid back guy who shared with us his journey of coming to faith.
It’s amazing to me how God finds people. As a young man, Dan wanted to go to Alaska. While on his way there, he had a vision which changed his life. He was not a Christian at the time, but looking out of the airplane at the landscape and experiencing a deep sense of inner peace and contemplation, he heard a voice which said “This is what I want you to do.” Through a long journey, he was led to first Buddhism and then Christianity, where he began to practice contemplation.
What is contemplation? MICAH’s website offers a great definition – it is simply a deep conversation with God. Jesus himself goes off to pray, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. He often refers to this as abiding in the vine, a metaphorical way of saying that he’s connected to God so strongly that if he didn’t have this connection, he wither like a leaf away cut off from the vine.
Through his experiences and deepening sense of God’s call in his life, Dan was led to the ministry. His church offers daily times of prayer for the congregation. Though on most days only the staff show up, Dan is unshaken in his vision of the importance of prayer for our lives.
What struck me about our conversation was the world that Dan was talking about. Most people live in the outer world – raising families, going to work and managing in the physical world. This world can sometimes sustain us with meaningful encounters, but my experience has shown that people get bitten by the bug of anxieties and worries of every kind. We worry about money, our kids, our relationships, our marriages, balancing work and home, getting everything done…and the list goes on and on. This worry makes our worlds get smaller. Like Bilbo and his crew, the dangers of life catch up with us and we lose our vision. “All of us,” says the MICAH website, “to some degree need mending.”
Dan talked to us about the inner world of the Spirit and living with God in our hearts. The Bible calls this inner reality of God the “Kingdom of God”. I always think of that story in the Bible where a huge crowd gathered to listen to Jesus and it was time for lunch. No one had any food except for one boy who had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He offered this paltry meal for 2 to Jesus and it turned into a meal for 5000 people, with lots of leftovers. God’s kingdom is like that. There’s always more than enough meaning, guidance and love to get us through and trump the outer world worries.
Dan shared the example of when he first began to pastor the church 12 years ago, and how a needed $400 vacuum cleaner purchase turned into an hours long discussion. In the end, the church board only offered $150 and Dan found the rest of the money to buy the good cleaner. The church had been guided by outer world worries.
God’s abundant universe began to change people’s lives as the church began to practice prayer and contemplation. Recently they needed to make a $55,000 furnace upgrade. The conversation took 5 minutes and the purchase was made. A vision of God’s universe had healed people’s anxieties. Like the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, we begin to see things differently when God’s providence heals us.
I felt like I was in Tolkien’s house of healing as I listened to Dan along with my community. I think I’ve been living in the outer world again lately. The meltdown I described in last week’s blog made me realize that. Jesus also describes God’s kingdom like a garden, where weeds can easily overtake us. Weedy anxieties had begun to dominate and I didn’t even know it until I listened to Dan. “This is what I want to live for,” I remembered. A deeper conversation with God and my community was rekindled as I remembered that I wanted to let God sew seeds of trust and abundance in my life.
When I shared this with Lyle, he was quick to agree and said that we all forget our focus. We all need our vision readjusted at times. I have been grateful all week for our conversation that evening.