Monday, April 7, 2014
Lenten Pilgrimage--sometimes it is good and right to flee
"When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'
"So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" Matthew 2:13-15
In the third week of Lent we were invited to listen and pray this piece of Jesus’ story, to walk with the young family as they fled in the dark to Egypt after an angel came to Joseph in a dream. It was an unexpected and scary journey. Nothing they would have planned. God’s journey to protect them from dangers they could not have fully known, a journey resourced by gifts from contemplative men who responded to a sense of invitation to find a baby in a foreign land and to lay riches by his crib, and we can’t imagine that that those unusual men knew why they were drawn to do as they did either. What follows is my own wakeful night prayer with this passage that I had read and read again in prayer the morning before.
“angel… dream… escape… stay until I tell you… left during the night… and so was fulfilled….”
I wake in the dark and find myself praying over a story that unfolded not long ago around our dinner table. Dear guests had come to Spa for the Soul from a place where they find their lives in danger. They came to shelter in a safe place for a season, to listen for God’s voice, and to gather strength to follow Him. Sort of like Elijah in the cave, it seemed to me. They arrived with drawn faces and weary eyes, exuding edgy fear and the fragility of long endurance in the presence of enemies. Conversation stayed surface and they dodged the warmth of vulnerability and friendship in their first few days.
But that evening they found themselves ready to bring it out. They were moving to the slow conclusion that, yes, flight is necessary. Flight from a place of long investment, important work, sacrifice. A beloved people and place. I can still see clearly how their pain vibrated in the glow of the candles. The “how” and the “for how long” of it remained murky. Their unity tattered as they shared and wept and tried, now with us as witnesses, to bring each other to the place of understanding the differences in the heart-burdens they carried. Something sacred, holy, unfolding in our presence, inviting our prayerful listening and quiet questions, questions asked not to satisfy curiosity but to help them move deeper into their experience and understanding.
Warm and safe in my bed, I hear the angel whisper to me, “For some there comes a time to flee. No place for guilt. Lay down what others expect, what they may whisper among themselves. Lay down the question whether they should be able to handle this. Lay down gritted courage determined to trust and stand firm. Take up courage to flee, to chase the still small voice that whispers the unthinkable. How much courage is displayed in the choice to admit that flight is necessary for sanity, and perhaps for life.”
There in the dark, it also comes to me that more than once in recent months we have sheltered dear ones burned and torn through living long in places where there are enemies that would beat, rape, even kill them. Faces set like flint, for a long season all of them believed God’s grace and power would shelter them. They stood firm and carried on pouring themselves out, pouring and leaking out the love of Jesus on their world, on their enemies.
And God listened and preserved them. Until their cracked old vessels of fallen mind and body began to give way and a season of escape became a lifeline to finding themselves again. Yet again I remember Elijah’s flight after all his brave dependence, and I remember that God met him and nourished him and gave him rest, and then God gave Elijah more of Himself, and a human successor who would carry on after he was finished. And then God sent Elijah back. For some we’ve sheltered, the season was temporary, for these others, the open question whether they will ever return forms part of their pain.
So hard to admit, to face that frailty of body and soul. Long nights wondering if this is a failure of faith. Long days when the tears won’t stop. Lethargy that refuses to venture out the door. Constant watchfulness. Heavy fear that leaders and supporters will see all of it as weak and unworthy, and that those they serve will wither without them. Over it all is the fear that they might never reach the place of return. The heart longing to hear clear direction, to know for certain that this is God’s way for the journey for now.
Yes, Lord, you could have protected Jesus and his family in Israel, without the escape to Egypt. Oh, so many ways that you could have done it. But sometimes, it seems, You call Your people to flee, to run away and hide, to wait Your time and Your fresh word to return—or not, in Your sovereign choice.