For three lovely summers of my childhood, I attended Pokagon Girls Camp in Angola, Indiana. We did a lot of singing. We did a lot of canoeing. We did a lot of singing in a canoe! It was a great camp. But the year after I left, the camp was sold. I heard that the land was redeveloped as a retirement community.
Twenty year later, I happened to be driving from Chicago to Cleveland, and I decided to get off the toll road and revisit the spot where the camp had been. I knew which exit to take. I knew which direction to drive once I got off the highway. But then I became unsure. I pulled into a filling station and asked the attendant whether they knew where Pokagon Girls Camp had been. Blank stare. She had never heard of it. I drove up the road to a 7 Eleven. I asked the man behind the counter. Nothing. I said, “It was right on Lake James. And right across the lake was a donut store where they made the best donuts in the world. I tried one more time, at a camping supply store. “Sorry. Never heard of it,” said the gum-smacking young adult attendant.
I left. I got back on the highway. I felt so lonely. I felt a sense of grief close to the bone. Not only was the camp gone, but I wondered whether a part of me was gone, too.
Very little is permanent; institutions, communities, and relationships come and go. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is “a time to plant, a time to reap; a time to seek, a time to lose.”
I have felt this truth again deeply this spring as I have been present to the last semester of community life at Episcopal Divinity School. It may be part of the divine economy that there is a “time to lose,” but it’s pretty hard to navigate.
I know this community well enough to know that most of you have brushed up against or had to walk through different kinds of losses and changes, from the death of a hope or vision of yourself, to the end of a romantic relationship, to the real loss of a family member or friend.
In the midst of the darkness that comes in different ways to all of us in life, I can’t think of any piece of scripture more comforting than Psalm 23. Through whatever happens, through the loss of whatever we thought we had built a life or an identity or a dream around, God is present – not just present, but pursuing us.
Indeed it is the nature of God to accompany us through death and loss, and to find us when we think we cannot go on, cannot rebuild ourselves or our dreams, cannot find the light. God’s mercy and goodness shall follow us all the days of our lives, even the hardest ones, and even when we are not aware of it.
Our job is not to have “enough faith” or “enough knowledge about God,” but to admit that we need to be found. If you can’t admit you’re lost, you won’t let yourself be found. And that was the mistake made by almost everyone in today’s extraordinary, very long, over-the-top gospel story.
Jesus and his disciples encounter a man, blind from birth. The disciples’ reaction to this encounter is to ask, “Who is to blame?” Once Jesus has healed the man, the neighbors get into a dispute about whether this is the same guy who used to beg. They take him to the Pharisees, who argue about whether someone who heals on the Sabbath is from God.
They call in his parents, who, in one of the most amazingly human and gobsmackingly awkward moments in all of scripture, are more afraid of being expelled from the synagogue than of acknowledging that God has healed their son!
The Pharisees grill the man again. The healed man gets so frustrated with them that he points out how silly they are being. They are insulted. They drive him out.
None of these people – not the disciples, not the neighbors, not the Pharisees, not the parents – none of them “get” that God is in the house. None of them is willing to admit that they are “blind.” It’s not religion that they need, but relationship. They need healing as much as their son did. So do we.
Notice what Jesus does next. This is my favorite part of the story. The people drive the man out. Jesus goes after him. Jesus goes to find him.
Scottish Anglican theologian John Macquarrie says, “We are the objects of a search directed towards us.” God is always and everywhere reaching out for us, nudging us back into the sheepfold or on into our futures, gluing together shards from what was shattered to offer us something useful and beautiful, usually not on our schedule and not in ways we would imagine.
Because of God’s mercy, it is true that we needn’t be afraid of death. But just as importantly, we needn’t be afraid of life — our lives, which are full of changes and chances and darkness and shadows. If we open ourselves to being found by God we will develop a new kind of vision, one that both sees more clearly and trusts in what one cannot see – trusts that God can see it. Theologian James Allison writes that when we let ourselves “undergo God” we enjoy “the unmerited luck of finding ourselves on the inside of a huge project whose final parameters are way out of sight.”
Listen to Psalm 23 again. Sit comfortably in your chair. Place your hands on your knees, palms us. Hold in your hand whatever feels like loss or loneliness.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Let God pursue you. God. who loved the world so much that he sent his son to give sight to the blind (that’s us), will prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies. God will bring you home.