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Sharing Our Burdens

July 8, 2017

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Last month we decided to go exploring a bit on the Front Range. Several times while we have been driving from a particular destination (Denver or Boulder) we have seen signs for the Colorado Chautauqua campus in Boulder. As we read about the campus we discovered that there was a good amount of hiking that could be done. The campus itself is beautiful and we enjoyed meandering through the campus taking pictures and exploring the various shops, restaurants, and buildings.

Finally, we decided to hit the hiking trail and go exploring. In addition to some beautiful views of Boulder down below us, we hiked along a stream and came across several areas that were covered with these beautiful poppies. The last time I had seen poppies in such numbers was in 2005 when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 with the US Air Force. We were told quite clearly back then to leave the poppies alone… they were the sort/type of poppy which grew wild and were used in the manufacturing of opium. Obviously, the poppies we saw in Boulder were a different variety!

For years now (okay, decades to be honest), I have enjoyed getting out in nature and walking, cycling, hiking, and taking pictures. I always find a sense of peace and closeness to God in such surroundings and activities. A friend recently reminded me of another place where I used to go and take pictures and simply be still… A different location but the same feeling.

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The Abbey Gardens of Saint Edmundsbury in Bury St Edmunds, England was not too far from where I was stationed during my second tour in England (RAF Mildenhall, 2005-2008). The above picture is of the Abbey’s East Gate (yes, there was a cute little pub across the road from the gate where I would enjoy the occasional pint… The Fox which was built in the 1400’s) which was near the Car Park where I would park when I came to town.

The gardens also had magnificent flower gardens in and amongst the Abbey ruins (thank you, Henry VIII for destroying the Abbey… but you couldn’t destroy the place or the Spirit!). There is a signpost near the spot where a group of Barons gathered in 1214 at the Cathedral’s high altar to swear and oath to make King John to accept a “Charter of Liberties” (the Magna Carta was signed a year later in London on the banks of the Thames River Magna Carta and Bury St Edmunds).

Despite Henry VIII’s best efforts to raze the Cathedrals and monastic houses of the Roman church in England and the UK, the ruins still evoke a sense of tremendous spiritual presence (Glastonbury Abbey when the tourists aren’t quite so heavy or St Andrews Cathedral are two other examples of many such thin  places I was able to visit during my six years in England courtesy of Uncle Sam! (1994-1997 & 2005-2008)).

These thin places often offer a place of quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of life. The Cathedral grounds in Bury St Edmunds were a quiet place of refuge for me when I could break away. During my second tour, I spent a lot of time on the road for United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) conducting inspections as a part of the USAFE Inspector General’s team. Additionally, between my job as the senior (Wing) Chaplain and a five + month deployment to Southwest Asia, I didn’t get many opportunities to enjoy all that this sacred space offered. However, I can say that the times when I was able to slip away for a quiet moment in a tea room (in a house that was built into the Abbey wall) or a pint and a stroll, were tonic for a weary Padre!

Geez Padre, what does hiking on the grounds of the Colorado Chautauqua and Bury St Edmunds have to do with the readings for tomorrow? Good question, dear reader… it has a LOT to do with those places of quiet refuge and spiritual contemplation. I have found that these “thin places” where the spirit is very close are incredible places to simply go and be still in God’s presence.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read about the conflict between Jesus and the religious powers that be (go figure).  “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16-19)

Interesting that he compares the religious elite of his day to a bunch of whining children, don’t you think? They whined because nobody was paying attention to them… or at least they weren’t paying the sort of attention that the whining children felt they should be paying to them. You know, that whole kissing their feet and bowing and scraping in their presence thing…

Then Jesus talks about John the Baptist and how they chastised him for not fitting in! Can you hear the whiny baby talk? He didn’t eat or drink like us so he must be weird! So he must have a demon… he’s not like us at all (read that in a really whiny voice and you have it). Then when Jesus comes on the scene and does the opposite of John the Baptist… you know, the whole eating with and hanging around with sinners thing (Gasp!). Talk about a damned if you do and damned if you don’t moment!

I can tell you from personal experience that dealing with religious bigots and the like isn’t always easy. When you venture outside of the church or chapel to minister amongst ALL of God’s children, you can make enemies quickly! The religious fundamentalists that I dealt with in the military and out of the military would literally cross a Rabbi’s eyes! I see so much hatred spewed out in the name of Jaysus (yes, they pronounce it that way) that it makes me spiritually and sometimes physically ill.

Add to that time spent in difficult situations in the messiness of life and you get quite an interesting time. So what do you do when you feel overwhelmed or out of ideas? At RAF Mildenhall, I would go for a run in the local area or hop in my car to spend some time in Bury St Edmunds. In Florida (during my last Air Force assignment), I would go for a run or spend some time on the Gulf of Mexico listening to the waves crash on the beach while taking pictures of sunsets.

Following my retirement, I would head to the Gulf of Mexico and simply listen to the waves and take sunset pictures or head to Mobile and spend time with Denise exploring the vastness of God’s creation and taking more pictures! Here in Estes Park? Well, as you might guess, we head to our backyard, the Rocky Mountain National Park, with camera in hand (and depending upon the season, hiking boots or snowshoes) to explore and simply be still in God’s presence.

Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) This is one of my favorite elements of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper or Communion.

Are you weary? Come to me. Are you carrying heavy burdens? Come to me and I will give you rest. The concept of the yoke is that Jesus will share your burden just as a pair of oxen share a yoke and the burden is halved! You WILL find rest for your souls.

The second reading in the introduction to the Communion liturgy comes from the Gospel of John. This is how I read the words of our Lord: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never, NEVER, be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never, NEVER, be thirsty. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never, NEVER, drive away.” (John 6:35, 37)

These thin places are a reminder to me of the Lord’s promise in the midst of the Valley of the Shadows. In these places I feel and know the Lord’s presence with me. And in that sense I find hope for the day and hope for tomorrow. Why? Because he promises to share our burdens with us! For me, dear reader, that is the lifeline that I cling to. That is the promise! That is the hope! God in Christ is with me! The Spirit will refresh, renew, and strengthen me for the journey!

That is my hope, that is God’s promise in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God!

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