Pastoral reflection for December 1, 2021 by Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo
Show me your ways, ADONAI! Teach me your paths! Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. I wait all the day long for you. ~ Ps. 25:4-5 (Lukan Psalter)
Last Sunday I shared with you that verses 4 and 5 of Psalm 25 have been in my heart since I was a child. I memorized the verses as part of my faith journey growing in a Lutheran congregation in Mexico.
It was common for members of the congregation to find Bible verses that spoke on a personal level to us, and then memorize them. Also, memorizing was a way to hold the words of the scripture dear in our hearts, and as part of our daily lives. As a minority, the Lutheran community was constantly despised and segregated. In some way, we lived in an exiled state of life.
It was in such conditions that the words of this Psalm provided me with the strength and comfort that was needed to face the challenges in an adverse environment. However, even when I found direction and strength in them, the path was not easy. There were times when that path was confusing, unclear, discouraging because of the disorientation caused by inner struggles in my life and external forces around the community.
Can you think of times when you got to a point in your life where you did not see a path? When the many “truths” around you confused and disoriented you? Perhaps we do not need to go too far back in our lives, right? The past two years have been significantly challenging, confusing, disorienting, and discouraging for many of us. Even when things have come to a more familiar rhythm, we all are still learning, we need to be taught, and we have been adjusting to new patterns of life.
As you know, last week I had the chance to spend a few days off with my family. And, as you might have expected, one of the things that we did was hiking. Hiking has been a way for me to reflect, wonder, and to be reminded of God’s reckless never-ending love for all people. At the same time, it has been a time to reflect on the intersection of faith and our daily lives.
Last week we went up to the Kachess Ridge lookout trail. As snow started to fall on the mountains we got to a point where the snow covered the trail. The path was not visible due to the fresh snow that fell the night before. We knew it was there, but we could not see it. We found ourselves disoriented and wondering whether we should continue the ascent. At some point almost every direction looked like a path, but being on a ridge, we knew that it could be dangerous to walk on uncertain paths.
As we were looking around, we could see the almost invisible boot prints silhouettes left by a hiker who had walked previously on the path. In some way his/her steps taught us and led us to the lookout.
For the past almost two years we have come to face a similar experience in our lives as individuals, communities, and congregations. The seemingly ongoing snowstorm has covered the paths that were familiar to us, pushed us to wonder if we can continue the journey, and be discouraged and tired of trying to find the right path in our lives.
The other day, I was talking with some members of the congregation about how the current circumstances have made people change our familiar patterns to celebrate holidays. We continue to hear how political views, personal experiences, economic distress, and loss have pushed us to give up on others, and to some extent to give up on the promise that even when we walk on in the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23) the Lord is with us.
We have entered the season of Advent, a season that has been hijacked by a consumerist culture that lays out paths that lead to a more segregated, polluted, disoriented, and divided society in the name of happiness. In some way it has become an escape from the realities of our life, which in many cases prevents us from waiting and seeking first the guidance of the Lord.
David, the psalmist, experienced disorientation, discouragement, and a sense of loss. He reminds us that to lament is to express regret, grief, or sorrow. Yet, he lifts his soul to God as he shares with God that he is troubled. He shows his trust in God as he prays for God’s guidance, and for deliverance or rescue from a difficult situation.
The wounds of a harsh, two-year journey, losses of loved ones, changes in job status, adjustments in routines at home, at work, and at school may be making us feel exhausted, confused, and frustrated. We may be feeling like giving up, making our own paths, or simply joining the fantasy of a culture that entices us to blame others and point fingers as a way to deny the realities of our life together and to define paths that take us away from one another.
“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. I wait all the day long for you.” David's plea for guidance challenges us to adopt a posture of eagerness to learn, waiting, and trust during uncertain times and discouraging moments in life.
Advent is a season to contemplate and embrace the mystery of God’s reckless never-ending love breaking in our story connecting it with THE STORY that transcends our current turmoil, shortcomings, frustrations, and even our limitations to grasp the fullness of the Advent season.
That day, we were able to get to the summit led by barely visible boot prints covered by a layer of snow. It was not easy, but we were able to contemplate the magnificence of a small part of creation, and we were reminded that we cannot walk this faith journey if we are not open to acknowledge our lament and to wait for the guidance of God’s truth and salvation.
As we look forward toward the end of this year and the beginning of a new year, we may be feeling disoriented and wondering at a time when the congregation needs to make some decisions and deal with crucial questions about ministry and the stewardship of life, controversial topics, adjustments, and new ways to be the church. I want to invite you to pray for the wisdom of the Spirit, and the guidance of the Lord, so that we all be willing to walk on the paths of the Lord. Please pray for the council, the Minister of Music and Worship committee, the Nominating Committee, the staff, our schools (students, parents, and teachers) and for the many people in the congregation and in the community at large who may feel disoriented and lost.
Let me conclude with this prayer based on a devotion used by a Presbyterian church, which I came across:
Dear God, we lift our souls to you today. Our world has changed so much in the last two years. The paths that we once took are buried with weeds and snow, and we need to develop a new trail. We trust you to help us and every person through this tumultuous time. Please lead us Lord, as our path is under new construction, and then help us to navigate the path into the future.
“All of your paths, ADONAI, are full of love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 25:10 (The Lukan Psalter)
In Christ, Pastor Hector-Garfias-Toledo