JOSEPH JACKSON (BLACK LIKE COFFEE)
“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.”
From my hiding place in the park on this beautiful summer day, I find myself pondering the invitation to share it—to share my hiding place, a place that was always ruminating in my heart. At least three places over the years come to mind. I’m sure there are many more, but these three form somewhat a spiritual strand or lifeline for me.
My first hiding place was my great grandmother’s henhouse in Lexington Kentucky, my birth home. Granny, the affectionate name we kids called her by, raised chickens in the henhouse, which was hidden by bushes in the large yard that surrounded it. It was in the henhouse that I hid amongst the egg-laying hens that nested there. Here, I admired the baby chicks that kept warm in a large box on the floor by the cast iron stove. I loved to hide in this henhouse, thrilled by nature’s processes, the warmth of the space, and the escape from the abundance of chores that Granny demanded. Of course, the work eventually had to be done. Perhaps Granny, not really knowing, and her henhouse introduced me to the Benedictine rhythm of prayer, work, study, and leisure. By the day’s end, all these disciplines were in play, which makes me laugh out loud in this moment!
Years much later, after receiving and accepting a call to ministry, as a licensed preacher, not yet ordained, I had a deep desire to become a clinical chaplain. That meant a series of units of clinical pastoral education, which required months of training, supervision, self-examination, peer evaluation, patient visits, didactic reports, etc. I ended up doing an extended unit, a full-time summer unit, nine months full-time, which led to being hired as staff chaplain. It was a visit to Durward’s Glen just north of Madison Wisconsin that our unit supervisor took us for a day getaway, perhaps to give the student group an opportunity to “center down.” Perhaps what my spiritual guide, Heather, would call a “moment of retreat.” In the chapel at Durward’s Glen, with its glossy wooden pews and lectern, stained glass windows, and a hint of sunshine piercing through, I felt in this hiding place, the Presence. I would describe it as mystical and divine, and in this instance, a hiding place and moment shared among my peers.
The third in the strand, of hiding place recollections is from my first pastoral assignment at the Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church. After the stress and challenges of pastoring, preaching, counseling, and grieving the deaths of both of my parents, I took eight weeks of sabbatical. The final week of that experience placed me at The Abbey of Our Lady Gethsemani in Central Kentucky, not all that far from the henhouse of my youth. Here settling into the rhythm of monastic life for a week at the monastery, I found a hiding place that was difficult to leave–difficult to go back to the noise and labor of life in the city. It was like the story of the transfiguration; it was good to be there on the mountain! However, I knew I had to go back down to the valley. (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9) There was family and ministry to attend to in the valley. That being said, the desire to maintain and stay in the experience I had there in the rhythms of prayer, work, study, and leisure, and to share the experience in smaller and periodic ways, always remains and calls to me. And I follow.
I guess what I am noticing is that I have discovered or been shown the different ways and different places to experience a hiding place in the presence of God. I have moved beyond the desire, at least for now, to open an actual retreat center named The Hiding Place, a place for me and others to rest in God. Today, after some ongoing reflection, I’ve become content with my quiet office space as one of my hiding places–a sacred space away from home, away from church–and also with the many hiding places emerging in my awareness, including a hiding place within my heart, in the sanctuary of my soul.
The line in John Michael Talbot’s song sums it up, lyrics evoked from Psalm 32, you are my hiding place, O Lord. You gaze into the secrets of my soul.
You are my hiding place, O Lord
You saved me in my distress
You are my hiding place
You save me from distress
You surround my soul
With cries of deliverance.
— Psalm 32:7
HEATHER LEE (WHITE LIKE CREAM)
It was not long after Joe felt the longing to more deeply explore the hiding place that he and I began deepening our spiritual friendship and meeting for guidance. He was, as he describes, envisioning a brick-and-mortar retreat space where busy people from our city could stay and experience, engage, and explore the sweetness of God and the contemplative life that Joe and I find to be an essential piece of our work. I too, in my own obedience to God’s call in my life, had identified a desire to create such a space or even multiple spaces in our city where people could drop in for what I call, A Moment of Retreat. I have both a business and a book by this title, which are in in response to a calling I have to offer encouragement, invitation, and accompaniment to individuals who are longing for personal retreat or time alone with God—those who are looking for a hiding place. The writings in the book offer seven chapters—seven places to hide, accompanied by scripture, written reflection, song, earth, prayer, and journaling questions.
As Joe shared his stories, the sacred threads, that have called him historically into hiding places, my heart was stirred to look back—as far as I could—to those sweet callings into the mystical presence of God—callings into hiding. Funny thing is–it wasn’t a henhouse but a barn full of dairy cows and not my Granny, but my Great Uncle Lee, that provided one of the first tastes of the deep mystery and presence, a sweetness, that I will never fully understand but always long to. That sweetness was warm, earthy, fragrant (understatement), alive…and magical. As a young child, on the special days that I would get to visit and stay on the farm, I would rise at dawn to go out to the barn with Uncle Lee to watch the milking, feed the calves, crawl up into the hay mow to watch the barn cats, and help with chores. Each cow was named, there was soft country music playing, and we brought fresh milk in from the milk house for breakfast. Isn’t it amazing that a black boy from Kentucky and a white girl from Wisconsin can bump into the mystical presence and unity of God in barns so far from one another in space and time?
Years later, I attended Valparaiso University for my undergraduate work, a college that required that I select from a laundry-list of courses for a “freshman seminar”. Although I was somewhat blindly following in my father’s footsteps in studying accounting and business, I chose a course called Spiritual and Psychological Perspectives on Personal Growth. Seriously, this makes me giggle, because at age 18, this choice was in response to a longing for a hiding place and a contemplative life that I had no awareness of beyond the spark of courage I mustered to register for it. As part of this course, I was asked to read and reflect on Thomas Merton (perhaps not long before Joe found Merton’s monastery at Gethsemani), and the professor arranged to have us spend a day at a monastery. Honestly, this writing has invited me to go through the archives of papers in boxes in my home to investigate. I remember the quiet; I remember the monks; I remember the small simple room; I remember the vast and beautiful grounds; and I remember doing dishes. At Holy Wisdom Monastery (where Joe and I are both oblates), we call them sacred dishes, and they are part of the Benedictine rhythms of ora et labora, prayer, study, work, and holy leisure that Joe mentions.
And on and on, the rhythms of prayer, study, work, and holy leisure find us in moments, in spaces, in growing awareness of the hiding place in God in all things…to this moment of retreat, this moment of being hidden and held not in a specific place of brick-and-mortar but in the sweet, sweet, sugar of the Spirit.
SUGAR (THE SWEET ONENESS OF GOD)
As we read this aloud to each other, we ask ourselves where do we notice the sugar—where is that sweet, sweet, spirit of God stirring our stories together and showing us a unified and shared notion of a Hiding Place?
First on the list for both of us is nature and all God’s creatures. We bet you have a story too of bumping into the sweet presence of God as a child in a barn or in a forest. Sweet, sweet creation itself, from Kentucky to Wisconsin and beyond, is so often a hiding place and always available to slow us down and be our refuge.
Another sweetener, without a doubt, is Scripture and the sacred writing of others. Do you hear the Psalms and Gospels in the story? Did you hear Saint Benedict in the rhythms of ora et labora and Thomas Merton’s footsteps at Gethsemani? And did you hear Howard Thurman and his call to “center down” –to invite a sabbatical or just a moment of retreat–to step out of the traffic of our daily agendas and the needs of so many crying out for help. For just a moment, to enter the Presence and hide in our center with the sweetness of God before we head back down the mountain or as we say and laugh…back out into the traffic.
As we continue to listen to the call to write together, we both have noticed how the writing process itself seems to be a sweetener, a hiding place, and guide for our journeys. Joe’s history of preaching and journaling and mine with devotional, poetry, and song writing leave us both with stashes of work that this relationship is bringing out of hiding into the light…revealing the way that words live and heal and find a path that we cannot imagine when we write them down the first time. Makes us wonder where this blog will find itself one day.
We are curious to hear how this reflection resonates with you. Show us. Tell us. Where is your hen house? Where is your monastery? Where is your hiding place? It will be sweet.