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Into winter woods and out again

by davesandel on December 31st, 2019

Into winter woods and out again

New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, December 31, 2019

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him. 

To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

– From John 1

The classic words of John draw me into their spell, win me over with their rhythms. The poet in me responds to the poet in John. 

What was missing for so long, however, was anything more. “He gave us power to become children of God.” I think I wanted to find my way to be an adult in God, skip the milk and go straight to the meat. Before, during and after college I chased down several spiritual paths too much of my own choosing.

Nothing satisfied. I hitchhiked around the country, and in California I joined the Creative Community Project, a fancy name for Rev. Moon’s Unification Church. After two years and an agonizing decision I left to return to our farm in Illinois.

I thought it better not to tell anyone except my parents. The forecast was for rain the night I left. My alarm rang at 2, I picked up my bag in the woods where I’d stashed it, and walked to the main road. 

The rain fell gently, and I felt newly baptized. It took awhile to get a ride, and I imagined how I could “save the world” from the ground up, rather from the rarified theological realms of the Unification Church. I’d be a boy scout leader and a Little League coach instead of a preacher.

Mom and Dad picked me up in Rhode Island at my cousin’s wedding. We drove home in autumn rain. Back in Lincoln I lost myself in hard work setting concrete forms for our cattle lot. My friends called and asked me to come back. I thought about it all the time.

Soon I met Margaret at a Sunday School weiner roast. She agreed to attend a Bible study focused on Hebrews with my parents and I. Every time the author of Hebrews referred to the divinity of Jesus, I argued with him and with them. Jesus did not need to be divine to be the son of God.

After Christmas Dad invited me to a retreat called Kogudus. This weekend of renewal changed him; Dad had fallen in love with Jesus. I drove into the woods to a park cabin. When I left the Unification seminary it rained. Now the forecast was for a blizzard. We had plenty of food, and the cabin was warm. 

The retreat speakers worked their way through the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered … died, rose again and ascended into heaven.” I had been talking quite a bit in our small group, but now I went silent.

We were completely snowed in by the next morning. We had an afternoon break for couple of hours, and I went for a walk into the woods. In the woods something quiet happened inside me. I walked into the trees certain that Jesus was not divine, and I walked out of them certain that he was.

Paul said it so well. This sounds like foolishness to others but “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1). I felt lighter than air. A feather could have knocked me over. My eyes have seen the glory. 

That was forty years ago. Nothing about that experience has faded away. Intellectual doubts, and there are always many, gain little traction in the presence of my remembrance. I was “given power to become a child of God.” How thankful can I be?

With your touch I can believe in you, Holy Spirit. I believe in the holy catholic Church and the communion of saints. I believe in your forgiveness of our sin, the resurrection of our bodies, and life everlasting with you. Amen.

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