Wednesday, April 13, 2016
It's a story I love for all sorts of reasons, but largely because it reminds me of an occasion years ago when I was almost overcome by the struggle of life.
It was my second year at theological college. I had to pull out of the degree course and swap to the certificate course because I was unwell and needed less stress. I had been asked to join a mission trip to Jerusalem to work with the two Anglican churches there, and my doctor thought it would do me good. But I still felt like a failure.
After the mission week, we got to tour around Galilee and other sites, but still I was grumpy. Everywhere we went, we just got out of the cars, took a photo, got back in the car and drove off. I wanted to take time, to breathe the air Jesus had breathed, to smell the scents, to take it all in.
So after we stopped at the Mount of Beatitudes I stomped off in a sulk. I know, can you believe, me in a sulk..?
One member of the group came to me and told me it was OK - if I wanted time alone I could have it. Everything was close together on the lake. There was a bus back to Tiberias where we were staying. I'd be fine.
"Good," I said, the embodiment of grace. And they left. Taking my lunch with them.
So I wandered down through the orange groves to the lakeside and sat on the beach by Tabgha, the site of the breakfast story. I was all alone. It was a grey day, with a mist on the lake, no other tourists anywhere in sight, and I cried out to God. I wanted to serve him, I wanted to be ordained - but I couldn't even succeed in training for ordination. I was failing at everything.
And in my misery I felt him whisper in my ear. Find a stone. I paused, bent down, picked up a rock from the beach. He whispered again. See how it looks like an arrow head? So I am sending you. It will be OK.
And I got up, popped the rock in my backpack and walked back up to the road - but time had passed, and the evening was setting in, and I needed to get home. I found the bus stop - and discovered the timetable was entirely in Hebrew. I never quite made Hebrew class at college. For the first time, this caused me some regret. I had no idea if there was a bus, what time it would come, or if I would be standing there till Tuesday week. So I decided to start walking the eight miles back to Tiberias.
Maybe I'd thumb a lift?
Maybe I'd be shot for that gesture in Israel...
I put my hand out occasionally as cars passed me by. And then one stopped. An old red thing. A Nissan I think. And the driver seemed nice enough. He was, it turned out, a professor at a Hebrew university, a philologist - and he spoke five or six languages. English was number five or six.
We chatted in pigeon English and pigeon French, and he asked what I did. I told him I was training to be a priest.
And then he said words which completed my day. My week, my year. Words I have never forgotten. Words, the like of which I thought only ever got spoken in the movies. But they were spoken to me. On the beach I had felt like a failure. By the time we got to Tiberias I felt ten feet tall.
No longer was God whispering in my ear. He was driving me home.
Those simple words which pierced my soul were:
"If you want God's want, you are - how you say - Congratulations."