"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." --Mark 1:35
Some days, a lot of little things go wrong.
Like waking up with a toothache.
Like dealing with an argumentative student.
Like hearing that your kid was a little monster in class.
None of these things are tragic. None of these things (or the million other things like them) are life-altering. But they can leave me aching for chocolate (in spite of the toothache)...or, better yet, for that perfect, quiet place where even the tiny, nagging worries of every day life can't follow me.
I have two such places.
I stand three stories up, solitary, the chilly morning breeze waking me even more than the cold shower I've just taken. I look out over the broken-glass, barbed wire topped, 12 foot concrete walls of the Iglesia Bautista para las Naciones compound in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. The world is quiet but for the rowdy roosters who crow indiscriminately day and night. Early risers emerge from their homes in the community of Las Colinas II silent, setting out on the long walk to work or school, perhaps awed too by God's message of hope written in the sunrise of a new day. I sit in the tiny prayer room...no cushions or comfort in the tiny, concrete cell. I am alone with God. Inside, His presence. Outside, a whole lot of purpose in the broken, needy community. Here, all the pressures of daily life in the U.S. are absent. I have nowhere to be and nothing to do that isn't a sheer joy to me, intensified by the blessedness of knowing that I am operating at the heart of God's purpose for my life. Even now, I can close my eyes and feel the breeze. Eventually, I must climb down the cold concrete stairs, pass through the sanctuary of praises sung in three tongues--Creole, Spanish, and English--and go out into the hurting world. But as I go my heart stirs in remembrance of the early morning, the cool sweetness if the Spirit's moving.
Now I stand hours away from this first place...in Barahona the beautiful. My eyes can hardly take in the splendor that surrounds me. Flowing down from the tropical mountain behind me is a river, cold as ice. It cascades down, laughing down waterfalls, resting for a moment in a pool as clear and deep as a mirror, then babbling down another fall and into another pool...five or six times like this until it spills with sweet release into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The Sea, in welcome, greets the river with rolling waves, lazily pulling back the tiny, smooth stones that are the beach with a sound more delicious than rain on a tin roof...or of passing through a bead curtain. Huge palms shade this oasis...old trees with thirsty, reaching roots sprawl out by the pools...rock bridges meander across the falls. One giant tree, allured by the call of the sea, lays whitewashed on the shore, ready to play pirate ship, diving board, or king of the mountain with me, Jonathan, or the four little Dominican boys we count as sons. It is a golden treasure of a day...the laughter of my boys, Jonathan's grin from beneath a waterfall, the simple pleasure of pressing a river-smoothed stone into my palm. I see a tiny Dominican boy, bare and brown eating a bowl of rice in front of the ramshackle shed-home where his mother sells Johnny cakes to beach-goers. This boy has nothing in this world but a view made for kings, and it thrills my heart to see God share His wonders to delight the heart of this little person. The little guy is an Adam for now, in a virtual Eden, satisfied with life as it is, not as sorry for himself as I am for him. I look at him and at the waters pouring out their song of praise and I feel free. Eventually, I will have to pack up and head home. For now, I am alive and satisfied, enjoying the delicious fruit of God's purpose in my life.
I wonder if Jesus' quiet place was like mine are... If it was a place where worldly cares were dissolved and the simple sweetness of God's presence was tangible. There no crowds could follow Him, no Pharisees could set a trap, no disciples could ask dumb questions. I wonder if when He came down, He could close His eyes and feel the cool breeze or hear the waves pulling back the pebbles.
Next time you see me with my eyes closed, I might be in San Pedro or Barahona, lost for a moment in a ripple of God's pleasure and purpose, untouched by the current circumstance. Give me a moment, please, before you wake me up...