Today was the Feast of Pentecost. Instead of celebrating with my St. Philip’s community of faith, I (on sabbatical) walked into West Market Street United Methodist Church in Greensboro, NC with a dear friend of mine for the 8:30 a.m. service. While the order of service was quite different from my usual one, and there was no celebration of Holy Communion, there WAS excellent music–at least 17 singers in the choir (yes, at 8:30 in the morning!) and the handbell choir (14 people) rang several anthems. Dan, the Senior Pastor, preached a very engaging, thoughtful and, to this careful listener, an exegetically sound, sermon. He is obviously a very good teacher, weaving in the context of the original Jewish community that experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit.
As I worshiped in a very different environment, I found myself thinking about my original Southern Baptist roots in NC, and how amazing it is that I took a different path from that childhood upbringing. I continue to be grateful for the heritage of learning scripture, of the discipline of prayer that I learned from my preacher-father, and of hymnody that I still know by heart. Sing one phrase of some hymn, and I will join you in singing it–almost without thinking!
Yet I fell in love with the Episcopal liturgy, of the deep grounding I found in a sacramental life. To share the Body of Christ WITH the Body of Christ each week is such a gift–one I still regard with awe.
Pentecost in 1999 fell on May 23. On that afternoon, I was ordained to the diaconate in the Episcopal Church. There were many paths in life that I had not taken: a career in music, having more than one child, a career in writing, to name a few. There are some paths I took that I had not expected to take: working in a family restaurant business, being a single mom, selling life insurance, working in broadcast sales and management for twelve years, living out my calling by moving into a dorm room at Virginia Seminary in 1996 and studying full-time for three years before being ordained.
Of course I will never know what I have missed with the paths I did not take in life. I do agree with Robert Frost that the road taken “has made all the difference,” but in this life, I will not ever be able to know all of the nuances of the difference.
Yesterday, I sat at table with three of my dearest friends in the world. We went to high school together many years ago. As I looked at their faces, I was in awe of God’s love and providence. Four women who have all taken different paths in life. We do not see each other very often. Three of us have had, or are having, challenging health issues. All well-educated people who continue to learn on many levels. Yet despite not having seen each other much throughout the years, here we sat, and without any trouble of all, we had lunch, laughed, shared stories, and it was as if years melted away. We were all like four seventeen year olds who spent many a night in sleeping bags in front of one of our homes’ fireplaces. (Note: back then, we stayed up most of the night talking and giggling–not much sleeping going on!)
This afternoon, I took a walk on one of the hiking paths at the NC Zoo. There were several options. My friend chose one, and off we went. I would not say it was a cakewalk. A lot of it was uphill, the path was rather rocky, and I had to pay close attention, so that I didn’t slip on rocks. Two miles later, I turned and took a picture of the path with my camera.
It is important to know that we take paths in life. Sometimes they are chosen paths. Sometimes we are pushed into paths that we had not asked for. Yet on all of them, if we pay attention, there will be butterflies resting on the ground, spiderwebs delicately spun among tree branches, wind rustling the tops of tall trees, blue sky and birds singing. Best of all, whatever the path, good companions appear on the way, and blessings abound.
(c) The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. Mcjilton