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4.26.2006

Running Toward Healing

Tuesday's UPI column

So there I was...

in need of healing, though I didn't really think of it that way at the time. I had recently been involved in a rather nasty sort of pastoral transition, the pastor in question being me. It involved, amongst other things, sexual harassment, conflict and deep disappointment. I had weathered the couple of months of clinical depression that followed and was just getting back on my feet, when I took a short-term interim pastorate. Things were looking up, then four of my parishioners were murdered on my first day. That put things in perspective real fast.

I had previously scheduled a personal retreat for just a few weeks later and I knew that I needed to take it, despite the circumstances. I had 96 hours set aside: Friday noon until Tuesday noon. I left Salem, Oregon, just after one p.m. on my motorcycle. The official plan was to go over to the coast and go a little ways south if weather permitted, or stay at a town named Florence if it rained. The weather did not look good at the out start. My 'Rule' was, no TV, no newspapers, the Bible, but no biker bars. I talk to God on these trips. I initiated my conversation with God with the very simple request of a little sunshine. It appeared, a small patch of blue always before me, but never over me, and I chased it all the way the coast. Refueling at Florence, God spoke to me in the voice of a gas-station attendant, who said,

"You know, you can go a long ways with a little bit of blue sky.”

I realized that this had been the condition of my soul all year; rained on, chasing, but never catching the bit of blue ahead of me. I turned south on highway 101 and rode faster. I realized that I was running when I hit the California border before dark, three hundred miles from home. I'm not sure what I was running to, or running from, but I was definitely running. I slept with the sound of the ocean in my ears, and these words in my head:

"Wherever you run, I AM with you".

I spent Saturday buzzing through the Redwoods and down Highway 1 -- even smaller and closer to the Pacific Ocean. A guardian angel on a BMW bike pulled me over to warn me of an oil spill on the road ahead that surely would have taken me down, and I had lunch with two very old gay men on a Harley and a Motto Guzzi who wanted me to go with them to Baja. It was tempting, but my conversation with them caused me to explain to them and to myself why my commitments back in Oregon really did matter to me. Later, God and I had a nice light conversation about God's favorite color, and I was forced to take a very tiring detour over a mountain. I ended a ten-hour riding day in Bodega Bay talking to a prophetic waiter. I had gotten a notion in my head about visiting a certain church I had once heard about, and asked the waiter for directions. He was surprised at the street names I gave him and asked why I wanted to go into that part of the “Tenderloin” district of San Francisco. I said I was going to church and he said,

“Ah, Well, you are going to Glide Church. You are going to be OK.”

Sunday Morning I got up early and made the Golden Gate Bridge by 9 a.m. I made the 10 a.m. service at Glide United Methodist Church. I had heard a rumor about this place but I was in no way prepared for what I found. It was surreal; on my left was a prostitute who told me that she always “Stays ups for church – it’s the only thing that gets me through." On my right was a guy in drag, I think, and the people in the pew in front of me were from France. They let the band loose, and the stained glass shook. I am normally a strong introvert who dislikes and distrusts “enthusiasm” in worship. But that morning I bumped into the very real presence of a Holy, Righteous, and Rockin' God, and I clapped, and I danced, and I sang, and I cried, and somewhere during a song called "Restore my Joy," it was. I was healed, I carried no more wounds, my biochemistry was the same, my emotions were the same, but I was whole rather than damaged. I don't have any other words for it. I find these words to be totally inadequate. After the service the prostitute said to me "You came a long way to get this didn't you?" I said "About 700 miles", she laughed and said "Looks like longer than that, but it was worth it wasn't it?" It was.

The ride home was a lark; I played a familiar game with my cosmic travel agent. Here is a true thing --if you play with God, God plays right back. Sometimes on the road I play a challenge game where I name what conditions I wish to sleep under and see if God can produce them. OK, it’s a silly game, but it is fun. That afternoon I requested a place to sleep in the trees with some Mexican food – a modest request. Within an hour I was registered in a little motel and restaurant on a wooded hill run by a very nice Mexican family. The only drawback was when I discovered that the room next to mine was "Sealed by the order of the Coroner." It seems someone had “Checked out” rather permanently the night before. I stayed, and in a perusal of scripture that night found what I took to be a new “Life Verse.”


(Esther 4:16) "Pray for me, and if I perish, I perish."

I do love God's sense of humor! Many miles north the next day, my joy still intact, knowing I would only make it to Grant's Pass, a small redneck kind of town in Southern Oregon, I made my request as ridiculous as I could. I wanted to sleep by a river, find a one-hour photo shop that was open after eight and have New York cheesecake and cognac for a bedtime snack. At nine, photo's in hand, cheesecake and cognac on a patio next to the river; I was left to wonder at the theologically ludicrous notion that the creator of the Universe was spoiling me in a rather personal manner.

Tuesday noon I walked into my home, met my husband who asked if I had a good time. I acknowledged I had. He asked if I had gotten farther than Florence, and I handed him my pictures.

"Peggy, that's the Golden Gate Bridge."

“Yes dear."

“Peggy, that's you."

“Yes, it is.”

“Peggy, that's in California!"

“Yes, it did seem a little weird; very like California.”

“Peggy, what were you doing in San Francisco?"

“Getting healed, sweetheart, getting healed.”


Comments:
Beautiful.

Y'know, I've never actually been to Glide for worship, although I lived and worked in the neighborhood for years, and I've been there during the week for various things. Someday I will try it. People always say it is truly an experience you can't describe.

I did try to describe a very different kind of retreat that had some of the same effects on my own blog, What Canst Thou Say?.
 
Robin, I have riden the bike to the bay several times now, the time in this post was 1995. One of these days I am going to get farther than the bay and make it to Ben Lomand!
 
Peggy, what a wonderful story! I would love to worship there some day, or to find my place where that kind of experience could manifest.
 
For 7 and 3/4 years I worked in the Tenderloin exactly one block away from Glide Memorial Church. Yet I have never been called to darken the doorways of Glide. I'm too called to our own meeting for worship. I've long wondered what I've been missing, though. Thanks, Peggy, for this Good News you've shared with us!

Chris M.
Tables, Chairs & Oaken Chests
 
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