Yesterday I slipped away from everyday life to retreat at St. Francis of the Woods, just a few neighborhood streets and a forty mile stretch of ever narrowing roads. The six lane divided highway soon slimmed to four, which later reduced to two lanes to succumb to a narrow gravel road as I arrived at my destination. By the time I had parked my car, I had run out of road.
St. Francis of the Woods was formed by a Greek Orthodox priest and his wife, who like me, was raised Baptist and joined a Methodist Church in her college years. My grandfather was raised Greek Orthodox, though he attended church sparingly, usually once a year on Easter, whether or not he needed it. As I got out of my car, I felt an immediate kinship with this place, in large part due to our common mix of religious heritages, but then later, from learning that my host had grown up in Mesta Park before it was called that, just down the street from the house I now call home.
Just as my host Tim was turning to leave, I remembered a jar of jam I had in my car for Chris, the center’s director. Before leaving home, my eye had fallen on some jars of blackberry jam I’d canned last July and without analyzing why, I grabbed a jar to give to Chris. When I asked Tim if he would give it to Chris for me, he looked a little puzzled. Then, as if clearing up a mystery, he said, “Oh, you must know how much Chris loves blackberries.” No. I hadn’t known this—and then I explained the happenstance way my blackberry jam came to be in his hand. Still coming to terms with the gift, Tim told me how Chris had just purchased two blackberry bushes that week and how pleased he was going to be to receive this gift. Thanking me over and again, he hurried away with jam in hand, and I suspect his next stop was wherever Chris was working, so they could ponder and enjoy this perfect and mysterious gift of blackberry jam together.
He left me to ponder mysterious and perfect gifts as well, though mine was not as easy as a jar of blackberry jam. I had come to reflect on the stories surrounding Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. I spent six hours at St. Francis – the same amount of time it took Jesus to die on the cross – and I’m not sure what gifts I carried home with me. I’m still coming to terms with this – and it may take a lot more sorting out. But I know I was chilled to the bone as I prayed these Scriptures. And I know that the crucifixion of Jesus was not understood as some mysterious and perfect gift at the time it happened. But similar to my own road that morning, the road for Jesus grew narrower and less civilized the closer he came to his final destination. And when, he reached the cross, he had run out of road.