Jesus and Paul both preached joy in adversity. Cultivating a spirit of victory even when your outward circumstances would seem to spell defeat. Living that is considerably more difficult than giving in to things that have gone wrong. It is so much easier to express fear, to feel defeat, to think about the worst.
Last Saturday, after a day high in the Spirit, as our Pilgrim Center team, led by our Dr. Jim Olson at the wheel, kept faith with a long tradition of piling into a van and driving north to Walker, in the middle of the Leech Lake Reservation, and having lunch in the back room of Jimmy's Restaurant with our dear and long-time friend, Father George Ross, retired Episcopalian minister to his Ojibwe people in Cass Lake, Red Lake, and White Earth.
We greet each other, eat together, talk and sing, tell stories especially of our deepening relationship to each other, pray, and finally depart about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon to reach "the Cities" by mid-evening.
This year was different, because we were adding a three-hour healing retreat, to be held in a nearby funeral home. Sweet things had happened in the retreat, hurts and hopes were prayed for, communion was shared, and the teachings of "The Journey with Jesus to the Cross" and "Repentance and Forgiveness as the Key to New Life" were lifted up.
We experienced a oneness of spirit and joy in our hearts, just by being together. Our Native American friends, and our motley group of white folks from the city, gathered as one through those few hours of a December Saturday afternoon.
Our team loaded up, and headed down through lonesome roads among deep pine forests. There were few lights to be seen as we drove swiftly along through woods, along straight-arrow roads, but little signs of settlement, and no towns.
Suddenly, our headlights began to dim, and the same with dashboard lights. Something was wrong. Dr. Jim pulled over at a lonely cross-roads to search for the trouble. The battery registered low. The alternator was dying. Darkness was not only outside, but filled our suddenly sober van full of traveling Christians.
He made calls: to the sheriff, to a distant garage. Two cars stopped and offered cables to help us. They were warm country folks. But our only form of transport was dying, our heat was disappearing. For over an hour, we sat in the dark, colder-growing van.
We began to think of the real ramifications: of what the cold would do - to all of us. Finally we called the State Patrol. They promised to come, and to call the garage at a truck stop in Motley. We prayed. We wondered. Minutes seemed like hours. We tried to "effect joy in the midst of adversity."
At last a vehicle came along with flashing lights. The young trooper emerged, quickly assessing our situation. He offered me - as the elder in the midst - a seat in his warm cruiser. I declined, insisting I was okay.
Before long two trucks with big lights appeared. We were all transferred to one of them, while our van was loaded up to the other.
Mercifully, we were on our way. Finally, Motley appeared, and the lights of the truck stop, the warmth of the still-serving restaurant. Another church van was on its way from St. Paul, courtesy of Dr. Jim's long-standing ministry at his Bethel congregation. By 10:00 pm, the van came. We started again, quietly praising the Lord. By 12:25 am, I was being deposited at Covenant Village of Golden Valley, with Molly at the door, in pajamas and overcoat.
Home at last seemed miraculous. Surely, God had intervened. We had all wanted to be joyful in our threatening situation, but had probably not come through in the full Scriptural sense. But, IT WAS A LESSON.
Molly and I rejoiced in the outcome. I was sent to bed, and ordered to stay there. How I wanted to be up for church. But Sunday morning's rest was needed, and she went off with daughter Kristen for wonderful Advent church at Colonial. She was blessed with a great message and the loving greeting of a host of friends.
That's what "church" is, and God does. We have peace, and joy, this Advent week, and new lessons learned, from our mighty God.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES