I was doing a retreat day in early Lent for inmates at one of the medium security correctional facilities here in Central New York. I had started with a meditation I’ve often used in prisons, in which I invite the guys to re-enter a p
ast experience of being loved by another person. It’s a meditation that has led men to tears, and the sharing of powerful transformative moments in their lives.
On this occasion, one of the men told of how in his prayer he had been brought back to the day when he was convicted in court. The jury had returned a guilty verdict, and he was bustled outside to the waiting police car. He told of how as he was being put into the vehicle, he looked up to see his mother, his grandmother, and his sister standing off to the side – all three of them gazing at him with great tenderness, and they were sobbing. In that moment, he said, he felt such a powerful sense of their love for him that it almost overwhelmed him.
“It’s just so incredible,” he said, “that on that darkest day of my life I would be given such a beautiful awareness of how much I am loved.” It was clear that God had deeply touched him again through the memory of it, and he was visibly moved.
Nicholas Herman was 18 years old when he had a conversion experience. It came to him not as a result of studying or hearing a convincing preacher. His conversion was the result of simply l
ooking at a tree. On a winter’s day, he stood considering the nakedness of the tree’s trunk and branches, and he realized how soon it would be budding with new life. And as he thought about this, Nicholas was struck with wonder at the grandeur and providence of God. He later described it as a vision of Love so powerful that the devotion in his heart had never surpassed the intensity of that moment he spent looking at a tree.
Afterward, he was convinced that God could be encountered in everything. He set his heart on trying to always live in the awareness of God’s presence and to let nothing distract him from this awareness. In fact, Nicholas claimed to be more united with God when he was busy about his chores as a cook in a monastery than when he engaged in formal prayer in the chapel.
And so it was that Nicholas Herman, also known as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, quietly became a mystic amid the pots and pans. He died 3 centuries ago, leaving behind a wonderful little book called The Practice of the Presence of God, which has proved to be such a blessing to so many! (We have it in our Spiritual Renewal Center library.)
Here at the Spiritual Renewal Center we have since the beginning of the ministry experienced the grace of God through the dedication, generosity and love of the many, many women and men who have volunteered here in a wide variety of capacities. We surely would not be able to continue this good work without such help!
Most recently we welcomed the services of a new volunteer, twenty-year-old Grace Ferner. Grace has Down Syndrome. Her father Gary, a local pastor, has been receiving spiritual direction here for many years. This past summer, he called to ask if Grace might help by coming in to water and care for the many plants that have a home in the Center.
And so began her Christian service with us. Twice every week she comes in with her
water cart and sprayer to water and feed and trim, and if necessary, re-pot plants at the Center (with a little help from her assistant, her dad.) Her smiling face blesses all who meet her, and our plants are all thriving under her loving care.
This month’s submission comes from Dr. Jim Trippi, an early board member of the Spiritual Renewal Center who now serves as a cardiologist in Indianapolis.
“I just don’t feel so good,” he said when he came to the Gennesaret Free Clinic mobile unit in downtown Indianapolis. I was the volunteer physician that day, and our small staff included our driver Phil, and his sweet wife Erin who distributed sundry hygiene items to the dozens of persons who lined up to receive what we all take for granted. It was my privilege to watch this scene unfold.
He said his feet and back hurt and then he started crying in the privacy of the exam room. I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that guys like this are some of God’s favorites. When I asked him if he had been drinking and smoking too much, he nodded. I offered ibuprofen for the back aches and asked to see his feet. He seemed reluctant, saying I would not want to see them because he did not have access to a bathroom. I persisted and found feet that had not seen a bar of soap in too long. “Let’s scrub up those feet and get you some clean socks.” We had hundreds of pairs weeks ago, so I thought there must be a few left. But none were found in any of the usual hiding places. I said a little prayer for this sorry guy. Then, with apologies I told him that we would just have to put his dirty old socks back on. That’s when Phil rushed in, “Look, I just found a pair of new socks! It must be the last pair.” This “sudden finding” of needed supplies has happened so many times – you would think I would learn to expect that God would provide for his loved ones.
My patient promised that he was really going to take better care of himself. I do hope so. As he exited the vehicle, Erin said, “We love you.”