We all have a past. Sooner or later we all need to face it.
On Monday of this week, I went to Camp Calumet for a Dean’s Retreat.* Arriving at Camp early, I set out to find the scene of my sledding accident where I fractured a bone in my head on February 21, 2013 (http://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/so-i-broke-my-head). I have felt incredibly grateful since that day, both in the way others cared for me and that I have healed so well since it happened. What I didn’t know was how I would feel about my accident when I would walk back up the toboggan run: Awkward? Out of place? Angry? Sad? Remorseful? Regretful? Maybe I would feel a little of each of these things. I knew I would never know unless I went there. Whatever I would feel or think, I thought I would benefit from the closure. So I walked up the path alone to find my tree.
Back to My Tree
It only took a couple of minutes to identify “my tree”. The day I crashed into it I remember looking straight at the tree, and a particular stain upon the side of it. While I was lying there, I studied it as if to take a mental picture. Even then I suppose I knew that if I could I would want to retrace my steps back to this spot, and here I was. I approached the tree closely. I looked at it, I reached out my hand and touched it. I paused for a moment and just stood there. I took a few pictures (of course). I attempted to recall the events of that winter’s day. For weeks afterward I remembered the crash in images as I fell asleep. But in that moment, touching the tree and remembering that day – all I saw were the faces of people who surrounded me like the great cloud of witnesses, and in my weakest moment gave me the courage and strength that I lacked on my own.
During the next twenty-four hours at camp, I remembered one moment in particular. It wasn’t hitting the tree. It was lying in the hospital. Surrounded by Tammie and my cousins and the doctors, my head spinning from the events of what happened, the medication and the trauma. The chaplain walked into the room and introduced herself and she discovered who we were. Her statement was extraordinary, “you must be the one all the Lutherans keep calling about.” I knew in that moment of frailty and great anxiety that somehow, no matter what happened things were going to be ok. It was if, as a colleague reminded me in a conversation the next day, “God had swooped me up in a big warm embrace.” She was right. That was how it felt when I broke my head. thought I might feel standing there. Instead the image I saw was an open future, no longer defined by a broken head. Instead I saw a whole new life to live. In the end it is only a tree. It can go on growing right where it stands.
Facing our Past
We all have a past. We all have to face it. Maybe yours isn’t filled by an accident. Maybe it is. Maybe it is littered with guilt about past decisions. Maybe it is filled with choices not made. Maybe it is haunted by things others have done that impacted your trajectory. Maybe yours collided with an immovable object that left you lying helpless on the ground. Whatever it is, how do you feel about it? Awkward? Out of place? Angry? Sad? Remorseful? Regretful? Maybe you feel a little of each of these things. Whatever you feel or think about it, don’t run away. Turn around and face it. You may feel like you need to face it alone. But we’re never alone. That’s the point of what faith is all about. In Christ we face our past together, and whatever else seeks to define us is washed away. In the end we have a whole new life to lead. In the end it is only a tree.
Into the Future
I walked back to the Conference Center and met my colleagues and friends. We had wonderful conversations about where the church was now and the future to which we are called. I felt privileged to be part of it. I was grateful for my colleagues and friends and the community into which I am grounded, a community that stands rooted in the promises of God – as we face the truth of who we are, to receive the promise of who we are called to be. We face our past not only alone but together. By this act of truth-telling; confession; repentance; we reach out and touch the thing that has kept us in the past until now. We seek also the closure; forgiveness; and warm embrace of God who calls into a future where our past no longer defines us. In Christ; his cross; his death; his resurrection we have that open future, and a community of other renewed people claimed not by a tree, but by the closure of the one who makes all things new.
Face your tree. Receive the promise: In Christ you are made free.
It is only a tree. Embrace this closure: Walk forward in the newness of life in Christ.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
What is Confession?
Confession consists of two parts. One is that we confess our sins. The other is that we receive the absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor as from God himself and by no means doubt but firmly believe that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven. (Martin Luther, “Small Catechism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005], pp. 1165.)
* In addition to serving as Pastor of St. Michael’s, I am also the Dean of the Southern CT Conference – 11 churches in Fairfield County – of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – http://www.nesyond.org. The Deans of our Synod met with Bishop Hazelwood and his staff to team build, check-in, and plan for the future. Camp Calumet is the ELCA Outdoor Ministry site for the New England Synod, located in Freedom, NH – www.calumet.org