Have you, like me, had the experience of wading in a stream? Sometimes I can’t wait to get my socks and shoes off, to feel that rush of cold water streaming around my feet, to start that bold adventure of walking on slippery rocks. But sometimes stepping into a stream can seem more like trouble than joy. It’s a hassle to get barefoot, to make your way from the bank to the water. You know the water is going to be cold, and you just aren’t in the mood to feel that cold, or to risk getting wet. You’re tired and know it will be hard to stay steady on your feet. And you suspect sharp rocks might be waiting for you, rocks that will demand your attention.
To me, practicing the spiritual disciplines is a lot like stream-wading. Sometimes we can’t wait to run and jump into our moments of silence, or giving, or prayer, eagerly anticipating their healing effects on our souls. Other times, though, wading into the waters of spiritual discipline feels like a lot of tedious trouble at best, and downright dangerous at worst. What sharp rocks of shame or conviction await us there?
One of the spiritual disciplines I have participated in for about 15 years is attending and participating in Vespers, Otter Creek’s contemplative service. How has wading into the waters of Vespers been a spiritual discipline for me? Well, first, I actually have to show up. I have to get myself to the sanctuary. And once I am there, I need to engage—not only listen, sing, kneel, draw, or walk, but also (and much, much harder for me) sit still, be silent, wait on a word from God, face what God has to say to me.
Sometimes I cannot wait to get there. I am eager to walk into that candlelit sanctuary, to let scripture and prayer wash over me, to embrace what it will teach me and how it can change me. Other nights, though, when I am distracted and tired, or maybe just angry at the circumstances of my life, it is harder to make my way to Vespers. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to face the fears that rise up in the silence and in the stillness. Sometimes it’s because I am pretty sure the sharp rocks of shame and realization are waiting for me once I get there.
And yet, I still step in.
I step in because, very simply, it’s not a spiritual discipline that I have to practice alone. Every Wednesday night, to the left of me and to the right of me are others who have decided to wander into those same waters. Honestly, I don’t know how they felt when they walked in, if they were eager and ready, or hesitant and reluctant. But that doesn’t really matter; what does matter is that we are all wading in the Vespers stream together, and the healing water of scripture and prayer is rushing around us all-- restoring us, refreshing us, reviving us. It is the comfort of being with others that has helped me keep practicing this discipline for these last 15 years. I understand now what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he said, “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” Thanks be to God.
Vespers is held each Wednesday night, beginning August 14, at 7:00 p.m. in the Otter Creek sanctuary.