God of Surprises
by Rev. Mary Gaut
“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
     come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price."
—Isaiah 55:1
Life as a solo pastor can be tiring in the best of times and by the spring of 2007, I knew I needed a break. I had been the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian for 11 years and we had done much good work together. But, as I told my congregation, I needed a break from “running a church” so that I could fall in love with God again. 

The sabbatical time MPC so graciously gave me began with two weeks of silent retreat at the Jesuit Monastery in Redding, PA. I had never been so intentional about seeking the presence of God in my life and I was not sure what to expect. With the guidance of a wonderful spiritual director I began to open myself to the signs of God’s presence. I prayed in the chapels and as I strolled the grounds. I read Scripture and poetry. And I took photographs of things which seemed to speak the words of comfort and presence I was seeking.

About the 10 th day, as I strolled through the majestic cloister walk, I was struck by the warmth of the lamplight just inside the stately oak door. It seemed to perfectly capture that which I had been seeking…a sense of coming home to God whose call had launched me into pastoral ministry to begin with. The inviting lamp just inside the door seemed a beautiful and powerful sign of God’s love. I felt I wanted to stay in that moment forever. So, I took a picture that would allow me to revisit that moment when I finally returned to “the real world.”

When I later began to review the day’s photos, I looked first for the one of the lamp shining just inside the door. And I did a double take when I located it because there was a surprise in that photo. To the left of the lamp was another archway leading, it seemed, back into the world…into the marvelous creation of which we are all a part. Trust me, there is no such arched doorway in that vestibule. 

Yes, the light must have been just right in order to capture the reflection of the archway behind me and the tree covered hills beyond. But I certainly didn’t see it when I shot the picture. Yet now as well as then I marvel at the ways God speaks to us in sometimes surprising ways. May our time “inside” during this pandemic strengthen us for a new season of faithful and courageous ministry beyond the doors in partnership with a God who never ceases to amaze and surprise us.

Let Us Pray
Deep into this Holy Week we still need to be reminded that you are with us. Our heads know this but our hearts are stretched. We worry about the well being of so many. We struggle to find the words to say when we connect in unconventional ways. We learn new technology that will bring us into community but not clear whether a "like" on our FB live worship really means someone has been touched. We are fatigued. We are bordering on burnout as the boundaries between home and work erode. But you ARE with us. This we know. May a portion of our hearts be open also, that we might recognize you in the surprising and unconventional ways you read out to touch, support and encourage US. Amen

Rev. Mary Gaut is the Deputy Stated Clerk of the Baltimore Presbytery. Just prior to taking on this role, she served as the Interim General Presbyter, and she was the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian before that.