In the Driver’s Seat
I learned to drive on a farm vehicle on the grounds of a high school seminary in Goshen NY in the mid-1980s. My driving instructor, Brother John, was a heavy-set religious brother with a thick New York accent, a quick wit, a hearty laugh, and a club foot. It was the first and last time I would drive a stick. I had just arrived in the country probably a month before. Everything was new and exciting and scary. Even though I spoke English, what I heard still sounded foreign. And I’m sure I sounded just as foreign to everyone else. It was like learning how to walk all over again. But this time I was aware of what I was doing. So I paid close attention to the details, drawing my own conclusions, anticipating what might happen next. And as I got more comfortable and more confident, I was more willing to explore on my own. It took me another year to get my driver’s license after passing the written test and road test on the first try in NJ.
But those early years of driving were not uneventful. I did not grow up around cars, and I was not particularly interested in how they worked, just that they did. Being college students in a religious community, we had access to a fleet of vehicles owned by the religious community. And most of the driving I did back in those days was into town, to the local mall a half hour away, and the high school seminary back in Goshen to help out with weekend retreats. I enjoyed most the trips through the backroads between the college and the high school seminaries after dark in the blowing snow. I wasn’t dangerous, I don’t think, but the view out the windshield from the driver’s seat was so cool. It made me think I was flying the Millennium Falcon in hyperdrive. I also remember driving up a few times to High Point State Park and down the NY Thruway to Bear Mountain. Now I’m not going to tell you what all I did, but suffice it to say, I wouldn’t want my religious superiors to know all the details either.
And I did not own my own car until I came to Virginia a decade later. My first was a smoky bluish-green 2-door Buick Skylark. I remember washing and vacuuming that car more times than I ever have any car since. And it was a sad day indeed when I traded it in for my first new car. And I’m due for a new one. But I’m going to wait until after the Capital Campaign ends. I don’t want to give you the idea that was where it came from.
Now I’ve ridden a horse a couple of times, rode a bike, skated on rollerblades, gone canoeing and kayaking. But getting behind the wheel of a car is probably the closest I will ever get to the feeling of being in control of my own destiny. More so when I finally owned my own car. Car owners will not be reckless on purpose. We watch more closely for potholes, trees, and pedestrians. We wash and vacuum regularly. And although we hope to never get speeding tickets, parking tickets, and fender benders, sometimes we do. That’s what insurance is for. But we face the music, learn the lesson, and move on. We don’t sulk, or blame the weather, or vow to never get behind the wheel ever again. We don’t question the legitimacy of traffic laws to fit our driving style. We don’t take lessons on improving how to talk our way out of tickets. We get directions, check the gas, and hit the road.
When the early Christian church was first getting organized, they weren’t prepared for many of the challenges up ahead. They would never have known what those challenges were to start with. The passage we read from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the controversy regarding non-Jewish converts to Christianity, and whether they had to observe Jewish ways before they could become Christian. Now more than the outcome they reached in conclusion, we need to pay attention to the process they employed to resolve the controversy. Paul and Barnabas had been preaching to the gentiles. They returned to Jerusalem and consulted with their leaders. They discussed the issue, listened to all sides, listened for the Holy Spirit’s voice, and sent a decision by way of a pastoral letter to ease their troubled hearts, requiring of the non-Jewish converts no more than was necessary. This process brought some degree of peace to all concerned, and all returned to their ongoing witness in faith to the mercy and goodness of God.
All that is nothing like the glorious city in the passage from Revelation, radiant, holy, and lovely to behold. With its description of unparalleled wealth and solid construction, we can imagine its inhabitants were nothing less than holy women and men, innocent and upright beyond reproach. But how could this glorious city be filled with the same people who grappled shamelessly with the very real issues of the day, arguing, sniping, threatening even, in an effort to discern God’s voice. But it is truly the same people, St. John’s glorious vision of the church triumphant in heaven. But there is a distance between the two in time.
And Jesus himself was not naïve when he tried to prepare his disciples for when he had to leave. It is our love for him that will assure our keeping of his word. And in keeping his word, we keep the word of the one who sent him. But the church will more than likely struggle still in the days ahead, as her members discuss and argue the finer points of faithful discipleship. Each will claim their deep and abiding love for Jesus and his gospel. But on occasion they will find themselves in opposition to one another, while they all insist strongly that God approves of their position. So as the leaders in Jerusalem listened impartially to all sides of the issue at hand, as well as to the living voice of the Holy Spirit, so our pastors and leaders today should follow their example. Jesus assures us that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in his name to teach us everything and remind us of what he had told us. It is that assurance of our faithfulness to Jesus’ voice that ensures the gift of his peace among us. “Not as the world gives peace do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
Now as each of us travels the journey of faithful discipleship, we will give ear to doubts and questions, and we will struggle to listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice amid the flurry of other voices, arguing, sniping, threatening to be heard. But as we relish the freedom that comes with sitting in the driver’s seat, so we dutifully attend to the details on our own spiritual journey to help us keep focus and remain faithful. We recall the unchanging Word that Jesus entrusted to us and to his church. We pay heed to the specific circumstances of our own time and place. We listen for the unwavering voice of the Holy Spirit who will teach us everything and remind us of what Jesus had told us. We acknowledge our role in the unfolding journey of our own spiritual lives, alongside our life in common as God’s church. We cannot walk away from our own lives. Instead we embrace the struggle confidently, joyfully. We put faith in what Jesus taught us, and in the Holy Spirit who still speaks. One of the things I try to get across to our young people preparing for Confirmation is that our present struggle to arrive at faith will not ever be complete. We are always invited to question our faith. We are always invited to keep listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying. In our journey of faith, we are in the driver’s seat, so to speak, just as Jesus planned it. And our journey as disciples and as church will bring us to know God’s truth eventually. And it will always be a journey, exciting and scary and amazing.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016