President’s Morning Prayer Remarks — Aug. 26, 2019
August 26, 2019
Deuteronomy 8: 15-18
15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
The theme of Monday Morning Prayer this year is Journeys of Faith: Wilderness, Hope, & Promise. And since we’re kicking off the new year and everyone is filled with such hope and promise, I thought this might be a time to focus on the wilderness times in our journeys of faith.
I wish I could promise you that you won’t find yourself in the wilderness—feeling lost, alone, forsaken—uncertain of the way forward. But I can’t. You will find yourself there—whether you believe you are walking on the path God has laid for you and gradually discover that you’ve lost your way, or like those folks in the Star Trek transporter room, you suddenly and unexpectedly materialize in a place that feels empty, barren, foreign . . .and your communicator craps out on you.
That Star Trek wilderness was what happened to me when I started college. I was the oldest child and the first in my family to go to college, so nothing about going away to school was familiar to me or my parents. I was also introverted, socially awkward and had pretty low self-esteem. My social life revolved around my family and my church, and I was more comfortable around adults than my peers.
I applied to one college—a faith-based college aligned with my family’s church—and went off to school anxious, but also hopeful that I could re-invent myself.
In those days, as an incoming freshman you got a letter in the summer from the housing office with your dormitory name, room number, and the name of your roommate. I don’t remember if we were given contact information, but I wouldn’t have been the type to reach out first and my roommate didn’t contact me.
I arrived at college on move-in day and got up to the room to discover that my roommate had already moved in and had everything set up, but he wasn’t around. So, I moved all of my belongings in and got unpacked, eventually said goodbye to my parents, and hung out in the room waiting for dinner and the beginning of freshman orientation activities. Then, my roommate arrived. He introduced himself—seemed nice enough—pulled out a joint, lit it, and offered me a hit. (The most illicit thing I had ever done in high school was taste a thimble-full of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine my senior year.)
He said he was a senior, didn’t know why he got assigned a freshman roommate because he was hoping for a single and, oh, by the way, he planned to have his girlfriend over that night, so if I could find another place to spend the night, he would appreciate it.
So . . . I spent the first night of college sitting in the window of the third floor stairwell of Brinser Hall debating which option was better. Jumping or packing up and moving back home.
Star Trek. Materializing in the wilderness, feeling helpless, no one to turn to, no one to talk with. On my own.
Looking back, I find it interesting that, in spite of all my involvement with church prior to college, when I found myself truly lost in the wilderness, I did not think to turn to God for help.
The next morning, my RA was on his way to the shower, saw me sitting in the stairwell and asked me what was up. I told him my sad story and, before the end of that day, he had me moved into a single room. That single act of grace kept me in college.
That second night, alone in my single room and feeling very homesick, I decided to walk from my dorm to the student center for something to do. I walked past an old, unmarked wooden building where a group of students were standing around the entrance way. One of them looked at me and shouted, hey freshman, come over here. (In those days, as freshmen we wore beanies and big signs with our names around our necks and we were required to do whatever an upperclassman asked us to do, so I walked over.) The student said that they were doing a play and that they needed men and asked would I audition?
Don’t ask me how or why, but shy, awkward, introverted me said yes. And the act of saying yes changed the course of my life. I was cast in a small walk-on part in that play, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and from that day in September 1973 and for the next 22 years of my life, I would become a professional actor, director, designer, producer, and discover my vocation, as a professor of theatre.
Reflecting back over the years, I came to know that it was in that wilderness, that place where I felt so alone and abandoned and helpless, when I didn’t know what to do, that God came to me and showed me a pathway out of the wilderness.
On the journey, through my friends and classmates and professors and colleagues, I came to know Jesus and to understand how, into those dark places of emptiness, helplessness, and despair, God comes. Time and time again when I have found myself in the wilderness, when the way forward has been unclear or the next step seems impossible, God has come. God reminds me that I am a child of God, that there is nothing to fear, and God offers a way forward through that darkness and toward a future of hope and promise.
I have come to know the truth of today’s words from Deuteronomy: that it is God that has led me through the vast and dreadful wilderness. It is God that has fed me when I was starving and it is God that has quenched my thirst. And while there have been times in my life when I may have congratulated myself for something I achieved, it is God who gave me that ability. It is God who placed that RA in that dorm stairwell. It is God who called out, hey freshman, come here.
Come and see this plan I have for you. . . on your journeys of faith.