During the search process for my call to be your pastor I had an unexpected revelation.
I was driving in Tucson when I noticed the unique shape of a cloud in the bright blue sky. As I looked at it I thought, “Is that a butterfly?”. In a split second, I realized, “It’s a Lotus Flower!” It became very clear that the somewhat puffy white and pinkish cloud was a Lotus Flower.
I also remember thinking, “Who sees a Lotus Flower in the clouds?” However, I was left with a sense that something significant had just happened. Something spiritual.
In those few seconds, when I realized that the cloud was a Lotus Flower, I was stunned.
I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of comfort, hope, and contentment that my call to you here at Mountain View United Church was going to be all right. No matter what we went through together, we would come out the other side more resilient, more courageous, and be okay.
I knew that even though Mr. Pugsley had died, I had to find a second job, housing costs were outrageous, and I virtually knew no one in the entire state, that going forward through the tough year of 2016 had brought me to this time and place for God to welcome me home to Mountain View United Church and Colorado.
To be honest, the only other place I had seen Lotus Flowers or really heard about them was on a couple of tattoo shows on TV. Yes, last year I watched 2 tattoo shows because I found the stories the people shared about why they decided to get their particular tattoo fascinating.
Miami Ink was one of those shows. There were several clients who wanted Buddhist symbols tattooed on their backs and arms. Most of the women wanted Lotus Flowers. Every time they explained why they chose the Lotus Flower they would give a story of personal suffering or loss that changed their lives, an experience they did not want to forget, one that shaped they person they were that day, an experience from which they learned about their personal growth, whether it was strength, courage, integrity, beauty–there was always a story about transformation.
In the days following my Lotus Flower cloud experience I began to do some research about this Buddhist symbol. I learned that:
- Lotus Flowers are a Buddhist symbol for purification, faithfulness, spiritual enlightenment, and rebirth. “The rebirth can be a change of ideas, an acceptance of Buddha where there once was none, the dawn after one’s darkest day, a renaissance of beliefs or the ability to see past wrongs.”
- As an aquatic flower it must grow in dark, muddy, wet places. Without the mud and the murky water, the Lotus Flower could not grow and bloom.
- The mud “can serve as a representation of the challenges and suffering we all must face. Through learning and experience, we can overcome the struggles of the mud to break the surface of the water and unfold to reveal our true beauty.”
- The Lotus Flower folds up and disappears under the surface at night then reappears again with the sun in the morning. It reenters the mud over and over again, yet always rises with the morning light.
- The oldest Lotus Flower seeds to ever be germinated are believed to be 1,300 years old.
I began to understand that the murky water and mud was indeed symbolic of the struggles each of us experience in our lives. It is true – we all live through hard, painful experiences. Just think of all the times folks in the biblical stories passed through hardship – through the mud to get to the other side. We know the people of the Bible passed through difficult and hard times too. Call out some of these stories or people!
(The congregation gave examples of biblical characters passing through difficult/hard times.)
Even Jesus spent 40 days in the desert passing through hunger and temptations just before beginning his adult ministry. During that period, he was being formed for his adult ministry. He was growing in spirit and courage as he answered God’s call to be a teacher and guide, revising the Jewish faith community. He did not intent to create a new religion but look at us here today – we are here as a result of Jesus passing through hardships during his ministry.
As a person rooted in the Christian faith I began to make connections between this Buddhist symbol and my life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I began to understand the Lotus Flower’s rebirth as the Christian understanding of resurrection.
We all pass through murky waters of life and through them we are able to grow and transform ourselves as we reach towards to the love of God – towards the light of Christ that shines in our world, right down through our murkiest, hardest, scariest, and painful experiences.
I do not need to read off a list of all of the possibilities of hardship and suffering. I am sure each of us are remembering or considering these times in our own lives where we’ve grown through painful experiences, perhaps revisiting them as we realize how we have grown spiritually, intellectually, and psychologically as a result of passing through them. Take a moment, close your eyes remembering some of those times, and what you have learned from them. Truly, I have passed through hard times too – coming out of war zones as a peacemaker it took me many years of murkiness to figure out who I was, what I was supposed to do with my life, how God wanted to use my ministry.
Let’s consider our congregation for a moment. How are we connected to the symbolism of the Lotus Flower and our faith in a God of radical love and forgiveness, and a Christ of radical welcome? I do not know the entire history of this church. I do know that you have had many pastors over the years. When pastors leave some people are sad and at a loss, while others breathe a sigh of relief. Pastors can’t be everything to everybody. We have passed through a season of loss and grief. We still mourn the loss of Red and walk with Betty. They are both beacons of God’s love–people we look to as examples of faithful living.
Even though I’ve been here about 6 months, I am still your new pastor. We have experienced some change since I’ve begun my ministry with you. The Sanctuary and worship has changed, my style of preaching is probably different. We have tried new things. This is a time of murkiness but also a time of growth as we reach toward the love of God and light of Christ.
If we continue our ability to be open to these growing pains, and have the courage to share with each other, we may find the truth of our faith: That God never abandons us in our hardest, muddiest experiences of suffering. That if we reach towards the light of Jesus Christ’s love for us we will continue to grow and be transformed.
For Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” This translation is one that does not exclude but rather invites us to stretch towards God’s love and be transformed by Christ’s light.