September 2020 Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

For my study leave last month, I traveled to Michigan for a week of sermon and worship planning with Dave Ramage, one of my closest friends from seminary. Our days were full of scripture discussions, outlining sermons, sharing worship ideas, and commiserating about the challenges of ministering in the era of the coronavirus. These were fruitful and stimulating, but apart from this work, the most rewarding part of the weekwas probably the time I spent each morning canoeing on the lake where we were staying. In those moments gliding along the still waters of North Lake I could feel my heart rate calm, and a sense of peace come over me.

Paddling along the lake—it is a small lake with a strict no wake policy during the evening and morning hours—gave me a different perspective. Out on the water, I was out of my element. Unlike being on dry ground, I could feel the canoe list and sway each time I shifted my body weight—canoes don’t seem to be built for guys my size—which initially caused sparks of anxiety for fear of capsizing. As I adjusted to this sensation, I began to notice that even the slightest breeze would alter the course of my canoe. As I became more accustomed to all of this, I paddled to different spots to observe the flora and fauna, and to pray as I beheld the beauty of that little slice of God’s creation

Among the lily pads, I could see small fish darting in the shallows. Frogs and turtles would dart under water as I approached. And in the stillness, the sounds of the birds flitting about was amplified; songbirds rustled through the trees in search of breakfast, the call of a single loon echoed magnificently across the glassy waters, and a woodpecker tapping on a birch stump sounded like someone was chopping wood in the distance. In this space, I found myself in a place that has been hard to find since the outbreak of the coronavirus: in the quiet stillness of the presence of God.

Stillness is hard to come by in these anxious times. To find such stillness, we need to be intentional. We need to get away—maybe not physically, as in traveling, but emotionally and spiritually. Turning off televisions, computer screens, and cell phones are essential. The 24-hour news cycle may have been made for us, but we weren’t made for it! We were made to spend time with God—this is why Jesus took time away from his followers to pray and talk to his Heavenly Father (see Mark 1:35 or Matthew 14:23, for example). And God wants to spend time alone with us.

On my last day in Michigan, I went out onto the lake for one last paddle. I ventured over to a spot on the far side of the lake in hopes of taking a few more pictures. I noticed a flycatcher on a log in the shallows and went over to get a closer look. I set my paddle down to grab my camera and I took in the gentle “whoosh” of the lily pads brushing along the canoe. I snapped a few pictures and just sat in wonder and gratitude for a few moments. After a bit, I noticed the canoe was drifting back onto the lake. As I watched the birds, the canoe had come to the source of the lake, a tiny trickle of water, noticeable only by a three-foot wide part in the lily pads on the northwestern edge of the lake. This imperceptible current was guiding me back home, for it was time to go.

May you find and nurture your own quiet space with the Lord where your heart can be still, your soul refreshed, and you can sense the subtle movements of the Holy Spirit guiding you through life’s journeys.

matt sig