Reading from the Gospels, Year B, Proper 9/Ordinary 14/Pentecost +5: Mark 6.1-13
Over the weekend, as I was working on my book, I revisited the story of “Old Elizabeth,” a woman who was born into slavery in the southern United States. Reading her words again, I found myself struck in particular by the ways she sought to know the presence and guidance of God. Elizabeth was raised in a system that sought to define who she was, and, by separating her from her family, distanced her from those who knew who she was. Yet she walked in close companionship with a God who offered solace and in whom she knew she was something other, something more, than what her masters had allowed.
Elizabeth received a call to preach when she was twelve years old and still living in slavery. It would be years before she would be able to fulfill that call. The path by which she did so was marked by struggle and by grace. She tells that shortly after receiving her call, she “was moved back to the farm where my mother lived, and then sold to a stranger.
Here I had deep sorrows and plungings, not having experienced a return of that sweet evidence and light with which I had been favoured formerly; but by watching unto prayer, and wrestling mightily with the Lord, my peace gradually returned, and with it a great exercise and weight upon my heart for the salvation of my fellow-creatures; and I was often carried to distant lands and shown places where I should have to travel and deliver the Lord’s message. Years afterward, I found myself visiting those towns and countries that I had seen in the light as I sat at home at my sewing,—places of which I had never heard.
I find myself thinking again of Elizabeth and her journey, both to freedom and to fulfilling her call, as I reflect on this Sunday’s gospel reading. Even if our call is clear (and it isn’t always)—as Jesus made his instructions to the disciples in this passage quite clear—the way by which we live into our call is rarely well-defined. This fact is both a challenge and a gift. As an ordained minister/artist/writer/retreat leader who has carved out an unconventional path (which has often involved providing responses such as “no, this isn’t a sabbatical; yes, this is my real ministry; no, I haven’t left the church”), I continue to find it both exhilarating and also sometimes daunting to discern and forge and navigate this mysterious road that provides no map for the way ahead. Yet the presence of God goes with us in even the murkiest, darkest, most fog-laden stretches. Here, too, I find myself thinking again of Elizabeth, who said that “in every lonely place I found an altar.” She challenges me to do the same as I seek the way of Christ.
Mark’s telling of Jesus’ sending of the disciples bears similarities to Matthew and John’s accounts. Last year I offered a reflection on Matthew’s version of this story. As I turn my writing energies back to the book-in-progress, I invite you to visit last year’s reflection, “Mapping the Mysteries,” by clicking here.
Blessings on your path!
[Elizabeth's quotations are from Memoir of Old Elizabeth in the book Six Women's Slave Narratives. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.]