"thank offerings to you"

The first retreat went amazingly well. The emphasis was on how God chooses the faithful poor and weak and lowly (like Mary—and Jesus) to be his messengers in the world, honoring them and providing all they need for that work:

He casts the mighty from their thrones
and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things,
sends the rich away empty.
It was a pretty intense few days for us, and we were very tired by the end, but also thrilled and thankful and feeling satisfied and affirmed in this work. The schedule went smoothly. Deep sharing and good discussions in the sessions, and lots more in between and during meals. Everyone loved the food and said they felt like honored guests. And they seemed excited about sending other people out for retreats here.

During the closing prayer time, I talked about how dark it had looked for us a year and a half ago. I mentioned the poem I had quoted in my journal: "The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss." And the dark, windy morning when we first proposed the retreat idea here. This morning my prayers used the pilgrim imagery again, with the closing words from Psalm 56:
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yea, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

We were also given several good suggestions for improvements in the retreats. One was that we say more at the beginning to help the guests identify with us and know the experience out of which we speak. So I thought of using a story from one of the walks, probably on the first night when people show up. Maybe this story might be good (from my journal seven years ago):
There was good cause for my fast on Sunday [I had run out of food the night before, and slept outside the large church I came to]. For one, that church was a mess. I got my first indication before I even got through the door. About 30 minutes before Sunday School, some people entered, so I started to go in. But a man (the head usher?) stepped out just as I got to the door and blocked my way. I asked about Sunday School. "Later" was all he said. When he didn't move, I added, "I would like to come, if I could." He just stared at me and held his ground. So I went a few steps away, sat down, and watched a family walk right in. The rest of the morning wasn't much better. It just made me think of Jesus saying "Why do you say 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I tell you?"

[I didn't eat all that day.] I could have been fasting with Christ, sharing his suffering in sorrow and hope for churches like the one I just left. I guess I did do that to some extent, because I didn't despair and beg for help or lash out at anyone in anger. But neither did I appreciate how close I was to Christ at that moment. In his humiliation. In his pain. In his isolation. So the fasting was for me, too, to bring me back to that appreciation that Christ is in me (most, perhaps) in suffering when it is for his sake, because that's his suffering.

That night, I avoided the next big Baptist church to go to a very little Baptist church. Only six people showed up. But as I was leaving, the pastor asked where I was staying, then offered to let me sleep in the church. A few minutes later, he changed his mind. "That would be unchristian of me to leave you in there," he said. And so he wrote a check for a motel room and gave me $30. "God bless you," he added. I smiled, "He just did." A former drug addict gave me a ride to the next town, where the motel was, and told me about his recent rehab and conversion. The next morning I had eggs and sausage, hash browns, biscuits and gravy...

I remember some more details to that story, like sitting in a park that afternoon, stomach growling, while I watched a group picnicking nearby with more food than they could possibly eat. I like the detail about the recovering addict driving me to the motel; I had forgotten that part. And several parts of the story seem to illustrate how the small and weak become God's messengers.