(Note: Below is a reflection I offered at church on Sunday, a few weeks back. I was asked to share a personal faith story relating to Matthew 1:18-25, the story of Mary and Joseph’s call to be the parents of Jesus.)
In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the amazing ways God sometimes communicates: Mary has her angelic vision, and Joseph has his remarkable dream. These things are recorded in the bible because they were outstanding experiences –God knew they needed these angelic visions because of the extraordinary calling to become the parents of our Savior.
I am given to thinking, though, that for most of the time, Mary and Joseph found their inner peace in ordinary ways: in paying attention to the Holy Scripture, in praying, in practicing Sabbath, in listening to their rabbi, in watching the seasons of nature and the experiences of ordinary family living.
I would like to share a time when my husband Terry and I felt that the Holy Spirit helped us in a way that felt extraordinary — and yet others might see as “ordinary”…
We were fairly new to Minnesota, having moved here from Arizona/New Mexico, and we were excited about camping up in the Northland. On this particular trip, we were tenting near Ely (EE–lee–rhymes with “really”) in mid-summer, and things weren’t going so well. We came to the place for the quiet, and instead heard loud partying late into the night, just two spaces away. We came for hiking, but the generous use of bug repellent didn’t keep the mosquitoes from swarming around us (it was a cloudy, muggy day, and apparently they knew we were “green Minnesotans” and took special delight in annoying us). Yes, too buggy outside the tent and too humid inside the tent…
In the midst of all this, we had this one night of intense heat, humidity, and unusual stillness… How could this be the frigidly cold Minnesota I’d always heard about?
In the morning, we saw a gray cloud appear in the west (you will recall campers didn’t have “weather apps” in those days). We considered cutting the trip short and going home, but wondered if that would keep us from becoming “hardy Minnesotans”?
In the end, we hurriedly threw our tent in the car and headed home. We were only as far as the city of Virginia, when the darkness hit in midday and the wind and torrents of rain forced us to stop at a restaurant. Inside, a crowd of people was huddled by the door, talking about how bad this storm was.
Eventually, we made it home okay. The next morning, the news reported that this was a gargantuan size storm– you may remember this storm! It happened on July 4, 1999, and you may recall it took a full week to rescue all the campers in the Boundary Waters due to the millions of trees downed (they couldn’t even hike around all those trees). [Note: You can read about this special, unique storm, called a “derecho”, on the National Weather Service link: July 4, 1999 storm. ]
When I think of this experience, I always think of the Holy Spirit. One could say it was a “coincidence” that we decided to go home, but I think it was more than that. We didn’t have some fancy spiritual experience with “special effects,” but I think the Holy Spirit was our “advocate” on that day, nudging us to pay attention to the signs around us, to pick up our tent and return home.
So, yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings us peace through the “special effects” of holy visions and rarefied dreams, but other times, I think the Spirit of God reveals things through ordinary, hidden ways, and waits to see what we will do with it. It is in responding to God’s invitation, with love in our hearts, that brings true inner peace.
Julie McCarty is a freelance writer, spiritual director, and volunteer coordinator of Easter Praise blog. She also writes spiritual reflections and prayers on Spiritual Drawing Board blog , and “Spiritual Drawing Board…” on Facebook.