A couple of weeks ago I served as a spiritual director for a three day retreat. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the boys were killing snakes.
It is a great honor to serve as a spiritual director. The story of each soul is a sacred trust - each woman a child of God, each carrying beautiful, unique gifts, and each bearing the scars of a fallen world. Every time I serve as a spiritual director, I am healed more deeply as I understand the heart of my Father more clearly. Whenever a sister finds the courage to share with me the shame of some secret sin or the deep pain of rejection, I feel my heart quicken with the tenderness of God. Though I know the truth that there is no shame for anyone in Christ, like my sisters, I have often been tempted to hide in fear or shame. But when I serve as a spiritual director, the truth of God's mercy expressed in the cross becomes living and active in my soul, like a sharp sword, setting people free.
Swords are made for battle. That is the other truth which this retreat drove home. Like it or not, we are engaged in a fight for our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters. Sin is real, and its wages are death. Not because God is a wrathful God. No! Rather, it is the very nature of sin which causes death - just as it is the nature of Ebola to kill its victims. We have an enemy who loves to entice us to taste the fruit which is pleasing to the eye but poison to the soul. He is a serpent who whispers, "You shall not surely die. You will be like God."
When I was a young child, the Ten Commandments scared me. I saw illustrations of Moses standing on a mountaintop looking like a madman, the messenger of an angry God shooting lightning bolts to terrify His people. To this day, I do not doubt that the scene was awesome, but now I hear the commandments very differently.
I hear a loving Father sternly warning his children to stay way from danger. I hear a merciful God saying.....
You shall have no other gods before me (because I am your Maker and your Husband. I am the Way and Truth and the Life.)
You shall not commit adultery (because I am a faithful lover. Unfaithfulness hurts your souls; it destroys families; it undermines the trust of your children.)
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (because you were meant to live in the truth. Lying leads to fear, to hiding, to violence.)
You shall not covet (because all My riches are yours. You and your neighbor are one Body, dependent on one another.)
I believe this was God's intent from the beginning, but before Jesus walked among us and died for us, it was hard for us to hear the because clause. I sometimes wonder about that. Could God have explained a little more, expounded a bit on His reasoning? Could He have spoken more softly perhaps?
Then I remember that sin is a life and death matter. When my toddler is reaching out to touch a poisonous snake, I don't take time to look into her eyes and explain the nature of venom. I yell "Stop!" loud and clear, and if she cries in fear, I don't sweat it. Of course when the danger passes I scoop her in my arms and hug her tight because love is my motive and my goal.
The thirty women at this retreat each had several snake bites - some the result of their own sin, some the result of other people's sin. Thanks to the cross, they were able to look on Jesus and live. But how much stronger would the Body of Christ be if we listened to the warnings of our Father and avoided the snakes more diligently?
When the retreat was over, I went back to my cabin, shut the door and cried tears of relief, of love, of gratitude, of exhaustion. Then I walked into the bathroom and saw a scorpion. My first instinct was to let it be. It was no threat to me as long as I didn't touch it. My roommate had already packed and left. But once again, I felt my spirit quicken. I couldn't leave that scorpion to breed. There would be people in the cabin after me, and I couldn't put them at risk through my passivity. So I pushed through my revulsion and stomped on the creature.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the boys were killing a rattlesnake.