May 25, 2021
We recently returned from western North Carolina where we had the opportunity to visit Lake Junaluska, situated in the heart of a Methodist Camp and Conference Center and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and numerous old shade trees. If ever there were a place to commune with the Divine, by whatever name one calls it, Lake Junaluska is certainly at the top of the list.
A friend had suggested that we visit Memorial Chapel, nested against the lakeshore. The picturesque small stone church with a view of the placid lake through its arches calls for guests, for those who seek peace to come and sit inside and rest/pray awhile. We approached a groundskeeper and asked if the chapel was open. Her response was, “During Covid it was opened 24 hours a day for people to come in and pray, but now that things have gotten better, it is not opened as often.” Then, half-embarrassed by the irony of her reply, she chuckled a bit, shrugged, and returned to watering the flowers.
My instant thought was, “Isn’t that just like human nature?” I guess we didn’t need God anymore. There we were, in the midst of a religious community, and the chapel was closed because things had “gotten better.” I realized, again, how often we want God, Yahweh, Allah, Abba, Jesus, Divinity on our own terms, when we want it, when we need it. I recalled the amazing increase in worship after 9/11, until we realized that—at least for a time—the terrorist attacks were over and life could return to somewhat normal. The sky hadn’t fallen, yet, so God could be put on hold.
Yet that notion is so contrary to at least three world religions. Jesus Christ constantly modeled prayer. Paul of the New Testament stated we should, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, ” (1 Thessalonians, verses 16-18). Early in monastic life, the “Liturgy of the Hours” was developed that outlined seven times for prayer each day, following the Jewish example of seven times of prayer found in Psalm 119, verse 164: “Seven times a day I praise you . . . ” Muslims are instructed to pray five times a day. Nowhere is there a stipulation to pray only in a crisis. We fickle humans seem to have invented that one ourselves.
The closed chapel also made me wonder how much we tend to use God, just like we sometimes use other people. When we are in need of something bigger than us, or beyond our control, we cry out for help and healing, solace and sympathy. When the crisis is over, we often forget our relationship with the Divine until another crisis or hard time hits. We forget we are invited into a two-way relationship, one that includes awareness, intention, gratitude, and love from both partners, instead of a relationship where we treat the Divine (or the other) like a genie in a bottle.
Certainly, we don’t need a chapel in order to commune with Love. Sitting under a tree by the lake will work just as well as waiting at a red light in traffic. Divine Love is all around us, simply waiting to be noticed and received. Yet here was a chapel, dedicated for prayer and worship, closed because things had “gotten better,” and apparently people no longer felt an intense need to pray. Perhaps Covid has gotten better here in the States, but not everywhere, and surely many more needs exist to be lifted up in prayer, along with many thanksgivings. How precious are the opportunities for sitting in the quiet company of God where often words are not even necessary.
I’m very grateful that we visited Lake Junaluska. I felt the presence of the Creator all around us. More importantly, our brief chapel interlude presented me with an opportunity to reflect on my own prayer life and to admit how many times I turn to God in need and then allow God to fade away when things are going well. I would like my heart to be a chapel that is open 24 hours a day, inviting God in, not only in the difficult times, but in the peaceful, as well. Blessings ~ Rosemary firstname.lastname@example.org