A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. LINDSEY ALTVATER CLIFTON: Where do you find peace?
While I’m still adjusting to life here in the Lehigh Valley, my first four months here have introduced me to three of our four seasons: when I arrived in late February, it was still snow-on-the-ground winter; things stayed chilly through much of a tiny blip of spring with a few perfect days sprinkled in, and now we’re solidly in the summer (which is quite a bit toastier than I imagined).
I confess that this time of year does make me a little homesick for North Carolina, more specifically for Montreat, a beautiful Presbyterian conference center in the mountains near Asheville. It is thin space for me: a special, set apart place where whatever usual distractions separating us from God are easier to transcend and where the presence of God is a bit more noticeable. (I’m sure you have thin places, too, and I hope you have time to visit them this summer!)
Many summers, I head up the mountain to Montreat for either the Youth Conference with high school students or for the annual Music & Worship Conference, which is an incredible intergenerational experience curated by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians—I hope to introduce y’all to one or both of these sometime!
The last time I went to Music & Worship was about this time in 2019. The 2020 conference was moved online, of course, and it has been so wonderful to see colleagues enjoying the conference in-person again this summer. At my last visit, the conference theme was “Not as the World Gives,” taken from John 14:27 in which Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
In this ongoing season of transition into a new stage of emerging-from-a-pandemic life, I still need those words of assurance. Perhaps you do, too. During worship each day, Rev. Dr. Rodger Niskioka’s sermons explored how the peace of Christ is not the kind of peace the world offers. These daily refrains became a powerful series of juxtapositions:
Peace is not the absence of chaos, but the presence of hope.
Peace is not the absence of evil, but the boldness, the presence of righteousness.
Peace is not the absence of pain, but the compassion of presence.
Peace is not the maintenance of the status quo, but the courage to seek justice.
Peace is not the absence of conflict, but it is the embodiment of love.
Peace is not the absence of darkness; it is the presence of light.
Where do you find such peace, friends? It showed up for me this week in the form of a mama deer and her still-spotted baby romping around our church’s front lawn on a particularly nutty day at the office. It felt like a mini Montreat moment here in Bethlehem. I slowed down to watch them for awhile before they made their way under some shade trees and out of view.
I think that’s not entirely unlike what we’re called to do as we navigate the changes unfolding around us – to find peace and joy by looking for and slowing down to watch what God is up to in our midst. Because God is surely our mama deer, staying nearby and nurturing us still-wobbly-legged babies as we try to find our way anew in the big wide world.
May we pay attention, friends. And may we encounter God’s peace and joy, along the way.
With much love and gratitude,