The Serendipitous Steering Currents of Spirituality

My dad, a pastor, frequently travels back to former churches to officiate at weddings or funerals or to serve as a guest speaker. Sometimes in our early morning conversations, he shares updates about people and happenings along his always-interesting encounters. Recently, we got on the topic of the serendipitous steering currents of spirituality – – those seemingly innocent coincidental moments when you realize that divine intervention has put you exactly in the right place at the right time, where long-awaited answers or answers to questions you never asked come when you least expect them.

Throughout his career, Dad collaborated with his own preacher father on a number of sermons, including one about Joseph of Arimathea. He’s recently been going through his files, deciding which hard copies to keep and which to let go. He’d set this one aside, pondering all its possibilities.

Later that same week, he’d returned to a former church for a funeral when a member asked if he remembered that particular sermon on Joseph of Arimathea he’d preached two decades earlier.

“Yes, Charles, ” he answered, “I do remember that sermon. I’ve preached it probably ten times in my career, and it’s interesting you’re mentioning it – I’ve had it on my mind lately to become part of a series I’ll be preaching in the coming weeks.”

Charles paused briefly, then shared, “It changed my life.”

The serendipitous steering currents of spirituality come when we least expect them, whether we’ve searched the clouds looking for answers to burning questions in words written like skywriting from airplanes or whether we never even got as far as asking the question and felt only the gentle nudge that caused us to set aside an idea to return to it later.

And no matter how they establish their presence, we recognize these divine connections and welcome them as guiding lights along the path.

Hoping Folks Out

When my phone rings in the early morning hours, I don’t panic and wonder what in the world has happened. A feeling of calm prevails. Things are as they have always been. There’s Dad.

I have a story I need to tell while it’s fresh on my mind, before I forget, he tells me. I grab my pen, the closest piece of paper, and listen, feverishly writing all that he shares.

It was back in the old days in rural Georgia when I was preaching at Ohoopee, he began. This was down around Highway 19, where you’d go through Wrightsville, meander over to Tennille, and then on out to Sandersville, where there were cotton fields everywhere and all the roads were red clay. And Ohoopee was a church of miracles. A cured drunk who loved the Lord led the singing, and the first time I stepped in there, they were singing “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks,” only he pronounced it Jurdan’s. And, as they say, “he weren’t wrong.”

There was a fellow by the name of Noah in the church, married to a lady named Nora, and Noah was having trouble finding where to dig his well. He needed help finding water. And back in those days, people were people and folks’ existence was all about helping their neighbors out.

Another couple in the church, Elvis and Helen, heard about it. “I’m coming over to hope you out,” Elvis told Noah, and when I heard that, I went over there too.

It wasn’t uncommon in those days to hear regional idioms and think of them as words misspoken, but these weren’t misspoken words – this was intentional language packed with meaning. Elvis was coming to hope his neighbor out.

Elvis said he had a divining rod – a hickory branch – that he could use to help him find water. Now Kim, believe what you will, but Elvis walked the grounds with that stick, and suddenly it tremored. I saw it with my own eyes. Right there, he said, was water. They marked the spot for the well and dug right there.

“Where exactly was this spot?” I was curious and had to know.

They called this area Possum Scuffle, he explained. It was back over in Harrison by Raines Store where they called it Deep Step and Goat Town, where a lady named Margaret Holmes had a cannery for black eyed peas and collards. They were the best you could get then and still are today.

“I believe you, Dad,” I assured him. “I’ve read about this. It’s a real thing.”

I had flashbacks to visiting the Foxfire Museum in Clayton, Georgia at the foot of Black Rock Mountain last April, where I saw in the holler the ways of a simpler way of life with a harder work ethic and more relying on God to bless the land – and people depending on each other – and wished that part of the world still existed.

Who am I to doubt a divining rod?

Now, I’m telling you all this because I’ve had one of those mornings where I’ve been playing with words, and I know you do the same thing, he continued. I’m still dwelling on the shipwreck passage in Acts 27, and there’s a Biblical connection I’ve discovered. Luke is the most likely author of the book, and he describes the ship being in a storm out in the Adriatic Sea near Malta. They used stabilizing ropes. In mariner’s terms, these are called hawsers. Today, we also call them helps, or help ropes.

I began to see where he was going with all of this. “Ah, I see. So hoping someone out is like using a help rope. Help is a hope rope.”

Exactly, he confirmed. Hope ropes tie it all together and make things possible. In Acts 27, the imperiled ship could have been dashed, save for the hope ropes.

That’s exactly what we need today in our communities – – to hope our neighbors out. We need to adopt the mindset of rural Georgia thinking back in the good days when folks extended not just a hand, but their whole selves – – divining rods and all.

Dad holding my brother Ken, with me (blue dress) and a friend (yellow dress) on the steps of Ohoopee Baptist Church, 1972

Tell the Story!

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My childhood church on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where my father has served as pastor twice throughout his career, is the place where I began my life as a Christian and was baptized as a child. Thanks to modern technology, I can virtually attend my childhood church, even though I live five hours away. Kyle Keese, the current interim pastor, in his sermon on January 9 , 2022 (I’ve linked it at the bottom of this post), shared his story of a conversation with two friends who were attending a reunion church service. One of the friends revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the other friend encouraged him to blog the journey. To share the story as a gift and blessing– to learn something about who he was, but more importantly, to learn more about who God was and how his faith sustained him in the midst of the pain.

I’d been late tuning in to the service, but as I began listening, How Firm a Foundation was the hymn being sung by the congregation. These words sung at my mother’s funeral were a nudge to lift my listening ears and open my mind and heart to hear the message that I needed to hear: share the story of a firm foundation and the difference it makes.

For a couple of years now, my prayer has been to find opportunities to share my family’s journey through a daughter’s addiction. I hadn’t anticipated another daughter on the road to recovery as I prayed, but as a mother who prays for my children’s health and safety daily, I could only rejoice as she came clean with her need for help – with her readiness to do the work she knows it will take. I thought of the conversation between these men, and the way our own family experience could be a gift to bless others with encouragement along the way.

My father, just last week, expressed his own desire to share our story so that others who are traveling through the back-alley-darkness of a family member’s addiction will realize that they are not alone – that there is hope – that it takes tough love and ceaseless prayer and unflappable faith when these shadows fall across our paths.

He shared that he’d once set his planned sermon aside and, led by the Holy Spirit in a different direction that day, spoken candidly to the congregation about our pain and our faith – and our blessings – in the midst of the road that we traveled. He spoke of the people who came alongside us, angelic friends, with resources and guidance to shed light on us even as we didn’t yet know all that we didn’t know. And as people left the service that day, he realized through the many similar stories shared with him that we have a responsibility to share because others have a need to hear how God uses our trials to shine His glory and pours out blessings along the way.

“I’ve never been one to set the sermon aside and tarry off course. But I felt led, so I did, and I understood as I stood at the door when people were leaving that the story needed to be shared – because so many people are struggling and need to hear that they are not alone – that there is hope,” he reflected.

My prayer remains to keep a steadfast faith, to listen and obey, and to allow the lyrics of my mother’s favorite hymn – the last notes of music to ever fall on her ears – to carry forth as a light in a dark, painful world – to share the message that others need to hear:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” (-Author unknown except by letter K-)

Link to the Service Here: