Unrevealed Until Its Season

It’s sunset in Clive, Iowa. My home office faces west, and I watch the brilliant red, orange, and yellow colors fade into darkness. I sing to myself:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons a hidden promise; butterflies will soon be free.

In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something alone God can see.

“Hymn of Promise,” United Methodist Hymnal, #707

It is the season of winter, and I am deeply grateful that out of the isolation of life confined mostly to home, blessings still abound. Unrevealed until its season, Lent beckons us to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In the midst of the fear of contracting COVID-19; depression because we can’t go anywhere; worry about elderly parents; anxiety about our children; grief because we cannot cuddle grandchildren on our lap; and sorrow that so many are suffering financially, emotionally, and relationally – there’s a spring that waits to be. God with us even – especially – in the dark places.

God of all seasons, in your pattern of things

there is a time for keeping and a time for losing,

a time for building up and a time for pulling down.

In this holy season of Lent, as we journey with our Lord to the cross,

Help us to discern in our lives

What we must lay down and what we must take up.

What we must end and what we must begin.

                                    (The Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland)

I recently discovered a diary that I kept from 1974-1975. It was my junior year in college, which I spent at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule (Berlin Church Music School) in West Berlin, Germany. Growing up, I never adjusted well to new circumstances and always experienced homesickness when away from my family. Yet learning German at the Goethe Institute in West Berlin for two months and then fully immersing myself in studying organ, choir conducting, composition, and voice was exhilarating. In this highly intense and competitive music environment, I asked myself every day, “What am I doing here?” Still, I was able to bloom and grow. Unrevealed until its season.

Fortunately, my college roommate at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio happened to be studying in Basel, Switzerland at the same time as I was in West Berlin, so we decided to spend the Christmas break together. I took a train to Freiburg, Germany, where Jennifer was staying with her host family at their summer home in the Black Forest. We attended a packed Christmas Eve mass, which was totally foreign, fascinating, and deeply moving. A few days later, Jennifer and I boarded a train and headed off to Milan, where we would catch another train to Rome.

The scene remains vivid in my mind these many years later. I wrote in my diary, “It’s 1:15 a.m., and do I have a story to tell! My passport case was stolen an hour ago, as Jennifer and I were walking from car to car, trying to find seats on the standing room only train from Milan to Rome. I realized the inherent danger in the situation and was holding on to my passport case tightly.” Oh, well.

Once I realized it was gone, we quickly got off the train and were directed to the Polizei. I filled out all the necessary forms so that I could get a temporary passport the next day at the American Consulate in Milan. But the loss was so much greater than my passport. In the passport case was my International Student Identity Card, my Social Security card, an eight-day train ticket for Italy and return ticket to West Berlin, a credit card, police papers from Berlin, cash, and traveler’s checks.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody.

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future, what it holds, a mystery,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Jennifer and I spent a sleepless night in the Milan train station, with numerous creepy men checking us out. We were cold, hungry, and bone-weary, yet we had to stay awake. After I was able to secure a temporary passport the next day, we decided to pack it in and return to Basel, Switzerland, where Jennifer was living with her host family. After a few days, I took the train back to Berlin and was ready to stay put for a while. Two months later, I received a letter from the American Consulate in Milan, returning a few of the stolen items that had been recovered, minus the money.

At our next school break, I planned to travel to Vienna to visit a high school friend who was studying there. The night train would take me from the West Berlin train station to an East Berlin train station, where I would transfer to another train that would overnight me to Vienna.

Unfortunately, I got off at the wrong station in East Berlin. After waiting for a little while, I became uncertain about the transfer and approached an East German guard. Yes, this was at the height of the Cold War, and I was terrified. After he told me it was too late to make connections to Vienna, I made my way back to West Berlin and tried again early the next morning. It ended up being a wonderful trip. Unrevealed until its season.

I was ultimately not called to be a professional church musician, although I still love music. From the past will come the future. It was music that led me to discover that my real call was pastoral ministry. And it was music that led me to The United Methodist Church, unrevealed until its season. While studying for a Master’s degree in organ performance at Yale, I not only met my husband, who was a United Methodist, but I also served as the director of music at a United Methodist Church in Connecticut for five years.

In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity;

In our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity.

In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

During this season of Lent, what endings, some yet unrevealed, will lead to new beginnings for us as individuals, as United Methodists, and as a world? How will COVID-19 continue to teach us that we are one global family and that the choices we make have a ripple effect that affects all of us? How will the anti-racism movement change us? How will our local churches innovate, grow, and flourish because of the challenges we have faced? How can we love and care for one another even when we disagree on important issues? To what do we need to die as individuals and as a denomination in order to walk boldly into a future with hope that is unrevealed until its season? Once again, in our end is our beginning.

20 thoughts on “Unrevealed Until Its Season

  1. Loved your stories and am so impressed at how ecumenical it was. From Mass to those atheistic communists – the Senator from Wisconsin was raving about their alleged sympathizers here at home. Wish I could have taken trips like that. On another note. Here in Michigan people wail about the snow, even those who live in exurbs and dependent on wells, not seeing the blessing of ground water recharge. Thanks again for opening eyes. Peace!

  2. I Laurie,
    I rarely leave a comment but you touched a soft spot in my heart with your post about “Hymn of Promise!”
    That hymn is my favorite of all that is available and I too lived in West Berlin for the better part of a year in 1966 so reading your post brought back many memories! Every week I read your posts and my memories of you and Gary warm my heart!
    Blessings to both of you😘!
    Janet Wood

  3. Thank you Laurie. The last paragraph is cogent, meaningful and an excellent guide not only for the Lenten season but for this time as a whole.
    I do appreciate your fine words which continue to provide strength for the journey.

  4. I am a Pastor in the Dakotas Conference and I do so enjoy your blogs! I find myself in this one … on a more localized and less exciting journey. I too, thought music was my vocation and yet the long journey led me to my true vocation/calling as pastor. The Hymn of Promise runs deeply in my life. What blessings we enjoy when we stop trying to control our lives and give that control over to God!! Thanks for the message!

  5. Thank You, Bishop!

    From my roots in Scotch Grove, Jones county, Iowa, my 45 years’ service
    in the SC UM Conference (two quadrennia of which my Duke classmate
    Lawrence McCleskey was our “Overseer”), his time with Africa University
    (my dentist was born in Zambia and was acquainted with Victoria Falls,
    first seen through blue eyes by my kinsman Dr Livingston,) to my
    kinfolk in Mercer and Lancaster counties – the world IS the parish to
    which we were sent! —- was the quotation from “Edelweisz” intentional?

  6. Very inspiring story! This one will long be remembered in reflection on my own life. It motivates me to write my own “Hymn of Promise” story.

  7. Bishop Laurie,
    Thank you for sharing your meaningful journey. In January 1972, I and 15 other seminarians from Wesley Theological Seminary went to Rome and Geneva for a two week Ecumenical Pilgrimage lead by our Ecumenics Professor. In Rome we were guests of the American College inside the Vatican and visited various offices of the Vatican. Week two took us to the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva. Part of the experience was to visit the Ecumenical Institute in Basel. On a free day four of us took the train to Freiburg where we we met by a young woman who had been an exchange student at one of the guy’s high school. She gave us a wonderful tour of the town square which had been restored to it historic beauty. Thank you for sparking a pleasant memory.

  8. Bishop Laurie we share the same birthday! And we share a love for this Natalie Sleeth hymn! Beyond that we share a love of music and the avocation of organist! Beyond that we share a passion for the reign of God and ministry in this world. I really enjoy reading your posts! Thank you so much for all you give to us. Have a blessed Lent.

  9. This is a beautiful message you have shared. As I read it, my thought is inviting you to Estherville UMC to help us dedicate our new organ in a few months after it is done being built by the Allen Organ Company. Perhaps you might wish to be part of such an event? Please consider it as we would be honored. Maybe you would even “brush up the organ skills and play a few notes”.

  10. What an inspiring story. You were very brave and courageous. You have my admiration and I’m proud to say that I know you as one of my spiritual leaders.
    May God continue to bless you as you serve Him. Cleo Farris, St. Mark’s UMC, Evansdale, IA

  11. Thanks for sharing one of your meaningful journeys. What a beautiful message with one of my favorite hymns. I enjoy reading all of your “Weekly Essay and Blogs.”
    They are very inspiring.

  12. This has always been one of my very favorite hymns. Thank you for giving it new meaning. One of the big lessons we have learned from the last year is that our future is a mystery. But as another favorite hymn tells us – behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadows, keeping watch above his own. We can take great comfort in remembering those words.

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