Reflection on Mark 1: 35-38 by Barbara Ambrose
In the Fall of 2000 I began graduate school. I was 43 years old and felt certain that God had called me to leave my banking career and become a clinical social worker with training in Christian studies. My transition to being a student with seemingly massive amounts of homework began in seminary. Theological reading proved to be a new and challenging experience for me, but its capacity to raise anxiety paled in comparison to theological writing. By October I was becoming overwhelmed by the scope of my course load.
One afternoon I was home alone contemplating all the work I had to do and wondering how I would possibly manage. I began to doubt my ability to do well. I decided I was wrong about God’s call to me. I realized I had made the biggest mistake in my life. I concluded that I was a complete and utter failure. And then I cried. Sobbed, in fact – for a very long time.
Finally, the practical side of my nature chimed in suggesting that I should not completely waste an afternoon that had been earmarked for “studying.” Was there anything on my very long assignment list that I might try to tackle? I opted for “Lectio Divena” from my Spirituality class. The professor had provided a list of scripture readings and we were to choose one and practice this spiritual discipline.
I randomly picked Mark 1: 35-38, opened my Harper Collins Study Bible and began reading… In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
I slowly read this passage out loud just like we had learned in class. After pausing for a few moments, I reread the passage. I did this several times, but I was still upset and felt almost adversarial with the text. I assumed I was simply wasting my time. After all I was just a big failure. What was the point? I continued….
In the morning, while it was still very dark…. Suddenly this passage took hold of me….. morning – beginning – start of something new. Not mid-morning – 10:00 a.m. or so when it is bright and sunny, but early morning – that time when it is “darkest before the dawn.” I continued rereading and surprising insights emerged. This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He’s alone, and he has gone off to pray. And Simon and his companions hunted for him… In fact it is almost as if he is intentionally evading the others. Is he struck by the realization of what he has gotten himself into? Might he be filled with doubt about whether he is up for this task? Could he possibly have felt then, what I am feeling right now in this moment? But at last he says “Let us go on…for that is what I came out to do.” Everything is going to be OK.
I realized that afternoon that I too was at the very beginning of a journey. I could not imagine then where this path would lead because it was still quite new and cloaked with the darkness of uncertainty. Jesus went to a deserted place to pray – he knew that he could not make his journey alone so he reached out to his father for strength and support. In my moment of doubt I had to be dragged to that place of prayer by my practical nature and, I now realize, the Holy Spirit, but once I got there Jesus reached out to me through the words in this passage.
School went fine. I managed to complete my assignments and was pleased with the outcome of my efforts. Ten years later, looking at that same page in my Harper Collins I can still see the faint dimples where my tears fell. The journey that began then has taken some amazing twists and turns leading to more unexpected new beginnings – changing jobs, formation as a deacon, coming to St. Andrews. With each new endeavor there is that inevitable moment of self-doubt and uncertainty. And each time I return to this passage and remember that Jesus experienced these dark moments too, and he will be with me wherever he calls me to go.