Round 51 of 52 Churches in 52 Weeks — Holy Cross Chapel in Sedona, Arizona

The Promised Land of Chocolate Milk and Hunny

Sticks and Stones at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona

Despite what Charlton Heston led you to believe, Moses was never good with words. He even told that to God — back when He was bad at picking disguises.

I read somewhere that there’s two different types of people in the world. Those who plan months in advance for their Halloween costume, and those who put on some last-minute cat ears. This apparently included God. When Moses fled to Mount Horeb to live under a rock, God wanted to recruit him. But you can’t freak out a human being when you live in divine glory. So instead, God took a look at what was around Him and appeared before Moses as a talking burning bush. Now back then, this was impressive, no doubt — and was definitely a step-up from that time He laid the cosmic smackdown on Jacob when He went as a professional wrestler. But this is God we’re talking about, the omnipotent ruler of the heavens and the earth. Surely He could whip up something better than a fern or Nacho Libre.

So God consulted the angels to amp up the celestial effects the next time He spoke to Moses. When it was time to sign His John Hancock on the Ten Commandments, He went full-out as a earth-rumbling mountain that was consumed in a thunderous fire tornado. This was WAAAAAAAY better. But as the Old Testament progressed, God got a little carried away with Himself, and vowed to be the Omega of all future Halloween costume judging contests when He appeared to Ezekiel as some form of giant chariot hurricane that mutated into a monstrous man-lion-ox-eagle creature with heads rotating like a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade set upon monster truck wheels full of eyes that were shooting out rainbow beams. Look it up. After that one, I think the angels convinced God to tone it down a notch or two...

Where was I? Oh yeah.

So back at Mount Horeb, God as the disguised burning bush didn’t beat around the bush to tell Moses that he was His Main Man to deliver the Children of Israel out of slavery and lead them to the Promised Land of milk and honey. But Moses rebutted God and told him he was slow of speech. How was a tongue-tied guy supposed to tell Pharaoh “let my people GO!” when he had a fear of public speaking and three-syllable words?

So God asked him, “What’s that in your hand?

It’s a stick,” replied Moses.

Use that.

And so Moses used the stick, and became the miracle worker of the day to deliver his people from enslavement. Through God’s power, the staff used by Moses could transform into a snake, command the Red Sea to stand at attention, and had the power to win wars when Moses raised it above his head — much to the chagrin of those closest to him who’s noses had to do battle against his 40-year armpit perspiration.

But the real test for Moses and the Children of Israel wasn’t the lack of Old Spice, but was the adversity of the wilderness. They whined, hungered, and thirsted. After everything they had seen — even after doing the Egyptian Dance as the Red Sea drowned the marching Egyptians, they still wanted to kill Moses. Moses cried out to God, “What do you want me to do for all these people. There’s no water, no rivers, no Dasani vending machines despite having exact change — and they’re ALL dying of thirst. These people are ready to stone me!

And again God asked, “what’s that in your hand?

A stick,” Moses replied.

Use it to hit that rock over there.

You don’t need to be as dumb as a rock to know that rocks don’t produce water. But Moses did it anyway and obeyed God’s command. He got into a batting stance, took a home run crack, then hocus pocus lo and behold, God decided to show-off and out came sparking water, a gushing spring so plentiful that it quenched all those who thirsted. Despite being slow in speech and literally being stuck between a rock and a hard place, Moses trusted in God’s plan with a lesson that could only be learned in the desert.

Actions speak louder than words.

October 5, 2015 6:00pm Taizé Prayer Service: Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona

The weather was feeling black and blue that day. I could tell by how the clouds were overcast above Sedona’s local Walgreens — obviously in desperate need of some Prozac. But clouds don’t have wallets and lack the Zen-like patience needed to wait in line for over-the-counter medication. So instead, the storm got emotional and cried showers to beat down the ground for some much-needed rainfall. Almost on a dime, the weather had a mood swing and the heavens opened up to endless blue skies and radiant clouds, the sun beaming down on the red rock to give off a brilliant orange glow that was brighter than a pumpkin wearing Donald Trump’s TV make-up.

When I arrived and parked down in the valley, I looked up at the giant cross that had been speared into the bedrock like Excalibur. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was a powerful statement — a fortress of God that had built into a cliff. When I got out of my car, another patch of black clouds began storming in and the rain started pouring again. I made a dash for it by hiking up a steep incline to get shelter inside the chapel. You can’t climb a mountain without some thorns along the way, and the chapel’s ascent included various forms of cacti, thorns, and shrubbery on its grounds (no talking burning bushes though). It was an interesting metaphor for life. Living in sunshine doesn’t tell us much about ourselves, but when we live for Christ’s building code, a good storm will demonstrate the stability of our foundation.

The chapel was buzzing with tourists who had also retreated inside, many talking in amazement about such a magnificent structure. The sanctuary was quite quaint, with several commenting on the various sculptures and tapestries, with the altar containing a sculpture of Jesus’s face created by the chapel’s founder, Marguerite Brunswig Staude. Behind the altar was glass windows to give a wide panoramic overview of Sedona’s terrain. But in the middle of the nave— oddly, yet evidently on purpose — lay a crucifix.

The chapel was Catholic in faith, but according to the Diocesan policy, there could be no liturgies conducted at the chapel (liturgies could only be done at a different nearby parish church). Instead, the staff was inspired to hold Taizé prayer services every Monday night, borrowing from a monastic community in France that devotes itself to a common life of prayer and simplicity. As my bulletin explained, the Taizé mantra style of chant aims to quiet a busy mind and uses a sung prayer to quiet the mind’s chatter to get lost in devotional energy. By surrendering to the emptiness, the frequently repeated refrains quiets the minds and allows the silence of the heart to meet God in contemplative prayer.

The service was quiet short, with a few gathering songs, Psalms, and a brief word from one of the staff members to prepare everyone for the Taizé chant to conclude the service. She instructed everyone to take time for prayer, give gratitude, and take a candle as a symbol to place before the laid crucifix near the altar.

There’s so much in this world to pray for,” she said. “So much.

The congregation sang the Taizé chants of “Oh Lord, hear my prayer” as one-by-one, congregants lined up near the exit and were handed a small candle in a red flared tealight glass cup. It was a humbling moment, many people crying and using their time to reflect on loved ones. When I received my candle and held it in my hand, I felt a rush come over my body. Like Moses learned in his desert, if we want to do anything for God, we have to know what’s in our hands — use what God has given you, despite our limitations and limiting beliefs. He’s equipped everyone with a particular gift to use.

My candle.

It was my burning bush moment. When this whole thing started, I was stuck at rock bottom in the lowest of low valleys. My wish back then was to one day meet an amazing Christian woman — someone who could be my soulmate and laugh at my lame jokes, most of which are fish jokes (I’ll spare you). As I walked to the cross — my flickering flame hula dancing in my palm, I realized it was the first time I had manifested a prayer into an action. The candle represented an illustrative sermon to myself for what I HAD to become for the next step of my life. The hearts of Rachel and her children were in my hands and I had to be careful to take such a responsibility seriously. Knowing everything that I’d been through had only proven God’s hand is on everything. When I laid my candle next to the cross, I prayed to God feeling grateful— grateful for giving me the lessons that I needed to overcome in my personal desert — grateful for meeting Rachel — grateful for God giving me a chance to be a Christian role model for Tony and Elle. They came into my life during a time of personal wilderness. Now, if all went right in our courtship, I could complete a family that maybe didn’t know could have been possible. I could take this entire 52 Churches in 52 Weeks experience from what Christ had showed me — and like Christ had become for me, I could be their rock — their mountain.

Salvation can be found in some funny places that you’d least expect. For Moses and everyone in that chapel, we found it at a rock. All the candles were shining beacons to illuminate everyone’s story in that chapel, a collection of personal experiences where our burdens had been laid thanks to Christ laying Himself for us so that He too could do the impossible and break out of the rock of an empty tomb. As the candles shined bright and the sun set off in the horizon, I couldn’t help but think what a beautiful ride. I was humbled in a way that’s too hard to jot down into words. It was beautiful. Absolutely. Beautiful.

A few days later — after three weeks of being apart, I reached Rachel’s apartment, the Promised Land full of chocolate milk and my hunny. When I arrived, Rachel came over to my outstretched arms, laid her head on my shoulder, and I passionately kissed her on the lips. That night, she gave me the feeling that people write novels about. We made our relationship official. I got the girl. I got the family. And most importantly, I had found the Christ-centered relationship that I had always dreamed about.

Without valleys, we never can reach the peaks.

What could go wrong?

Dave Boice is a wayfaring stranger who explores spirituality at different churches.
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