by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I dragged in to Kunming around midnight. Here’s what I journaled… “Looks like I will be “making retreat.” I came to support several young men and their ordination, but for the next couple of days I was shuffled off to a very cold hotel room across the street from KTV and its six-story tall dancing LED girl out my window. The first night I slept in my leather coat and knit stocking cap – under the comforter. Oh man! The window was open all night, and I didn’t realize it. I was so blasted after traveling for a couple of days I didn’t even check out the window.
I got to breakfast about five minutes before it closed at 9:30 a.m. I ate fried eggs with my chopsticks. Its a talent. Jack called. They are really busy and if I can just sit tight at the hotel… Somehow, I loved being sidelined. I came just to be with them. Now I will just BE. I am now making retreat. I brought Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. I sat down in my cold room (window is shut now), a hot cup of tea, which is quickly cooling, and began going through the mansions. The basement entrance to the Castle of His Majesty, the first mansion, is nothing but a Grace. It has to be because it is full of poisonous reptiles. There Self is g-d. The second mansion begins with Calling. Its decision time. Will we follow the Call? Calling is a also a grace she says. I smile a smirk because she sounds just like Calvin. I wonder what the Driscolites and neo-Calvinists would say to that!
On and on Teresa takes me through her mansions. I am consumed with my situation – sequestered in China, quietly biding my time, abiding in Christ – and reading Teresa. I thought about my first trip to China. I was stuck in a hotel on that trip as well. But then I was so frustrated. Then I came to China to build a school for poor minority children. But I was “trapped!” I had to wait for others to come get me. I was not in control. My entire ministry life was about accomplishment – doing something, reaching out to students, starting a church, preaching, disciple-making.
What a difference six years has made in my life. It is the tale of two Chinese hotel rooms.
The spiritual life is all about control. The move from DO to BE takes tremendous energy and focus. It consumes me. I realize the best discipleship I can accomplish is to model submission to Christ. One of my staff caught me in a moment of self-disclosure when in a meeting I mumbled, “Even in my silence no one hears me.” I’ll never be asked to lead a seminar on Being. If I ever am then the appropriate thing to do would be to decline the offer. There are few seminars on “How I Become Nothing.” (Although I did see once a workshop on ‘how to take your church contemplative!’)
It is embarrassing to even write about my time sequestered in my cold hotel room with Interior Castle. It violates something private and secret, like shining a flashlight on salamanders in hole, or lifting a rock and having the beetles freeze up. But this is the unbidden life and it calls to us, like the still small voice. And my task is to call others to it. The life of following Jesus is first about abiding, sitting at his feet, listening. Everything else follows. All the news about building ministries, serving, politics, success and enterprise is second. In the past I did not believe this. But now I can pretty much sit in any hotel room and “make retreat.”
The “fuwuyuan” knocked on the door that afternoon. I was sitting in the chair with my lukewarm tea, my book, journal and pen, with my coat and hat on, wiping my nose. She had pity on me and brought me a nice big electric heater. “Xiexie.” They’ve got heaters! Whadda ya know! Mother Teresa would have rejected it, but not me! Heck, I could dry my laundry on it in one hour (I don’t take much change of clothing; I always go carry-on to China – this is how pilgrims travel. Lose the roller bag and be free friend).
Jack called and the ordination service was on for the next day at ten in the morning. Soon I was buzzing around people and snapping pictures. I got the great honor of placing the stoles on each ordinand. As I did so I said the words, “You have received the yoke of Christ, now receive the mantle of Pastor.” I wish I could have thought about it enough in advance work it up in Chinese. But I didn’t. Still, I thought my line was a pretty snappy thing to say, even if nobody understood it.
After the big event, the point of my trip, I hung out with a few young ministry folk the next few days. We ate together in their homes and in restaurants – always in our coats, always. They are so tired. Nobody asks them how they are doing, how’s their marriage, how’s the parenting thing going, what is your relationship with Jesus like. One man spent three years in jail, another one year and then he escaped. All have been interrogated and hassled. They have all this plus an American Evangelical model of ministry that will suck the grace of g-d right out of you. It shows. It shows.
I just wanted to be with them. When I go to China I can’t help but think of the time when the Apostle Paul was stoned and dragged outside the city and left for dead (Acts 14:20). And the text says (NIV) ‘But after the disciples had gathered around him, he go up and went back into the city.’ No prayer, no oil, no laying of hands – nothing. They just gathered around him Luke records. I just wanted to gather around them, those saints in China. Somehow our Presence can raise the dead. I was just happy to be with them. I was just happy to Be.
I haven’t finished Interior Castle. I have already read the later parts before though. But I have to get through all the mansions. But there are so many things to DO, back here, you know what I mean? Perhaps g-d will send down the gift of a cold hotel room and fried eggs for me. And I can finish my book. May all of us just be happy to be here… at the feet of Jesus.