This past Sunday was the first of the new year, a time when many Methodist Churches devote time to all or part of the Wesley Covenant Service. Parts of this service date from the mid 1750s, though for me I’ve been participating in all or some part of this service since 1983, when I was a student at UT, and attended University United Methodist Church in Austin.
[Anna and sparkler last 4th of July]
Years later, as a pastor of a young Church, I found this particular service difficult to produce, as there was so much liturgy, readings and commitment…and none of it fast paced. It harkens from a day when people had longer attention spans. Still I find it an important part of the practice of my faith, a time for me to get a fresh start from the mess I’ve made of my relationship with God. Instead of trying to fix or repair things, the power of this service comes from its fresh start, the clean reboot of my faith, followed by a clear reminder of what it means to be a follower.
That said, it prays very differently for us here in Africa. In Texas, the prayer was more hypothetical, like, in theory God could use me this way, but unlikely. Safe; well, sure, I’ll do what God wants, but surely he wants me to be a pastor in Central Texas and Suzanne a professor in a nearby town. And I imagine that some in the congregation only halfheartedly prayed the Covenant Prayer, in a room of ambivalence. Who believed God would hold us to these words? But this past Sunday, as the Very Rev. Asher said these words, and we repeated them,
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
I knew I had really prayed this prayer and saw how God was answering it in my life. Not exactly what I had in mind.
The Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
[Path to grotto on other side of Lake]
I feel honored and humbled to have had so many people worldwide praying for me. I think I know what it feels like to be prayed for around the clock and the world. Still the recovery is slow, like the first steps of a very long journey. I am grateful to have such a supportive family, especially my sister Beth who put her life on hold to stay with me in South Africa, and treat me for a few weeks when Suzanne couldn’t be there. For my sister Sheron, who Fed-Exed some massage oil that was a God send, for Maureen, who shared her family with mine in Pretoria (and Adzo who set it up), for Nelda & Charlie and my Dad who both sent money when we really needed it, but most of all my wife Suzanne who has never given up on me. I’m a pretty independent person, and so to need, and accept help from so many loved ones, well, I don’t know where to begin to say thanks.
Most days I’m pain free, sleeping through the night, and getting good physiotherapy. My mind has learned to block out the pain, I’ve been mostly off pain medication since Dec. 23rd, I say mostly because about once a week I take a pain holiday, and load up on meds. Sleeping through the night is great when it happens, maybe one in four nights, and only in the last three weeks. Physiotherapy has been fun alternating between Galina, the Ukrainian who works on me with all the efficiency and gentleness that Russians are known for (or, not!), and Suzanne (not my wife) who is so compassionate, knowledgeable, and caring that just being in the same room with her makes me feel better. Last time I fell asleep while she was working my arm through the stretching exercises (usually a very painful process).
Suzanne (my wife) says I’m improving, though she thinks it’s is hard for me to see. I see it, but the progress is so slow. I am learning how to work around my mostly useless arm by adapting: I can play guitar (although he’s NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING IT, adds his wife), but I can’t hold the pick for an entire song. I can type, but I have to hold a pencil in my right hand fingers to hit the keys hunt and peck style, while the left touch-types.
[riding bikes PramPram orphanage]
I’ve weaned myself off the sling, but I can’t ride bike, drive a car, cut vegetables, or open jars, but the biggest frustration is that I can’t open the fingers on my right hand, and I have little muscle strength. I can clutch things, but not open my fingers to release them. Doctors say this is due to the nerve damage, and the nerves might regrow (at the rate of one inch per month). I’ve given up praying for a complete immediate miracle restoration of my arm and shoulder, though I do still pray that for my hand and fingers. Wouldn’t it be cool to wake up one morning and be able to completely open and control my hand?
[football match at Lake Bosumtwi]
I remember people I knew when I was a pastor who got so angry with God, nominal believers who prayed for a miracle that never came, and then blamed God. “Why did God do this?!” Or “How could God allow this to happen?” I admit I’ve seen turn offs to those roads along this recovery way, but I am a little scared of where they lead. Oh, I know God is a big God, and can handle us getting upset with him, but I’m not sure I want to be that angry with God, and certainly don’t want to do this alone. Yes, I do wish this cup would pass before me—and clearly it isn’t—but that doesn’t mean I want to go it alone from here.
So I guess it’s time for a new Adinkra symbol, and this time its Denkem or the Crocodile. The Akan say that because the crocodile lives in water, but breathes air, it represents the ability to adapt oneself to all forms of conditions and situations in life, especially those which seem difficult and beyond their control. Which is maybe the whole point of the covenant prayer we prayed on Sunday: we have to be constantly willing to adapt to what God has in store for us, for better or for worse. Lessons Suzanne and I are both learning here in Ghana, in very different ways.