with Suzanne Chase
Good evening, my name is Suzanne Chase. I’m a widow blessed with two amazing sons and six wonderful grandchildren, formerly a resident of Massachusetts for three-quarters of a century until September 2020. I’ve been a member of Central for a whole ten months now. I sincerely wish to thank the entire congregation for being so gracious and welcoming. And special thanks to Rebecca for beautifully crafted sermons and to Claudia for a summer filled with provocative Bible stories, which were nothing like the ones I heard as a child.
As a new resident of Rhode Island, I was anxious to explore the state. However, 2020 was a tough year to try to do that; so many places were shut down. And to make matters worse, on November 30, just three months after my move, I was diagnosed with a rather nasty case of Covid. So the first place I got to visit was Miriam Hospital – definitely not a destination on my bucket list!
The day after I left the hospital, I lost my youngest brother to Covid. Needless to say, while I’m grateful to be on the right side of the grass, there’s nothing quite like a devastating loss and a near-death experience to bring to the surface nagging and conflicting thoughts about faith.
Two months later when I was mostly recovered, I asked myself why has God spared me yet one more time? Why am I still here? Throughout my life, my faith has been spotty at best and nonexistent at worst. I hadn’t attended church in a very long time. I thought maybe if I returned, I might find an answer.
The intention was to visit every church in Providence to find my fourth and final place of worship. Having been a Congregationalist most of my life, I came here first. Once I had coffee with Rebecca, the decision was made! I knew I need not look further.
Last month, Rebecca called to ask if I would be willing to participate in this Lenten series and share some thoughts about my spiritual journey. My immediate silent reaction to this invitation was panic, and in my head, I was saying, “You want me to do what”?
One of my favorite artists is watercolorist Andrew Wyeth, who once said putting his artwork on display was the equivalent of dropping his pants in public. To share something as deeply personal as spirituality is daunting to me in the way Wyeth felt about exhibiting his art. But I realized I had to step out of my comfort zone because I also know the value of sharing.
This is hard to share because we’re talking about coming to terms with the unknown, the unseen, the supernatural, and even the little miracles in our lives.
The first supernatural event I can recall happened when I was only five years old. My mother left the radio on when she tucked me in for the night. On this December evening, the soothing classical music was rudely interrupted by a news announcement: 500 American soldiers had been killed on their way home from Korea for Christmas.
My heart sank, and I started to cry. Then I heard a voice speaking to me gently. I was alone in the dark, and only five, so this scared the living bejesus out of me! I don’t remember anything that was said, except for the last sentence, “Don’t be afraid.”
Growing up, I often recalled and questioned this experience and wondered if that was the voice of God? At five, I had no concept of God, worship, Jesus, angels, or even death; so why did I react so strongly to the news announcement? Needless to say, my mother removed the radio from my room after that night.
As the invisible beings of my childhood disappeared – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy – I accepted the fact that they were all frauds! But I didn’t know what to do or think or feel about the mysterious God. The God my father talked about was bowling in the heavens whenever we had a thunderstorm.
Throughout my teens and college years, I had an approach/avoidance conflict with religion and the church, and I spent many hours, months, and years away. I questioned, questioned, and questioned for a long time.
I envied my one and only aunt who always carried a Bible and had unwavering faith despite a horrible childhood and terrible life in general. How could I get to the place where her mind and heart resided? Finally, I came to believe God has ways of guiding us whether we like it or not.
A tiny miracle I recall, that happened when I was a freshman in college, revolved around my desperate search for an obscure book I needed for an important assignment. I went to the college library, the Boston Public, and finally back to my hometown library, where I mindlessly put my hand on a shelf and landed directly on the book I wanted. Is there a library angel? I like to think so because that much-needed help stayed with me for the next four years.
When I was a young wife and mother, I joined a women’s church group; and for the first time since confirmation class I was talking with others about God and the unknown. As we shared, we discovered we had similar experiences. For example, we all felt we knew we had conceived at the moment of conception. How was that possible? And what about that little voice in our heads that sometimes kept us from harm or even death?
Another woman told of something I had experienced also. In times of stressful sleep, when our subconscious minds failed to find a solution to whatever was bothering us, a pair of invisible arms would warmly embrace us, finally lulling us into peaceful slumber. Not only were those arms comforting for both of us, but it was comforting to know that someone else shared this experience with me.
Jumping ahead to 1987, I saw a movie called “Tin Men” with Danny DeVito. In one of the scenes, Danny is very excited, exclaiming “I found God in the salad bar!” He carried on and on to the confusion of his listener who appeared to think DeVito had totally lost his mind. Although this scene was meant to be funny, I could relate to everything Danny was saying about the miracle of all these nourishing things that just came out of the ground for human survival. In that moment, I believed I too might find God in a salad bar.
I kept asking myself, do I worship God enough? What does God want from me? Do I actually know how to pray? There was even a time when I tried to white-knuckle it through a guided meditation, but just couldn’t get to a place where I felt I was making a connection.
Twelve years ago I joined the Taoist Tai Chi Society to learn a gentle exercise for my aging mind and body. It was described to me as moving meditation. I practiced long and hard to memorize the 108 moves that comprise a 20-minute set. It’s within the 20 minutes of that movement, of body awareness, I learned to shut out all the noise of the world long enough to focus and truly meditate.
After two years, I became an instructor, and as my students shared with me their newfound awareness of life’s energy and spiritual events in the learning in process, I was once again reminded of how we are all more alike than different.
There were times I struggled with my faith because I wanted answers to my questions. Then one night I had a vivid dream after a particularly intense adult Sunday school discussion. In this dream, all my questions were answered. I even thought I talked to God! I woke very excited because I was going to write down these answers and incredible revelation.
However, as soon as I opened my eyes, all had vanished but one thing: the knowledge that I didn’t need to know the answers. It seemed as if God had finally dragged me away from the precipice of doubt. Amen! – March 23, 2022