I have a park bench. Maybe you have one too.
My bench is at the end of a wooded loop trail at Cascade Peace Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. It sits on a bluff about 150 feet above a small babbling brook that trickles into the Grand River a quarter of a mile away. Surrounding my bench are the large maples and oaks of a mature forest, which means there is little undergrowth to obstruct my view. Bucks, does, and the occasional fawn meander there, unafraid of hunters and only occasionally startled by an off-leash dog. Ironically, a plaque on the bench indicates that it is dedicated to a canine companion, but other visitors have carved their own messages into the planks. My bench is my retreat, and since moving back to Michigan from Haiti in 2017, it has witnessed many of my wrestlings with God.
If Jesus walked among us today, I know he would have a bench, or at least a retreat spot. During his sojourn among us, Jesus consistently sought quiet places to commune with his Father.
The most impactful example for me comes from Matthew 14:22-23. I believe, with good reason, that Jesus’ night on this Galilean mountainside was one of his darkest apart from Gethsemane. He had been rejected by his townspeople at the synagogue of Nazareth (13:53-58). He had just learned about the beheading of his cousin John the Baptist (14:1-12). He was harassed and harried by crowds agitating for messages and miracles (14:13-21). He was tired and probably discouraged. What Jesus needed most of all was time for rest and prayer with his Father. He needed a good park bench.
Jesus wasn’t the only one. Moses, Elijah, Paul, and many biblical leaders sought out spaces of discernment, prayer, and communing with God. In the centuries after Christ, early church pastors, missionaries, and bishops would go to desert places of prayer and retreat, which eventually led to the founding of the first monasteries. Many of those places still exist.
People often ask me what my greatest hopes and prayers are for the Christian Reformed Church and its leaders and members. At the top of my list is this: that God will open our hearts to relationship with God through prayer, rest, reflection, listening, and discernment. In our changing culture, where there are no easy answers and a multitude of voices screaming for our attention and our time, what is most needed is simple. It is what we have always needed: a park bench—a place to commune with God, our creator, our savior, our sustainer. God longs to meet us there. God wants to richly bless us with what we need to thrive.
May God bless you with God’s presence, God’s peace, and God’s rest!
About the Author
Rev. Zachary King is the general secretary of the CRCNA. He is a member of Fuller Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.