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January Chaplain's Reflections

U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Gray, a chaplain assigned to 169th Fighter Wing, at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Feb. 6, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Gray, a chaplain assigned to 169th Fighter Wing, at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Feb. 6, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

Happy New Year Swamp Fox family! As I write this, I have just gotten off a four-day 64 mile prayer walk/pilgrimage hiking through Francis Marion National Forest from Mepkin Abbey in Monks Corner to the Shrine of our Lady of Joyful Hope in Kings Tree. I was leading 10 seminarians who wanted to pray and reflect.

As we hiked, we had to decide before hand what to carry and what to leave behind. It was tempting to want to take Coleman camp heaters, iPads, Kindles and phones. But carrying those things would only weigh us down and cause us more pain in the end. We would have gotten distracted by the reason we were there. So, we carried with us only what we needed rather than what we wanted. We took tents, clothes, food, water and our bibles/prayer books. Our intention was that in all of our pain and discomfort sleeping on the ground at night and eating MRE’s, we would come to recognize all the blessings we have received in our life.

Each day we woke up before sunrise, broke camp and set out. The trail was dark, lit only by our headlamps. We marched in silence, as the sound of roosters crowing punctuated the rhythmic marching sounds of our footsteps. As soon as the sun rose enough to light the pages of our bibles we would read from our scripture and reflect about life and our purpose in it. As the morning gave way to the noon day sun we passed through the shade of dark pine forests where no light from the sky could penetrate. The world slowly passed by at three miles an hour. Every patch of grass, fire ant mound, every cotton field, was a world all of its own. Kindhearted people waved from their porches to wish us well and would occasionally offer us water to drink.  Then when night fell and our knees ached we’d make camp in a kind farmer’s field for the night giving thanks to God for the people we met that day who helped us. Before we fell asleep we would say our last prayer of the day and give thanks for our families and the blessings we received.

So that is how each day went. 64 miles is nothing in a car but by foot it is something. Three miles an hour provides the opportunity to think, reflect, pray, and discuss. To determine what is important in our lives, and what is not. What gives value to our life and what does not. What we need to carry and what we need to let go of. As many of you think about your “new year resolutions” and what is important to you, I suggest you take some time to slow down.

Life goes by very quickly and if we let it, we will miss all the beauty that can be found already around us. Our friends, family, and our faith are all things most people say they value the most. Then if that is what we value, why not resolve to let go of the things that separate us from them? Why not spend time giving thanks that they are in our lives?

Slowing down to take a breath of fresh air and to recognize the people in our lives that make life so beautiful would be time well spent and not wasted. I, with the Chaplains and RAA’s, value you. You add value to my life and I thank God for you. I pray that you also take time to pause from the business of life each day, letting go of distractions, so as to see the beauty surrounding you already. If you do, I am certain that you will find contentment and peace in this new year. God Bless!