Praying and resting in the scriptures...

Over the course of the last 27 years I have found myself praying and resting in different portions of Scripture. It is almost as if these different passages give shape and depth to my ministry for a time. When I left seminary and began work in urban ministry in Michigan, I discovered that even though I had experienced a great intellectual awakening, I had not learned much about the Bible. For good or ill, I knew a great deal about liberation theology and not enough about the stories of our faith.

This began an angry few years where I educated myself both in the texts and their tradition - and I found myself embracing Luke 4 like many (if not most) young hot headed preachers:
God's Spirit is on me; he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

Man, it is all about social justice and getting things right inside and outside the church I used to say so often that I'm sure I was insufferable. (Actually, I know I was insufferable!) Nevertheless, I was a young minister with a mission and this text gave me focus and purpose. And that sustained me for about 10 years. But amidst a hard and painful divorce (are there any other types really?) when I found so many of those old church friends more interested in pushing me to stay in a lifeless and ugly relationship than discern God's still speaking voice for my life, I found myself drawn to this text from Matthew's gospel:

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?" Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."

I guess it was a case of incarnational theology because only when I had become one of the sick, riff raff whose life was falling apart did I realized how important it was to be with a part of a community grounded in God's grace not judgment. Christ's reference to the ministry of Hosea - who sought a way to be faithful to his wounded and broken wife in her worst hours - spoke tons to me in mine... and sustained me when the Church and its people did not.

When I started the work of rebuilding a life after that harsh time in the wilderness - and when I started trying to understand how to be part of the social healing needed in America during the wildass Clinton year's - I was greatly influenced by another passage - Psalm 37 and the call not to fret:

Don't bother your head with braggarts
or wish you could succeed like the wicked. In no time they'll shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut flowers in the sun. Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last. Keep company with God, get in on the best. Open up before God, keep nothing back; he'll do whatever needs to be done: He'll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon. Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him. Don't bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top. Bridle your anger, trash your wrath, cool your pipes—it only makes things worse. Before long the crooks will be bankrupt; God-investors will soon own the store.

It was a call to nourish my inner life - and for another 10 years this text kept calling me back to that quiet center - it was all about being grounded in God's grace. Not my fears or the demands of ministry: fret not. To be sure, I wrestled with this text because I wanted a more active and demanding ministry but it was not to be. I even almost destroyed my second marriage trying to fight God on this call to stay grounded... which is when this text from Matthew 11 grab a hold of my life:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

The unforced rhythms of grace... hmmmmm. Sounds like something a 50 year old clergy person should know about, yes? But I didn't, so the time had come to learn. As one counselor/therapist told me, "Ok, you've now discovered all the wrong reasons why you went into ministry. Let's see if we can find the right ones." So we did... and life became more balanced - and a whole lot more fun. I wept and laughed more. I let go and trusted that God really wasGod like Abraham Heschel had taught so long ago.

And when we found ourselves returning to New England after ten years in the Sonoran desert, I held on to this text and the importance of living within the unforced rhythms of grace. That is still a resting place for me, but now a new text is emerging that reinforces the blessings of grace. It, too, is an old, old Psalm - 131 to be exact:

O Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not raised too high.
I do not occupy myself with matters too great for me;
or with marvels that are beyond me.
For I have stilled and made quiet my soul,
like a weaned child nestling to its' mother
so like a child, my soul is quieted within me.
O trust in the Lord:
from this time forth and for ever.

Maybe, as Jung suggested, resting and trust is what this phase of the journey is all about. Clearly it is essential as I work on the renewal of this scrappy little congregation. Same, too, with my inner and family life: trust and rest, quiet and humble focus seem to be at the heart of things right now. Not that I don't fret - and scramble - forget and all the rest. But my heart and soul is set on little things - kindness and compassion, being present and less harried - so we shall see...

So I am curious if others have found themselves praying and resting in key texts over their years in ministry?


Pamela said…
I am praying and reflecting Psalm 71, as someone who just celebrated a 57th birthday and is discerning a change of call to ministry from public education. For the last thirty five years in a wilderness place I have hung onto Psalm 45 and Isaiah 54.I am hoping that I will be allowed to die in Canaan and not in the desert like so many who traveled with Moses.
RJ said…
Wow, Pamela, very powerful scriptures. First, thanks for sharing those with me. Second, I, too, hope you are allowed into the Promised land and not just the desert. And three, it sounds like your ministry is fruitful and creative. I love your blog. Thank you for sharing and for being prayerful with me.

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