Monday, October 12, 2015

living into the afternoon of life...

As I've noted a variety of times since my return from Montreal last month, this has already beome a year of discovery, ambiguity, testing, trial, joy, sorrow and discernment. In one way, it is not any different from any other year in ministry. In another, however, this year is massively different - fundamentally because of a shift in my soul - and our shared sabbaticals. It was already emerging for me before we departed, but during our four months of rest and music - refreshment and quiet - it became clear that I needed to live into the truths Jung described as "the second half of life's" journey.

One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie. --C. G. Jung 

This is true in my prayer life, my professional work, my music as well as how I connect with those with whom I am most intimate. Rohr observes:

In the second half of life we discover that it is no longer sufficient to find meaning in being successful or healthy. We need a deeper source of purpose. According to Jung, "Meaning makes a great many things endurable--perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth [the communicator of meaning], and a myth cannot be made out of any science. . . . [Myth] is the revelation of a divine life in man. It is not we who invent myth, rather it speaks to us as a Word of God." Science gives us explanations, and that is a good start, but myth and religion give us meaning which alone satisfies the soul.

My "coming out" into the second half of life's truths clearly makes some uncomfortable. It is hard for those still building their professional and instutitional identiies. It is equally hard  for those who would like our church to be "successful" once again. One of the unspoken hopes when I was called is that we might stop the loss of money and bodies from our faith community. In one form or another during my watch as pastor, some wanted not only inner renewal but nummerical growth, too. I think I can say with honesty that in a quiet and modest way, we have been able to cast off some of the constraits of our past. After almost 8 years we have mostly shed the mantle of once being the church of the wealthy, powerful and well-connected in town. We are engaged in focused acts of social transformation. We continue to create musical encounters for the wider community that go beyond the obvious choices for churches albeit now in jazz, blues, rock and folk stylings rather than just the classical compositions of our tradition. And we have a given rise to a small but lively presence in the community through a variety of media outlets. But, "successful?" Not really... those days are gone for us as an institution - and well they should be.

My tenure in this office, you see, is much more about a ministry of presence rather than a
ministry of power.. A colleague from California included this potent quote from Henri Nouwen in a recent sermon. I think it gets everything right for me.

Are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say, ‘I do not understand. I do not know what to do, but I am here with you.’ Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.  The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the real issues of our lives.

So much of contemporary church culture has been constructed either on the shifting sands of a phony optimism - or - an anxious workaholism that incarnates a functional atheism where we live and act like everything depends on what we create, do, think and believe. After finally stepping aside and resting, however, both strike me as shallow and destructive. Not all of life is fun - or joyful - or even good. There is pain and sorrow and suffering that our phony optism violates. In Out of Solitude, Nouwen puts it like this:

You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent.  What can you say, do or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say, “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” Or “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” ...”Our tendency is to run away from the painful realities or to try to change them as soon as possible. But cure without care makes us into rulers, controllers, manipulators, and prevents a real community from taking shape. Cure without care makes us preoccupied with quick changes, impatient and unwilling to share each other’s burden.  And so cure can often become offending instead of liberating. It is therefore not so strange than cure is (often) refused by people in is better to suffer than to lose self-respect by accepting a gift out of a non-caring hand.

Same goes for the anxious busyness of our functional atheism. If you have ever sat quietly with another as they move from this life into life every lasting - if you have ever befriended an addict or junkie - if you have ever been abused in any way, shape or form: you know in your soul that there are somethings you can never fix or cure. These require a love creater than our own wisdom and strength - a grace and power from above as St. John puts it - whose love helps us endure and reclaim a sober sense of hope. I have a print out of a Buechner quote sitting on my desk that I use in prayer 6-8 times a day.

Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you; remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God's business... even your own life is not your business. It also is God's business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming though... unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy...What deadens us most to God's presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort... than being able from time to time to stop that chatter.

I need to refer to it that many times because of the constant chatter in my head that tells me to take on issues, problems and people I cannot fix or help. Hell, sometimes I can't even love them. And still the endless dialogue multiplies in an almost deafening manner. It is worth writing that NONE of this was at work while we were in Montreal. None. Zip. Nada. Buechner is right - this functional aethesim is killilng us - and I have to tap into God's grace over and over to trust it.

So, as I wander into the uncertainty of this year, three things are becoming clear: 1) I have to keep playing music; 2) I must saturate myself in contemplation and prayer; and 3) I need to share with my faith community the upside-down practical wisdom and disciplines of a spirituality of tenderness. We are working on jazz meditations for each week in worship - and making some sweet progress on our November 22nd presentation of Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia - an Earth Mass." - and now I think I'm ready to roll this out.
Autumn 2015 Worship Series @ 10:30 am
A Spirituality of Tenderness

October 4th
Blessing of Our Pets

October 11th
An antidote to our anxiety

October 18th
What does tenderness mean?

October 25th 
Tenderness in the Jewish and Christian traditions

November 1st
7 ingredients of tenderness in action

November 8th
Polarities and spiritual balance

November 15th
Birth and death/sound and silence/giving and receiving

November 22nd
Contemplation and action/rest and play/community and solitude/ sorrow and joy

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