dance with me...

One of the truths I have learned over the years is that many people, whatever their congregation or denomination, are uncomfortable with ambiguity.  In the Myers-Briggs typology, they are loving individuals who want clarity, closure and spiritual comfort from their church. It has also been suggested that upwards of 50% of those in the pews live within this perspective. Oddly,only 12% of the population lives out of a more introspective worldview, while 70% of clergy come from this tribe. Naturally, without care, patience and deep trust, congregation and clergy are apt to miss one another with regularity - and maybe even misunderstand one another, too.

This chasm is hard enough to bridge when things are running smoothly. But in a culture shift like
we are experiencing - where the foundations of faith are questioned, time is at a premium and anxiety is at an all time high - it becomes even more complicated. Especially when the testimony of spiritual wisdom urges discernment in the darkness but people's hearts yearn for answers and solutions. I think this tension is exaggerated at this time of the year when we are inundated with the urge to consume and fill our deepest hunger with gifts or food or parties. So much busyness is imposed upon the organic darkness of this season - and so much false light. Perhaps that is why I have postponed putting up any Advent/Christmas decorations in our house: the more darkness the better.

Gertrud Mueller-Nelson, my historic spiritual mentor for the Advent journey, writes in To Dance with God:

The more life asks us to wait, the more we anxiously hurry. The tempo of haste in which we live has less to do with being on time or the efficiency of a busy life - it has to do with our being unable to wait. But waiting is unpractical time, good for nothing but mysteriously necessary to all that is becoming. As in a pregnancy, nothing of value comes into being without a period of quiet incubation: not a healthy baby, not a loving relationship, not a reconciliation, a new understanding, a work of art, never a transformation. Rather, a shortened period of incubation brings forth what is not whole or strong or even alive. Brewing, baking, simmering, fermenting ripening, germinating, gestating are the feminine processes of becoming and they are the symbolic states of being which belong int a life of value, necessary to transformation.

Upon returning from sabbatical, it was clear to me that not only had I changed - honoring my contemplative longings - but that changes had taken place withing the congregation, too. That is a blessing even as we struggle to understand how our changed selves now fit together as we try to dance with God. It is a bit awkward. Confusing. Maybe even somewhat unsettling for some - and still the dance goes on.  As I wait in this darkness, however, I am beginning to see two truths albeit it faintly.

+ First, we have the opportunity to do something creative, bold, faithful and satisfying together over the course of the next year IF we are willing to take some risks. Specifically, we can strip away another layer of our past that is getting in the way of being engaged in mission. That is, we can let go of the illusion of being a "big" church and honor the beauty of our smallness. We can quit pretending to be driven by a "theology of glory" - the FIRST in our town - and be guided by a "theology of the Cross" - those who are in solidarity with the suffering, wounded and powerless.  We can do little things for the Lord, quiet and tender things that live below the surface of publicity but bring joy and hope to our broken hearts.

Already I see some of this taking place in the gentle fund-raising effort for this year; rather than a stewardship "campaign" we are asking individuals and families to share what they can in gratitude to strengthen the work of compassion and justice, prayer and worship. At recent church council meetings, too we have taken extensive time to talk about where we experience joy in service to the Lord - and name the soul-numbing things, too. My hunch is that we might be ready to move this effort forward and both revitalize the way we do administration and set more people free to engage in hands-on ministry. That is my prayer and hope. And while there will be resistance born of nostalgia, the alternative is death by attrition.

+ Second, after four months of being back, I have found a new rhythm for being here that feels increasingly solid. That was not the case upon re-entry.. After all, I had just spent four months free of expectations. More importantly, as I see now, it was also four months without having to be social. As a profound introvert (who has cultivated a measure of balance for professional reasons) my sabbatical liberated me from the exhaustion of social interaction. In many ways, Di and I could live happily as quasi-monks in the world - and we did so with abandon during our time in Montreal. 

Small wonder I grieved upon returning - it was overwhelming. But now I've found a bit of clarity in being back: I have discovered a new way of being prayerful during each day, a new way of being engaged and then being a part, a new way of doing ministry from within the heart of contemplation rather than compulsion. If the new incarnation of our shared ministry can get to the place of understanding and honoring this change, I know I would be able to continue serving with gratitude. The alternative is far less clear.

This morning, upon waking and realizing my heart was singing "Dance with Me" - a prayer of joy and trust - a new friend sent me this Advent poem by Jan Richardson. It expresses so much that I cannot.

Go slow
if you can.
More slowly still.
Friendly dark
or fearsome,
this is no place
to break your neck
by rushing,
by running,
by crashing into
what you cannot see. 

Then again,
it is true:
different darks
have different tasks,
and if you
have arrived here unawares,
if you have come
in peril
or in pain,
this might be no place
you should dawdle. 

I do not know
what these shadows
ask of you,
what they might hold
that means you good
or ill.
It is not for me
to reckon
whether you should linger
or you should leave. 

But this is what
I can ask for you: 

That in the darkness
there be a blessing.
That in the shadows
there be a welcome.

That in the night
you be encompassed
by the Love that knows
your name. 


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