we can grow in compassionate solidarity...

"In solitude," Henri Nouwen observes, "we grow in compassionate solidarity... we realize that nothing human in alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart."  I love what what he writes next:

In solitude our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people in a gesture of solidarity...(The desert fathers and mothers used to say) that solitude gives birth to compassion as we "learn to die to our neighbor." At first this seems disturbing to the modern mind. But when we give it a closer look we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To dies to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never exist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other.

This is a lifetime endeavor, yes? It is true for individuals as well as congregations. I once had a mentor who told me that he hated to attend regional denominational functions because every one was so insecure. Ask about last week's worship and you'll be told that it was the best sermon ever delivered and 4000 were in attendance. Ask about the well-being of the church and you'll be told that the money is pouring in and there are more volunteers showing up to help the poor than the minister can handle so they must add new staff. "It is just one crock of shit after another," he confided to me. "So much concentrated bullshit that I just dread showing up."

God knows clergy are just as insecure and anxious as the members of our congregations - especially during hard times or transitions. So we take time away in the quiet darkness for a season. We take "all these things and ponder them in our hearts" as the Blessed Virgin Mary says in Luke's gospel. We wait to see what is truly being born in our prayers and through God's grace. Tonight my council of leaders and I will spend time in directed prayer, discernment and discussion in a way that I trust will help us become more compassionate with one another. We have been called to own our smallness - to stop judging ourselves based upon the past or what other churches are doing - and live into the truth of this moment in time.

"The soul does not grow by addition, but by subtraction" wrote the 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart. I think that can be true for our faith community, too if we are willing first to be quiet and let God calm our fears. This leads to tender listening rather than hard talk or judgment. And when we listen carefully, we can hear - as in "Shema, o Yisrael"- and this is the central task of people of faith.  This 19th century painting by Geri Melchers captures for me the essence of being faithful in the quiet darkness of waiting..

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