a lost cross...

This movement beyond traditional ministry is unsettling - as it should be, right? While I have experienced a variety of ups and downs over the past 40 years (including seminary internships) - and a plethora of wounds and blessings from the six congregations I have served (internships included) - this part of the journey feels like fresh and uncharted territory. More of a beginning, it seems, than an end. I wasn't expecting it at all.

Earlier this week the cross that hangs around my neck disappeared. I have had this one for over 20 years and treasure it. It was made by a First Nations artisan outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico and contains a small turquoise stone at the center.  After searching everywhere I put on another favorite cross made of desert wood from Tucson, Arizona that I have used for worship. It hails from the Desert House of Prayer on the edge of the Sonoran Desert. And before going to sleep on Wednesday, it too fell off. Later that week Di found my silver cross hiding under the radiator in the kitchen. "Hmmmm..." I mused to myself, "what's the deal with these missing and breaking crosses?"

I like to explore these things, ponder what my heart is telling me about my journey of faith through the songs I hear and the people I meet, so I've been listening for clues. One showed up in the spiritual memoir I'm reading by Padraig O'Tuama, In the Shelter.  He quotes a stanza from poet David Wagoner's poem, "Lost" that resonates right now:

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.

O'Tuama is the spiritual leader of the Corymeela Community, a Christian witness to peace-making in Northern Ireland, as well as a poet and theologian.  His commentary on Wagoner's poem speaks to me as I encounter the newness of this time:

The truth of this poem is old truth. There are the places you wish to go, there are the places you desperately wish you never left, there are the places you imagine you should be, and there is the place called here. In the world of Wagoner's poem, it is the rooted things - trees and bushes - that tell the truth to the person who is lost, the person with legs and fear who wishes to be elsewhere. The person must stand still, feel their body still on the ground where they are, in order to learn the wisdom. This is not easy wisdom, it is frightening wisdom. In Irish, there is a phrase... that translates as 'for fear of fear.' It is true that there are some things that we fear, but that there is, even deeper, a fear of fear. So we are prevented from being here not only by being frightened of certain places, but by the fear of being frightened of certain places. So, 'stand still' the poet advises. Learn from the things that are already in the place where you wish you were not.

Some old things are falling away, it would seem, even as other old things reveal new possibilities. I felt genuinely "naked" without my old cross - and relieved when it was returned to my flesh. I spent three days in Ottawa last week mostly reading, writing and reflecting on my transition from one ministry into another that is still emerging. On either end of this retreat there were two days of driving. Five full days of quiet thinking. Next week, after the close of Holy Week and some necessary church administration, we leave for three weeks in Montreal. So much for standing still, right? 

Yet that's what the wisdom of the lost crosses feel like for me: letting go of treasured resources so that I might tenderly enter unexpected places to practice "sacramental listening." To be fully present in the Spirit of Jesus in the world seems to be part of being refreshed and new at this moment in my life. No longer fully rooted in an institution - or at least the institution I have cherished and served for the past 40 years - more like practicing the "religionless Christianity" Bonhoeffer advocated.

Tonight, I will gather with my small community for Holy Thursday Eucharist and Maundy Thursday tenebrae. The invitation from Jesus this night is to "love one another as I have loved you." That is, to be on our knees as servants of compassion in a broken world. That part of the tradition continues to feel right for me - a soft-spoken counter-cultural presence for peace amidst the macho madness of this hour is where I need to be  - so I will stand still in this liturgy and await what the wisdom may come from this grounding.  My favorite part of this holy night feels much like my old cross as we all sit for a spell in community before praying the Lord's Prayer in total darkness. It always feels like the first time. It always feels cleansing, threatening, and empty with a hint of hope. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


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