Monday, July 17, 2017

wisdom of our wounds redux...

Yesterday I posted these two pictures on my Face Book page with the comment: Kinda fun to see what 40 years looks like side by side. 


A few people noted that the guy on the right looks happier than the other chap - and I know this to be true. It was also said that the "fun guy with the impish rascal smile" was always inside the other but now he's been set free. Is it equally true that the serious and sensitive follow on left is still a part of the old guy, too but maybe in better balance? Time will tell.

It is not coincidence, however, that I am currently reading a few books by Jean Vanier of the spirituality of the L'Arche community as well as a lovely novel, The Second Calling by Hans S. Reinders. His fictional accounting of the L'Arche story is designed for a popular audience and is clarifying in many ways. Before I went to sleep last night, I marked these words from the "Jean Vanier" character who is encouraging a young community assistant to be clear about his motives: "I am not asking what your problem is. You may tell me if you want, but that is not the point. The point for you is to find out what it is so that you can solve it. Or if that is impossible, to accept it and be in peace with yourself. I hope you will."

When I woke up the next day, I finally had some words for what I have been learning over the course of my 35+ years of ministry. I feel like I am making peace within my soul, too. Not thoroughly, of course, and not evenly, but sincerely and with a measure of understanding and acceptance that feels healthy. My first clue came during our Montreal sabbatical when I experienced a deep physical, spiritual and emotional rest. It was holy ground for me, unlike anything I had known as an adult And for the better part of the past two years, I have been wondering, "Why?" this was so.

One emerging clue has to do with the strain between my inner desire to serve God in a "ministry of presence" and the outward realities of the four churches I have pastored. By nature I am fundamentally a mystical contemplative (who loves a good party) yet all of my professional work has been as a change agent: renewing trust in Michigan, reviving hope in Ohio, restoring peace and perspective in Arizona, and reclaiming vision in Massachusetts. Small wonder I have felt tired and even weary at times, yes?  I have been at war with myself especially with my expectations of how I might best serve the Lord? And unless I really miss the mark, it is time for a truce at the very least. Each of these congregations have held their challenges, to be sure, but they have also been genuinely blessed places of faith and love
So what I am going to do as this summer continues to ripen is practice honoring all the times I hit the mark in this ministry rather than obsess on what I sometimes perceive as my catastrophic failings  As I remind our faith community in Sunday worship: everything starts with grace and gratitude. Trouble is, of course, I don't always grasp that for myself.

One of the wounds within that haunts me is evaluating my life through the lens of business metrics. Like St. Paul in Romans 7, I HATE this, but still do it. I rail against the oppressive and cruel judgments of bottom line experts only to discover I have surrendered to their verdicts in my heart of heart yet again. It seems as if coming to a sense of acceptance let alone peace with this is going to take me a life time. It has already taken 35+ years and I am only scratching the surface. But as the late Ann Landers asked a 50 year old woman who wanted to go to law school but hesitated because of her middle age, "Well how old would you be if you didn't go to law school?" same is true for me. It is time to listen to the old apostle one more time:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

So the journey into the wisdom of my wounds continues. Be careful what you pray for, right? I asked for insight and humility in my days of semi-retirement... and so it goes. Even my old buddy Bruce Cockburn is going for it, too!

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