Sunday, October 8, 2017

letting go is hard - and healing

Nearly three years ago during Advent, I joined a local colleague in an on-line retreat. Formed and sponsored by Abbey of the Arts (check it out @ under the direction of Dr. Christine Painter, this 40 day discipline involved reclaiming time for contemplation, journal writing for critical inner reflection, sharing observations with 30+ other pilgrims and listening for the call of the Spirit in our hearts.  A few months earlier, I had returned from sabbatical in Montreal. Both encounters made it clear that not only was I being called to close my life as a minister in the local church, but that a new ministry beyond the parish would be revealed when the time was right. My local colleague grasped this truth - as did many of the on-line spiritual directors - but I have hesitated owning this as truth. Indeed, it has taken me nearly three years to embrace it in all its power, sorrow, blessing and promise.

That is just how I am:  I hold on to things for a LONG time. I am a SLOW learner. I seek to stay connected and explore ALL possibilities for stability before diving into radical change. And, apparently, I need to anguish over my choices before I can accept them.  In a letter posted on today's "Abbey of the Arts Note from Your Abbess," Dr. Painter writes:

Autumn is the time of transition, of the earth's turning, with the balance of light and dark in the northern hemisphere tilting toward the dark season and the invitation to release the excess we carry and rest into growing Mystery. It is a season of initiating these great movements across the globe of birds, fish, and mammals following an instinctual call. I am taken with the mysteries of migration, the inner knowing that rises up in them to embark on a journey, the impulse to swim and fly across great expanses of earth and sea in search of a feeling of rightness that season.

She also quotes Marianne Worcester who has noted that:

Fin and feather, flesh, blood and bone: the earth calls its creatures to leave the familiar, turn again into the unknown; to move steadily and continuously and at great risk toward an invisible goal, expending great energy with the possibility of failure.

That is precisely what the past few years have felt like: a longing to let go fed by a fear of possible failure.  And then, without full clarity, there came a moment when I knew beyond fear that now was the time to move on. And as I have done so, God is opening new possibilities for me to serve in the spirit of Christ's love.  Dr. Painter's words ring true to me right now:

I think of the ancient desert monks who each knew that one day they would have to leave behind the familiar and venture out into the wilderness to seek a space of radical encounter with God. Or the Irish monks who felt called to a particular kind of journey called peregrinatio, which was a pilgrimage for the love of Christ without a destination in mind. The practice was to step into a small boat called a coracle, without oar or rudder, and let the current carry them to the place of their resurrection. They yielded their own agendas and plans to the current of love, trusting in this deeper wisdom at work in water and wind, on behalf of the One who opens the way before us.

For the days that remain here, I know there will be times of grief - letting go is very hard for many of us - maybe a bit of celebration - for we did some wonderful things here together - but mostly I think this season calls for my silence.  I have loved God's people here. They have loved me too. I am grateful for this love. And now it is time for a pilgrimage into a new way of loving. "Swans and swallows, whales and salmon make the long arduous journey to give birth to the new lives breaking forth in them. The monks wandered in search of wild places that could break apart their own expectations and judgments, to let the new life being offered to them come forth...The soul's migration demands the long, slow journey in a holy direction, calling us only to follow the impulse of love." (Painter)

It is clearly time for another retreat. I will join the on-line community for "Honoring Saints and Ancestors: A Retreat for the Season of Remembrance" (check this out @  ) and then be away in Ottawa before US Thanksgiving for a few days of formation with some of the assistants at L'Arche. "Be still... and know that I am God."

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