taking the time for quiet...

The more we become people of action and responsibility in our community, the more we must become people of contemplation. If we do not nurture our deep emotional life in prayer hidden in God, if we do not spend time in silence, and if we do not know how to take time to live from the presence and gentleness of our brothers and sisters, we risk becoming embittered.
                                                                 Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

One of the reasons I knew it was time for me to move beyond my current
ministry in the local church was weariness. Yes, there have often been feelings of bitterness mixed with exhaustion. Part of that goes with the job. A wise mentor regularly referenced the healing of the 10 lepers in the gospel of Luke to me noting that only one returned to give thanks to Jesus. "If you're looking for gratitude, man" he told me time and again, "get out now." To be sure, many of the good people I have shared ministry with have been kind and generous and filled with grace.  There are always those who build themselves up by being trying to knock me down with cruelty, but they are dwarfed by the good souls I have known and loved.

And that cuts to Vanier's point: without a strong, disciplined and vibrant inner life that wraps our outward actions in quiet contemplation, it is so easy to become bitter. We blame others for being human. For exposing our wounds. For failing to help us take care of ourselves. Been there, done that - and have spent the better part of four decades learning this same lesson over and over again. I suspect, but do not know, that seminaries are better at equipping young ordinands with wise spiritual directors who can advance spiritual formation than in my day. In the 70s, the once mainstream denominations of the Reformed tradition were just beginning to accept that generations had lost touch with the practices of piety that once nourished the Body of Christ. You can read early Kathleen Norris or Richard Foster as evidence of the Protestant renewal of spirituality that was reborn in the 70s.

My experience with bitterness in ministry has a largely been a grief of my own making:  often, it has been a self-fulfilling prophecy, too.  The gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the second parable in St. Matthew 25, points to the dangers of such self-fulfilling prophecies. This is not a story about inherent "talents" like musical ability or business acumen. David Lohse rightly notes that this is Jesus telling us to change our understanding of God from that of a tyrant to that of a lover.  If we believe the Lord our God is out to get us, that's what we will get:  fear, loneliness, anxiety and bitterness. 

Learning this truth over and over helped me distinguish between my exhaustion and former bitterness. This was part of how I knew it was time to let the local church go. Today I return thanks to the spiritual directors in my life who have been patient, loving and clear-headed when I was bewildered, afraid and angry. Thank you Fr. Jim and dear Adolfo. Without you, and your big hearts and clear minds, I would be a bitter pill indeed!

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