Saturday, December 30, 2017

get up, jonah...

The snow is falling softly on our Berkshire hills this morning making the town feel quiet and peaceful. The Governor released designated funds for emergency winter housing yesterday so some of our most vulnerable friends will have shelter from the storm tonight. Our grocery shopping is done. Lucie romped with me for a spell in the cold. And Di is attending to pile after pile of dirty laundry. In other words, we're settling in for three days of quiet retreat from the world as this old year ends. Next week will be full getting ready for Sunday's interfaith concert and worship, to say nothing of starting to clean out my study at church in anticipation of my final few weeks of ministry. It seems like a good time to lay low and be still, yes?

Carrie Newcomer recently wrote, "It has been a year of challenges for so many of us, ongoing concern, heartbreak and rebuilding. It has also been a year of wide eyed wonders, small daily miracles, friendship, resilience and a tenacious kind of hope - the kind of hope Parker J. Palmer describes as holding in creative tension all that "is" and all that "should and could be," and everyday taking some action to narrow the distance between the two." This resonates with me. It is a good time to take stock of these truths. Like many, I need serious quiet time to let the wisdom of the past year bubble up to the surface. I know it is deep within, but not immediately accessible. So, starting today I will take a three day fast from both Facebook and blogging just to sit and listen to what the Spirit is quietly saying to my heart.

Yesterday's insights from Fr. Richard Rohr continue to reverberate in every part of my being.

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.

For almost 36 months I have walked this road of transformation. A new reality eventually took hold of my heart - a small, quiet spirituality of tenderness - but it has been a long time a'bornin. While on sabbatical in Montreal, my old calling came to closure in ways that were experiential and clarifying. What was not at all certain, however, was what would happen next. To use Rohr's paradigm, what was needed was, "
patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes." So I wandered and waited, fretted too much from time to time, and trusted that the way of Christ's mercy was where I wanted to be - and in good time the path was revealed. 

Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12). Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.

I remember saying to my church leadership early in my return from sabbatical:  "Something is going to be different now. Something within me, for sure, and maybe among us. I just don't know what that means yet. I trust it will be revealed, but apparently not without 
some uncertainty." This was unsettling for us all. Rohr observes that "we are a culture of progress and efficiency, impatient with gradual growth. God’s way of restoring things interiorly is much more patient—and finally more effective. God lets Jonah run in the wrong direction, until this reluctant prophet finds a long, painful, circuitous path to get back where he needs to be—in spite of himself! Looking in your own “rear-view mirror” can fill you with gratitude for God’s work in your life." But it takes a lot of time and stillness and trust to get there. Listening to the "deep “yeses” carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out."

I absolutely believe/trust God's grace as revealed in Jesus Christ. I absolutely sense that this is best expressed in my life through small acts of tenderness. I absolutely know that I am not very good at living into these two truths. And that is why my whole existence is being transformed away from busyness and into the quiet. Into the music. Into the prayers. And into the writing. That is why the Spirit kept leading me back to L'Arche Ottawa, too. My favorite Bruce Cockburn song, "Get Up, Jonah" cuts to the chase.

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