The Beatles broke up. Both genius incarnations of the Miles Davis band came and went. Eric Clapton left John Mayall and the Blues Breakers - and the Yardbirds - and brought Cream to a crashing conclusion before finding his own new groove. Cat Stevens made incredible music for a few years, took a multi-year retreat into Islam, and then began writing new material for a new era even as he reinterpreted his old songs. That is, nothing lasts forever.
I've been thinking about this a great deal these days as I enter the last two months of my ministry. My colleague in the church office and I shared some serious tears last week while preparing our last shared work on a Christmas ad. I have been full to overflowing a few times as well during November as I celebrated my final All Saints Day and Christ the King Sunday. You see, I have had the privilege of serving four distinct congregations (six if my two internships are counted.) Each have been a blessing while the charism burned brightly. Each have been sad to leave, too even when the time was right. Whether it was burying my parents, taking my daughters to their dorms for college, waving good-bye to my precious grandson (and now granddaughter) or kissing Di before heading to out to Ottawa: good-byes are rarely easy.
They are, however, inevitable. What I have slowly learned, but must regularly pause to remember, is that there has been beauty, grace and joy in each of its seasons. That is what deserves to be honored. Not a sentimentalism that clutches outdated blessings forever like whithered flowers in Miss Haversham's attic. Nor with bitterness, sorrow or regret. For to everything there is a season, yes? In every ministry, in every marriage, in every shared musical project or performance, there are golden times to be treasured. I love those moments. I can recall them with passion and verve. And then, the curtain comes down and life goes on. That is how I am feeling as Advent ripens: these are sacred, once in a life time moments. They deserve appreciation and respect - and then they must be released without looking back.
When I returned from sabbatical, I knew inside that my ministry in its current
form was over. At the time, I didn't have the words nor the wisdom to articulate what this meant, but this is often the case with discernment. Even ancient Israel had to wander in the wilderness for forty years before they were ready for the Promised Land. Seeking the light requires time in the mysterious darkness - and many of us are afraid of the dark. (See Barbara Brown Taylor's insightful memoir Learning to Walk in the Dark.) What's more, I have always been more inclined to the apophatic path than the more linear kataphatic tradition - the road less traveled - the via negativia rather than the via positivia. This, too makes public ministry more dicey. But in time we figured it out - in fits and starts, to be sure - and not without some pain and confusion. But we all came to realize that it was time for us to move on in our own ways - and are doing so with some grace and gratitude.
Recently, I was speaking with a former bandmate about the "good old days" and observed: "Part of me would love to revisit and replay some of our favorite tunes but I know that can never happen." When a puzzled look washed over this friend's face, I continued: "You can never go back home. I don't want to do the old things over again. I want to honor what was holy and then let them go with appreciation." We sat in silence for a moment before nodding and smiling together in under-standing. In my life, there is now new music to play. There is new ministry to explore and new adventures to encounter. At the same time there are a host of sweet memories swimming around in my heart that I will celebrate forever. But, please Lord, never let me try to go backwards.
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