Thursday, March 15, 2018

finding a way through the shadows...

Two days ago one of my guides through this season of shadows, Carrie Newcomer, posted a picture and poem that spoke to me like deep unto deep.

A morning walk in the beautiful not yet...

A gem of snow held in an elegant setting
Of last year's Queen Anne's lace. 

The play of light on air and water and cold. 
An heirloom ring lasting only for the morning.

Just because you cannot see it yet, 
Doesn't mean it isn't happening 
Or that something fine Isn't already here.

Such is the essence of faith: not doctrine, dogma or intellectual assent, but rather the marriage of trust and hope born of experience that is incarnational. Faith is neither delusional nor sentimental even if always incomplete. It is, as Ms. Newcomer notes, the beautiful not yet. As my journey into Lent beyond ministry ripens, insights continue to emerge.

Today's reading from the poetic prophet of ancient Israel, Isaiah, says that: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Context is always important - especially whenever Christians appropriate Hebrew Scripture. So let me acknowledge: a) this portion of Isaiah, proto-Isaiah among some scholars (chapters 1-39), shares oracles of warning and repentance to the elite of the land; b) deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-54) likely comes from an era after the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem and what is called the exile in Babylon after 537 BCE; and c) trito-Isaiah (chapters 55-66) hails from the time after priests, scribes and rabbis return from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. The core of today's original message is, therefore, all about repentance - a change of moral, ethical and practical direction - and reflection - contemplation, physical and spiritual trust. The use of parallel emphasis underscores the importance Isaiah places upon nurturing confidence by trusting the way of the Lord. It is observed later in Isaiah's poem that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, saith the Lord, nor are my ways your ways." (Isaiah 55: 8-9) To stay grounded in the mysterious but healing ways of God requires rest, reflection, quiet and regular consideration of the "beautiful but not yet."

This resonates with me as I continue to discover that so much of my previous spirituality was shaped by community. My prayers, my focus, my attention and even my songs were driven by my calling as pastor. For forty years that was the way I listened to the still small voice of the Lord. That was how I practiced being prayerful and attentive. It was the core of my returning, rest and encounter with the saving love of grace. And now I am without a community to guide my inner life. There are no obvious external boundaries to this returning, rest or reflection. There are the rhythms of the Spirit in our shared liturgical seasons. And I am rediscovering their value. But, at the same time, it is a rediscovery in solitude. A returning and rest with which I have little practical experience. In this newness, I am now starting to find my balance:

+ First, I am finding it essential to practice some type of daily reflection and contemplation. Without the external resources of the past to move me into and through life, I find myself getting lost. Certainly distracted. I clearly need the help of others who have made similar journeys to point out dangers or stumbling blocks as I make my own way through the shadows. And, like those early days of sabbatical when I realized that left just to myself I could fritter away the whole time and not know it until it was wasted, so too in retirement. Reconnecting with the daily lectionary and the words of Nouwen and Vanier are tools to lead me deeper.

+ Second, a return to some form of community.  The external guidance and presence of being in community is equally vital. Like U2 sang so long ago, "Sometimes you can't make it on your own." So while I am constrained by both geography and protocol from my former community spirituality, the time is clearly here to deepen new connections. Small wonder my heart has been yearning to be back with L'Arche Ottawa during Lent. 

Other retired clergy have spoken to me about grieving their various losses. I grasp and honor that truth. My reality, at least thus far however, does not feel like a lament. Rather, I sense it to be a new season of discernment, more like Carrie Newcomer's song than anything I have experienced to date. It is the beautiful not yet in my own soul. In my own spirituality. In my personal and public persona. Once again, St. Paul's wisdom articulates my world: now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face.

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