Thursday, February 28, 2008

Give it up

The following was written for our church e-newsletter, a reflection on my own Lenten practice, and how it has coincided and interacted with our pastor's sabbatical:

I'm sitting at my desk, indulging in a snack of raisins and pretzels....a Lenten practice of sorts. Since giving up all sugar for Lent, I'm astonished to discover sweetness in forgotten places: raisins certainly, but also bananas, a honey-based cereal I enjoy each morning, and even in the flavors of certain teas and coffees.

Despite being the child of a pastor, my growing up home was not a place where we typically "gave something up for Lent." We were more likely to take on an extra act of love or kindness, and even that was more my parents' effort than mine. So why now, as an adult, do I fast on Ash Wednesday, and deliberately choose a gesture of self-sacrifice as I walk my way toward Easter?

Somehow, in creating an experience of emptiness or absence, I discover new ways of being filled.

When fasting with spiritual intention, I discover that hunger doesn't overwhelm me. There are layers to that hunger, and as my body passes through each layer into the next, I contemplate longing and desire and connection and satiation. I couldn't explore these places without first clearing space for a short time and creating a purposeful emptiness. While the first few days without sugar sometimes left me gazing longingly at the tray of treats during coffee hour, I am now at a place where I appreciate the new tastes that spring forth from foods and flavors I had previously not regarded as sweet. I am not so much sacrificing as I am discovering anew.

Our senior pastor's absence from us, while not fully correlated with Lent, has been its own spiritual practice for us as a congregation. Who has stepped forward to fill us? Our new associate pastor's capable leadership certainly comes to mind, along with all of the visiting speakers, member pastors, and lay leaders who presided over worship and provided pastoral care. What empty places felt sharp and evident at first, but now barely noticeable? How have we learned to be self-sustaining?

Easter Sunday will come, and I'll face a choice--whether to continue my practice of "giving up," or to try to remember the lessons learned while indulging once again. It's a decision I have yet to make, but one I will make with intention. Our pastor will soon return. How will we exercise new strengths discovered in his absence? How will we cling to the discovery of new tastes and talents, even as we delight in his presence with us once again?

One primary lesson is evident to me: God provides. We have in our community all that we need, an abundance to be shared. I look forward to seeing how we reconnect with intention, and together discover once more the glories of Easter and the promise of the resurrection.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Whispers of a call

It's been a long, long time since I've written--as always, evidence that between work, my coursework, and a new computer-free Sabbath, reflection is happening more in my head than on this blog! With the kids quietly settled into bed and Matt at a church meeting (the board we share--deciding eventually that one of us a month was enough to have our family's voice and presence!), there is a brief pause. It feels a bit like the sigh in my day....that great big in-take of air to ensure enough oxygen is flowing to the brain of my life.

This past weekend I attended a prospective student event at a nearby seminary. This is a seminary with a great deal of history, as well as a cooperative relationship with the local seminary where I presently take courses. We persisted to gather despite snow and threatening road conditions, some enthusiastically "working the room" while others sipped luke warm coffee quietly in the corners of the foyer. I was somewhere in between. I knew one person there, and it's in my nature to introduce myself and make the first move, but it's also uncertain space. I'm still not entirely sure how to name what is happening inside of me, and the steps I'm taking to perhaps put the inside to the outside of me.

At no time was this more in evidence than in an opening session designed to meet a small segment of the people there. The instructions were simple enough--tell us your name, where you're from, and what you're doing at such-and-such seminary today. Ok, um, well....the name and where I'm from part came simply enough, and then I followed with an oblique mention of my current seminary courses, exploring my options for the future, etc. How to explain the lifelong monologue (no room for dialogue on this one--I haven't been terribly interested in listening!) with God about my willingness to do anything--anything at all--except this? And what of the Maundy Thursday service when I looked up at the pastors I love and was struck at the privilege of their role? And that moment at the Black Nativity as the choir belted out "Go Tell It On the Mountain," and my questioning, "help my unbelief" self suddenly rose up inside me and simply said, "The world needs Jesus." (Somehow this same self knew then she has a role in bringing him back into the world.) And then there are the images of bread--the realization that serving people at the communion table....facilitating their service to one perhaps the one place where I can offer authentic hope and transformation to a hurting world. I could go on and on. But in that moment, a simple "exploring my options" had to do.

I was struck at the tentative nature of most of our comments. If we were in another setting--a business school or perhaps law--we would have spoken affirmatively. We would have said words like, "I've always been interested in numbers," or "I believe I have gifts to enact justice." But here, the choice seemed not so much ours as God's, and how beautiful it is that we are fearful and hesitant to name God's calling with too great a degree of certainty. It's there, though, for some, and I celebrate the woman who leaned over at lunch to describe her inexplicable desire to lay prone on the altar before God, receiving ordination into service--ordination formally denied her as a practicing Roman Catholic. And of course I could share back the images of the laying on of hands, of all those called before me naming my calling and empowering me with their touch. I wonder about an inner circle of women, and then the many men encircling them....would their touch feel heavy and burdensome, or like lightning flashing through my body, electrifying the moment? But what if it isn't so? What if this isn't to be?

And so I continue to whisper....utterings of a call both known and still unknown to me, hoping that God is somewhere there in the voices.