With the Coronavirus, we face fewer choices. But there remains this choice: to panic or to hope. Given the choice of giving up or doubling down, God always seems to choose the latter.
On a plane in conversation with a seat-partner or in a line at the grocery store when I introduce myself and my profession, I notice the surprise that breaks across the face of my conversation partner. Sometimes, the surprise holds a twinge of disapproval, but most of the time it reflects general disorientation. I know my gender and age have a significant part of their reaction: I am not what they expected. As a blonde thirty-five-year-old mother of three, I am not the typical ordained Baptist pastor.
But an article I read this week caused me to wonder if the reaction might be, instead, a reaction to this ancient profession to which I have been called.
While the article is written hyperbolically, I know it attests to a real perception amongst our culture. “What do you do during the week?” is asked with some regularity. If someone has longer than a few moments with me, they seek some details of what keeps me busy, with an underlying sense of judgment or disbelief.
I discussed the article with my husband last night as we cleaned up the kitchen. My oldest son listened as he was playing Legos at the table. I know he is listening in on our conversations more lately. I look over and wonder, what will he think of me one day? What will be left of this clergy tradition? Will he understand this vocation to which I give my life? Will he know what I do in the office each week? Will he know what I labor over and whether it was all worth it?
There are mornings when my quiet time pushes me to the limits of my imagination. It is not every morning. It is not every season. But when it comes, I can see God alive in all of creation – in every creak of steps as boys come down in the morning, in the birds whose songs fill the room through a cracked window, in the heart that still beats in my chest after all these years.
My chest fills with an awareness of the divine-saturated beauty of all things and of the human ignorance of its participation within it. I feel surrounded, overwhelmed, saturated in the Divine Life. Yesterday morning, I continued reading Richard Rohr’s latest, The Universal Christ, and I was struck again by the glory of God – an understanding of the ridiculously extravagant presence of the divine that is just within reach enough to knock me to my knees.
If life really is this rich, it is nearly too decadent. The glory of God can feel like a decadent chocolate cake that cannot be consumed in one sitting.
It became a practice for me earlier this year – writing a word or phrase from my morning prayer onto my left wrist, right above my watchband. I notice it during the day as my fingers type out plans to be made. I notice it during the moments when I check for the time, only to realize how quickly it has passed. I notice it during the moments when I wring my hands on behalf of all that I do not understand and all that I cannot fix.
It comes with the simple yearning: Etch into me something permanent. Write upon me a Word that soaks into my soul and brands my bones.
Sabbath at the beach this week brought to mind this question: what have I been holding up as “negotiable” that is actually a “non-negotiable”? When have I allowed external sources to weigh in on something that is too true to be up for debate?
Like all seasons of life, this sabbatical year has been beautiful and brutal. It has been bitter and sweet. It has held great joys that I have relished and great griefs that I have lamented. There have been moments that have been good and moments that have been good for me.
Along the way, I have wrapped each negative feeling with a purpose. By God’s persistent grace, I have journaled my way from loneliness to self-reflection, from loss of career to personal re-stocking of wisdom, from loss of community to gained a connection with the common experience of living far from home. Though our return to Louisville is only a few months away, my endurance for resting and reframing has begun to run low.
Last year when I had to walk youth through some difficult moments, I grabbed a dry-erase marker and created three columns… what we know, what we feel, and what we say we believe (and must remind ourselves in hard times). As the inauguration looms, I find myself employing the same strategy for the future that looms before us.
Watching our kids outside my front window in the freshly fallen snow, I can’t help but wonder at all I cannot understand…
…the power that God’s creation has to bring slow time to a rushed world
…a child’s ability to be joyfully present in a single moment that is protected from yesterday’s regrets or tomorrow’s worries.
…the daily practice of forgiveness and grace that sustains our days
A professor in Duke’s Doctor of Ministry program made the case in class this week that the world is, indeed, enchanted. God’s presence is infused in every nook and cranny. When we participate with this reality, we are dancing with God’s glory. He argued that church’s task is to bring the enchanted world to the people whose domesticated god has left them bored, disconnected, and lost.
It is a reality that we cannot comprehend, cannot adequately describe, and cannot control. It is a mystery which we blindly plumb. We do so with the assurance that we will never fully understand it and yet we will uncover crumbs that can satisfy the restless soul.
As the snow blankets the ground and little wrapped bundles of presence shriek and squeal as they slide down the driveway, I wonder at the enchanted mystery in which they are playing. I stand amazed at how theology takes flesh right before my eyes in red cheeks and snow-covered gloves.
Perhaps he is right.
Praise be to the Creator of this enchanted mystery who still enchants the weary heart.
“Every day I see or I hear something that more or less kills me with delight, and leaves me like a needle in the haystack dog light.
It was what I was born for – to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world – to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.
Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant – but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these – the untamable light of the world, the ocean’s shrine, the prayers that are made out of grass?”
– Mary Oliver, “Mindful”
I swear that the stones sing. During the week, I used to walk in Highland’s sanctuary and in the quiet, even with no other voice present with me, I swear I could hear the congregation singing. From the worn stones, from the tattered wooden pews, from the high rafters, the hymns pour forth as if in a continuous stream. Even now, I can walk into the sanctuary in my mind. If I am still long enough, I can hear the particular voices and faces from the Cloud of Witnesses, present and past.
Now during this sabbatical year, so far away from the stones that sing and the communal worship with the Cloud of Witnesses, a hymnal has become the sacrament that leads me home, grounds my feet, centers my being, and remembers me. In this exile space where I worship away from the land I call home and the people who call me home, hymns are the great time-and-space connectors that hold us together.
It will come amidst the noise from the ride, our youngest yelling at the top of his lungs, “Stop sign!” (“top tign!” in 2.5 year old articulation). It is not worry that Mommy is missing it, but instead his pure joy over the sight of it. Bright red with its white border and block letters, when was the last time I cried out in joy at the invitation to STOP?
Amidst the Advent activities at home, the youngest could use a personal stop sign. He mourns each day that he cannot consume the Advent season in one fell swoop – opening every door on the calendar, eating every chocolate piece, lighting every candle, coloring in each day.
“Wait,” I tell him. “You must be patient. Advent is the season of waiting for God’s coming into the world. You cannot rush it.”