I am once again at the retreat center overlooking the lake….it is the last morning of Fall Clergy Conference. Whether this gets posted now or later will be up to the will of the mighty WIFI that controls our lives in this place. It is capricious here, and comes and goes seemingly with little rhyme or reason. But , given that it is a retreat center…perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Clergy conference this year has been of the retreat nature. This morning we will conclude with Eucharist and a little business, have lunch and go home. This is our last CC with our current Bishop and will be our final liturgy with him as assembled clergy, and will I am sure, be bittersweet.
Our leader this year is a clinical social worker and priest who works as a clergy coach. That is not, however, what he says he does. He says he plays. That was one of the loveliest things about this time. It was playful, while also being, at least for me full of wonderful reminders, little “aha” moments, and a few tears. Will started out with us “in the garden,” asking us to go to a place we could remember feeling easy and playful and to just stay there for a while, holding on to the feeling, the essence of that. We shared words that captured that feeling. We got to stay in the garden for a while, but eventually we moved to the wilderness. Will reminded us that after Jesus was assured that he was beloved that was where he went and that this is often where we are. He talked about the shadows we find there and named five ( based on work by Parker Palmer). In small groups we named the shadow that speaks to us most, the one that seems to be our most constant companion…at least right now. The rest of our group listened and heard us. They shared theirs too. Then in the large group we each stood and simply said our name and claimed our shadow. “I’m Kate and I am a functional atheist.” (The belief that I am in charge of the universe, that I have to take care of everything, that I have to do it all). There were a lot of us in that crowd. We could start FAA! Claiming your shadow is powerful. Liberating and lightening. This one was no surprise to me. It’s actually one I have been friends with for a while and have been releasing for some time. I called it overfunctioning. Calling it functional atheism made me sit up and take notice. GOD is in there….or rather isn’t. Uh-oh. It took me back to what the Presiding Bishop said in her talk with us last Spring when she was asked about staying so cool under the pressures of leadership. She said she remembers that its God’s church and then she goes to bed.
Next Will reminded us that Jesus was not in the wilderness alone. That angels were there “tending” to him. He reminded us that we too are tended, and asked us to call to mind those who tend us on this side of the grave and beyond. Once again we shared those people in groups with our peers. Moms, dead and alive were on lots of angel lists. So were spouses and partners. Mine was. I told them that R was definitely an angel and “tender” for me….and that furthermore I understood the love of God better since he has been in my life.
Last night’s session took us out of the wilderness and into the world….but by a rather strange route…via the boat….yes that would be the one we need to step out of onto water as Jesus says “come.” It’s about trusting that the hand held out in love is there and the relationship is solid enough to hold us….and do we really trust it. Will read us this poem by Michael Whyte. It felt like a very private altar call.
The True Love
There's a faith in loving fiercely the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have waited years and especially if part of you never
believed you could deserve this loved and beckoning hand held
out to you this way.
I am thinking of faith now and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are worthy of in this world.
Years ago in the Hebrides I remember an old man
who would walk every morning on the gray stones
to the shore of baying seals, who would press his
hat to his chest in the blustering salt wind and say his
prayer to the turbulent Jesus hidden in the waters.
And I think of the story of the storm and the people
waking and seeing the distant, yet familiar figure,
far across the water calling to them.
And how we are all preparing for that abrupt waking
and that calling and that moment when we have to say yes!
Except it will not come so grandly, so biblically,
but more subtly, and intimately in the face
of the one you know you have to love.
So that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them we find, everything holds us,
and everything confirms our courage.
And if you wanted to drown, you could,
But you don't, because finally, after all
this struggle and all these years,
you don't want to anymore.You've simply had enough of drowning
and you want to live, and you want to love.
And you'll walk across any territory,
and any darkness, however fluid,
and however dangerous to take the one
hand and the one life, you know belongs in yours.
I needed this conference to be a retreat and I’m so glad it was. There is “stuff” in our Diocese. We are electing a Bishop in about six weeks. We have issues. Well, duh! Of course we do, we are church. And just why is that? Why is it all so contentious? It seems that everywhere I look lately congregations and denominations and diocese….they all have all this stuff they are wrangling about. Locally and elsewhere, so many of my pastor friends are in so much pain over things that are going on in their congregations. I think this just makes God weep….we are all God’s beloved. I keep imagining again the garden…the words we came up with….serene, playful, whole, gleeful, peaceful, unworried, well, childlike, unfettered, unselfconscious, creative, happy, laughing, flying, unlimited….and thinking, what if these were the words that described church? Wouldn’t this be the place you would really want to be? And yet, why is it not….the Lover who created us gave us the potential for this. And yet the shadow keeps winning. Not because it is so powerful, but because we refuse to acknowledge its presence. As long as we pretend it is not there it has all the power. But naming it disarms it. Allowing others to name the one they see lurking behind us that we cannot possibly see is more powerful still. But that takes trust and an even bigger step out of the boat.
Lots to reflect on, lots to pray about. Time to hit the “WIFI hot spot” now to see if this will post…then on to close the conference.