Labyrinth Walking: Integrative Journeys for Renewal

If you could see / the journey whole / you might never / undertake it; / might never dare
the first step / that propels you / from the place / you have known /toward the place
you know not.
Call it / one of the mercies / of the road: / that we see it / only by stages
as it opens / before us, / as it comes into / our keeping / step by / single step.
There is nothing / for it / but to go / and by our going / take the vows / the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to / the next step; / to rely on more / than the map; / to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream; / to follow the star / that only you / will recognize;
to keep an open eye / for the wonders that / attend the path; / to press on / beyond distractions / beyond fatigue / beyond what would / tempt you / from the way.
There are vows / that only you / will know; / the secret promises / for your particular path/and the new ones / you will need to make / when the road / is revealed / by turns
you could not / have foreseen.
Keep them, break them, / make them again: / each promise becomes / part of the path; / each choice creates / the road / that will take you/to the place / where at last / you will kneel
to offer the gift / most needed - / the gift that only you / can give - / before turning to go / home by / another way.
“For Those Who Have Far to Travel” by Jan Richardson

I have served in ordained ministry for over 19 years, and for the past 14+ years, I have balanced a combination of pastoral ministry and seminary teaching. I am a pastor, seminary professor, licensed massage therapist, mother to a seven-year-old, partner to another ordained minister who serves a separate congregation, poet, and theological writer; and I am thoroughly committed to each of these roles. Yet, I have never had a sabbatical set aside for rest, renewal, reflection, and writing. My body is tired yet needs physical activity, and I long for concentrated time to write and refresh my imagination. As I move deeper into my career of integrating pastoral ministry and theological education, I recognize more clearly that this kind of renewal time is essential to remain focused, creative, healthy, and centered. This was the rationale I presented in April as part of our application for a Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant.

When I opened the envelope and saw that we had been awarded the grant, I was shocked and overwhelmed and bewildered. Was this real? I struggled to believe it. Yet earlier in that same afternoon, I had met with someone and told him to accept the kindness and gifts he had been given—even though he was struggling with self-doubt and did not believe he deserved such goodness. I assured him he did deserve such goodness. But now, it was my turn. . . .

Sometimes, we struggle to receive gifts of affirmation and love. Even when we desperately need them. And that is the challenge I am confronting right now. It is a beautiful and blessed challenge.

The theme of our Lilly proposal, “Labyrinth Walking: Integrative Journeys for Renewal,” represents my active, mindful, and intentional pursuit of professional integration and personal renewal. I hope that it will help me—and help me help others—navigate both interior and exterior challenges and to garner inner resources that will enable social action. I long for greater integration—in myself and in our faith community—between presence and courage, head and heart, reason and faith, experience and intellect, prayer and social action. And I believe labyrinth walking can teach us ways to balance personal devotion with concern for all God’s children and God’s world. This is my hope, anyway. And I am grateful to be with you on this journey.

See you in church,

Walking Each Other Home

God speaks to each of us as he makes us, / then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear: / You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me. / Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final. / Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life. / You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, from Book of Hours, I 59

The Season of Pentecost stretches from the Sunday we celebrate the day of Pentecost—or the birthday of the Church when the Holy Spirit filled the people and led them in amazing new directions—all the way until Advent—when the Church’s liturgical year begins again. The long Pentecost Season is one of growth and development; it is an opportunity for all members of the Church to consider again (or for the first time) what it means to live out our faith in the world. This year our Pentecost theme is “Walking Each Other Home.” What does that phrase evoke for you? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What might it mean from a faith perspective?

“Walking Each Other Home” reminds me of Rilke’s poem (above). No matter how clouded, no matter how lost, I am not alone. I am safe. This poem gives me courage, allows me to trust, even when I might be tempted to run and hide. It reminds me to breathe and to continue to put one foot in front of the other. It encourages me to open myself up to the accompaniment of another, even when I am afraid of being hurt or disappointed. It inspires me to try again, to put my best self forward, to go to the limits of my longing—knowing that even if things don’t work out like I hope, I have been authentic and vulnerable to God’s calling in my life.

How is God calling you? What are the limits of your longing? What beauty and terror have you encountered? How might Walking Each Other Home teach you something about life and faith and yourself and your world?

See you in church,

What does the seed in you want to reveal?

All the buried seeds crack open in the dark, the instant they surrender to a process they can’t see. What a powerful lesson is the beginning of spring. All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see. And this innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break ground into a life we call spring.
In nature, we are quietly given countless models of how to give ourselves over to what appears dark and hopeless, but which is ultimately an awakening beyond all imagining. As a seed buried in the earth cannot imagine itself as an orchid or hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt imagine itself loved or at peace. The courage of the seed is that once cracking, it cracks all the way.

—Mark Nepo, from The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being
Present to the Life You Have

Like the first disciples, we often move into the Easter Season cautiously, while so much is still shrouded in holy mystery. So much in our lives needs to be broken open and seen again—and perhaps for the first time. Mark Nepo offers a helpful perspective: “In nature, we are quietly given countless models of how to give ourselves over to what appears dark and hopeless, but which is ultimately an awakening beyond all imagining. As a seed buried in the earth cannot imagine itself as an orchid or hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt imagine itself loved or at peace. The courage of the seed is that once cracking, it cracks all the way.”

What does the seed in you want to reveal? How does it want to challenge you, move you, inspire you?

How does it want to help you recognize the movement of love in our world? The movement of grace? The movement of hope? What does it take for us to recognize these gifts? How do we know when we are seeing love—grace—and hope in action?

I truly believe that our hearts want to be open, welcoming, compassionate, and responsive to the needs in the world. Love wants to be seen—and it wants to use our hands. . . . How are we going to make that happen?

Ours is a holy journey, and what is emerging will break new ground. This journey is not content to stabilize things back to the status quo. It refuses to strive for “normal,” to fulfill stale expectations, to keep everything the way it is, to be safe. This journey strives to break open the world in ways that will set our hearts ablaze with hope for all people and open our eyes to the incredible, unbelievable, astonishing things that surround us—already and forever—in this moment.

What does it take for us to see these gifts? What does it take for the seed to crack all the way open—unable to ever close again to the rest of the world?

Recently, I read the story of Ibby, a deaf man who stops at the same coffee shop everyday on his way to work. And every day he orders the same thing—a caramel Frappuccino. And since he can’t communicate verbally, he has the order written on his phone to show the cashier every day. Most of the workers know his order by heart. So, he rarely has to show it to them anymore. But last week, when Ibby entered the coffee shop, the barista handed him a note that said, “I’ve been learning ASL so you can have the same experience as everyone else.” Then she started signing to him, asking him what he would like to order today. They chatted in sign for a few minutes, and he learned that she had spent hours watching YouTube videos just so that she could take his order the way she does for everybody else. Ibby says he had never felt so seen in all of his life.

How do we recognize the movement of love in our world?

I also read a friend’s account of attending another friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah at a local synagogue. As he walked toward the doors, he saw five people holding signs along the path. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Surely, they can’t be protesting!” And he was right. They weren’t protesters; they were Muslims. And their signs read, “We’re better together. We’ll keep watch while you pray.”

How do we recognize the movement of love in our world?

And a couple of Sundays ago, before I left the church, Riley handed me a beautiful, yellow dandelion. It made me think about how we might change the world if we raised a whole lot of generous dandelion-lovers!

How do we recognize the movement of love in our world? Love wants to be seen—it is all around us—and it wants to use our hands. . . . It is here to illuminate and transform us. It is here to break open our hearts like seed, to open our eyes to the needs of a hurting world and the possibilities of a community like ours. But it is up to us to see it. To believe it. And to share it.

See you in church,