Monday, October 30, 2006

The Seven Year Itch

It hit me recently that I’m starting my seventh year in my current church. I realized that I haven’t been in the same place for seven years since I was a teenager. Furthermore, this is the longest appointment of my ministry. That was somewhat startling for me. Even though I’m not itching to leave (I hope to be here for many years), I’m realizing that there is something different about a seventh year for me. It’s a little unsettling because I’m forging new ground, but at the same time there is a certain sense of exhilaration.

This morning as I was spending time with God I had a moment where I looked back on the year that has been. I looked back from a good place, a peaceful place from which I’ve known and experienced and ever deepening awareness of God’s presence. There was a brief moment where the question “why did it take so long?” floated into my consciousness. This is not the first time that I’ve had that thought. My learning curve has been so steep the last year that this particular question has been an almost constant companion. I learned to live in this question and instead of it producing anxiety, recrimination and guilt it has become an open door through which I’ve learned to recognize God’s hand in the intricate weaving of my life. I know now that all of the seemingly disparate events and circumstances in my life have been joined together by grace to form something extraordinary. Even the painful experiences, those marked by rejection and failure, have added something special to the picture by their contrast. God has indeed made something beautiful out of my life in spite of my best efforts to buck the trends, second guess and just generally not pay attention.

So, back to this morning…as I looked back from this vantage point bathed in grace I could see all of the different pieces of last year form this beautiful whole. It looked almost like one of those cool computer animations. I could see the pieces move. As the picture of the last year came together I began to look farther back in my life. I wanted to see where this all started. I was looking for square one. Methodically I looked back over my life hoping to find that one time, that one experience where it all began. I was looking for that day of new birth. While I was disappointed that I couldn’t find square one, I realized that this simply meant that there was no end to the string. I celebrated the realization that there was no time in my life (let alone my conscious memory) where God was not at work weaving this unique tapestry that is my life. Even when I remember my confirmation, when I made my profession of faith in Jesus, I realize that this blessed moment was a culmination and the weaving of my life to that point.

I suppose that the question of why certain things in my life, my faith and my understanding seem to take so long to be recognized will always be part of my life. Maybe that’s God’s way of keeping me from taking too much for granted. I hope and pray that when those times do come up in my life I will remember the picture that God painted for me this morning.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Surviving the Flash Flood

By a strange twist of grace I find myself back in the place where my journey toward ordination took a huge leap forward. I am spending three days at the Passionist Retreat Center at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. This is the place where, in 1988, I was interviewed by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and recommended for Deacon Ordination and Probationary Membership in the Annual Conference. It was a daunting time and a very humbling time. Once of the most cherished memories of that experience was taking a hike back into the dry wash that lets out of the mountains nearby the Center. All of us who had been recommended for Deacon’s Ordination went for a walk and forged bonds of friendship that sustained us in those early years of ministry. In addition to that cherished memory, today, the wash holds a new and very different image.

If you’ve followed my blog the last few months you’ve noticed that the postings have been a bit lean both in content and frequency. The last few months have been pretty arid for my spirit. I’m not sure that I can account for how I became so dry, in fact I’m not sure I need to account for it. It was a dry time. I’ve come to understand from reading the desert mothers and fathers that dry times will come and go. To use another image, the dark night of the soul is a frequent companion on our spiritual journey.

I’ve experienced enough grace and enough assurance of God’s presence in the last year that I wasn’t freaked out by this period of barrenness. I knew that these times would come and go. It didn’t make it any less dry. It didn’t dull the impact of feeling less of God’s presence and more of God’s absence. I still lamented the sense of spiritual isolation I was experiencing. I missed the feeling of God walking in the garden of my life. (I should clarify that I don’t believe God was absent…I know God was there. I simply was not in a place where I could experience God’s presence as joy) Thankfully, one of the things that this period didn’t do was wear down my senses. In the last week or so I could sense a reawakening of my spirit. I was emerging from this barren time as the first gentle drops of autumn rain fell in my life. The dry and thirsty soil of my spirit came back to life.

The dry washes in my life were laying in wait for the torrent of water that was about to barrel through. These washes were unable to fulfill their primary purpose of facilitating the movement of grace through my life. They lay in wait unable to generate by sheer force of will the grace that would move through them. Though the falling rain of God’s grace was felt first as small drops in my life, above me, just out of my sense it was raining buckets and cascading down. The flood gates of God’s ever presence had opened up, my parched spirit was satisfied and what had just a few days ago felt stagnate has now roared to life. Today I sense with renewed clarity the power of God’s Spirit blowing through my life. I’ve learned to appreciate the barren time, even though it had its feeling of heartache and separation. That barren time was a time of preparation for what God is bringing next in my life, my spirit and my ministry.

Be prepared, hold onto hope, if you can identify one of these dry washes in your life where grace may have once freely flowed, it will flow again. Even it seems now that you are in an intractable drought, droughts don’t last for ever. Just as the rains eventually come, so too will God’s grace. Your spirit will spring to life once more and your life will be renewed.