Let us be Ramble: Poetry in a Jumble

Hello from the land between one space and another. Last week I finished up the last of the Annual Meetings for the two halves of my church charge. Next week we are welcoming a new Administrative Assistant into our church office. I have been without an assistant (during the day) for four months and things have been a little chaotic around the office.

This is the land between one moment and another. Exacerbating this time between moments is the fact that our preschool program is off on a field trip this morning. This church is a very quiet place today. I am taking advantage of the quiet to sit in our future assistant’s office to work and pray today. I am trying to imbue the room with prayer in an attempt to be a blessing to our new assistant.

A few minutes ago I was sitting in the quiet and reading through my next book for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I began to enter into the next book on my list which is “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr. In many ways, this book is very different than the last book that I read for the academy. This book is focused on entering into the text and helping readers to grow deeper in their own time in scripture. There is less exposition and more reflection. Regardless, here is what Sister Wiederkehr writes on the very nature of entering into a quest for the word of God: (pg. 8)

“It is not easy to find the Word of God in the midst of a jumble of words. The secret is connection. A community of words connects with each other and somehow in that connection we discern God’s Word for us. Praying with the white space between the words, sentences, and paragraphs is also important. The artist in us needs white space—our place of waiting, listening, and being. White space is the womb and the tomb in which we abide. We will experience birth, life, and death there, as we keep vigil with the Word of God”

As I reflected on these words in this empty space a few things stuck out to me revolving around the white space and the connections between words through spaces. This paragraph was incredibly effective at drawing things out of my depths.

The first place this paragraph took me was into the present. I am sitting in a church office which is unoccupied by an assistant at the moment. My wife has been assisting before and after her work, but in general, this office has been empty. It is a white space. Melissa sat in this place and blessed this community. Bonnie sat in this place and blessed this community. My wife has sat in this place in a different way in an attempt to make space for the person who would follow her.

Soon our new assistant will begin her own ministry of blessing from this place. She will do things differently. She’ll connect to some traditions out of Bonnie’s methods and some tradition’s out of Melissa’s methods. She’ll create her own traditions and methods. Soon this place will begin to be reshaped by her presence in our midst. In the meantime, this sacred space is empty, quiet, and waiting in stillness. This is a holy moment—this is “the womb and the tomb” where a new ministry will be born, live, and someday conclude. Hopefully that conclusion will be many years and many blessings from now. This is a sacred white space.

The second place this paragraph took me to in my reflection was to Annual Conference. The entire idea behind Annual Conference is supposed to be “holy conferencing.” Somewhere in the midst of all of the debate, motions, and rules of order there is supposed to be a place where the Holy Spirit works, moves, and expresses itself through the people gathered together in prayer and discernment.

This paragraph reminded me of Annual Conference because of the sacred white spaces. I recall Cathy Hall Stengel standing up in conference this year asking the bishop where there was space for people not on two sides of a particular issue to express their voices. She called for white space. I recall JJ Warren standing up and expressing his call to ordained ministry when the doors had been closed on him due to his sexuality and requesting room to respond to God’s inevitable and unavoidable call on his soul. He was requesting that creative white space be made for the Holy Spirit to call the people God was calling into ministry.

I recall many moments where there was a need for creativity, grace, and kindness. Places were required for life to be born, live, and conclude through the power of the Holy Spirit. There needed to be white spaces before all became an unending cacophony of noise without rest, meter, or even tonal structure.

These thoughts came out as I pondered this selection, but I also found myself drawn to the concept of the connection of words. If everyone carries a bit of God’s image within them, then there is a bit of God’s creative word in all of the people we see. Sister Wiederkehr wrote (pg. 9) that “Every person you encounter during the hours of your day is a word that God has spoken into the world. You too are one of God’s spoken words. And now God speaks through you.” We are connected to each other through the very fact that we are part of the poetry God is writing in this moment.

My brother in Christ Kevin Nelson from Schenectady First United Methodist Church shared the African concept of “ubuntu” on the floor of Conference last week. He translated it roughly as “I am who I am because of who we are.” In my mind, his view of connectedness draws from this idea from Sister Wiederkehr nicely. We are who we are because of the voice of God spoken into each person at the table.

Why do we seek justice? The people we seek to help each carry a bit of God’s poetic word in our midst. Why do we seek love, mercy, and grace? The people who need these things (including ourselves) are all bearers of God’s creative word. Why do we comb through the scriptures listening, abiding, and trusting in God’s encompassing love? We do these things because who we are as a people has called us into a poetic dialogue with scripture. The words on the page, the words in our lives, and the white spaces between connect to create something beautiful.

Is this easy? No! In retrospect, the very first sentence of the quote I referenced above has proven foundational in all of the places where Sister Wiederkehr’s words led me to reflect today. It is definitely not easy to find the word of God in the midst of the jumble of words we come across in life. Even discounting the carriers of God’s words who like to honk car horns, cut people off, and act less than kindly, the words in the Bible itself can be jumbled, confused, and distracting.

As I do enter into the word myself this day, I will do so realizing the challenge within me. Following Sister Wiederkehr’s advice, I will wait for God, read God’s word, spend time listening to what was written with an obedient heart, pray through where God is leading me, and finally abide in the midst of the jumble. With God’s blessing the word of God expressed in my life will join in the dance of poetry found within the scriptures. Together it is my prayer that I will join in the great proclamation of God’s love and compassion.

Let us be Grateful: The Epiphany at Denny’s

Two words are circling through my mind this morning. I am thinking about connectedness and gratitude. I was (and still am) sitting in a Denny’s with a hot cup of coffee thinking about Annual Conference when my server came up to my table. She’s been the ideal server. She substituted a cup of yogurt for my fruit because I am allergic to melon, has made certain that my cup of coffee is full, and has not called me “Hon” once (pet-peeve of mine—I am my wife’s hon and her’s alone).

I was thinking about the people I saw yesterday and smiled at this nice server. She walked away but stopped. I looked up and I saw her rubbing the back of her neck with the look of someone who has worked too many hours in a row. I wondered how long she’d been standing in those black shoes and hoped they were comfortable. She was standing with that slight tilt related to back pain that my physical therapist has scolded me about in the past. I was moved to pray for this nice person.

She reminded me about the reading I was doing for the Academy for Spiritual Formation yesterday. I was reading through “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame.” It is a good book by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au. I was telling Polly at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School table that the spiritual density of this book caused me twice as many headaches as the books her faculty had assigned me to read in seminary. The density that led to distraction yesterday was the following quote about the story of the Bent-Over Woman in Luke 13:10-13: (pg. 103)

“This woman symbolizes all of us, both men and women, when we feel unable to stand tall and face life head-on. Some of us are crippled by shame, the dreadful feeling that we are defective and unworthy of love. Some are handicapped by emotional wounds from childhood. And some are diminished by the oppression of prejudice and discrimination, and unjustly denied equal access to educational and work opportunities. The burdens of life can at time be so heavy that it is not difficult to identify with this bent-over woman.

Jesus’ awareness of this crippled woman’s hardship and his care for her is a story of consolation. Made whole by Jesus, she becomes a symbol of hope, reminding us that the risen Jesus responds to our suffering in the same compassionate way.”

I can see where the authors are coming from when they think about this story. If you don’t remember the original story, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when a woman who had been struggling with what the scriptures called a “crippling spirit” for 18 years came into view. He was busy teaching in that synagogue but compassion overrode his busyness. Jesus was pulled by his compassion into action. He spoke, he healed, and she was finally free.

I am reminded of the fact that not everyone is bent over, but we’re all in the same boat when it comes to needing to know a compassionate and loving Jesus. The authors state this clearly when they say that we are all in need of a consoling and compassionate Christ.

I was reminded of this strongly by yesterday’s Annual Conference session. I was reminded of this in my life while sitting alone at lunch missing my own family who stayed home to be in school this year and the best friend who never let me sit alone in all of our years together at Annual Conference. I was reminded of this as I sat with my friend’s widow and our mutual friend Harold at the Memorial Dinner. I was reminded of this when the Bishop unexpectedly sat down at our table for dinner but was so busy running in and out with Conference business that I asked a District Superintendent if he knew any way that we could guilt him into sitting still and eating dinner as an act of self-care. I was reminded of this when I saw old friends from across the connection who were excited to reconnect with me as a part of their past and as a part of their future. I was reminded of this when I talked with someone who was a new minister last year and was wondering about the challenges of the ordination process ahead of him. There are so many places where I saw people in need of this compassionate love of Jesus. I see the reasons that this story of a consoling Jesus gives hope because we are a people continually in need of hope.

I am reminded of this compassion as Annual Conference begins today. I am reminded how everyone we stand across from on any issue or debate is still a sister or brother in God. I am reminded of the connectedness that we all share in our need to know a compassionate God and to share that compassion with both each other and with all of our neighbors. We are all interconnected in our love and in our need to be a people following the compassionate Christ. This is good news and I am grateful to be connected with my sisters and brothers as we begin another day together.

Worship begins in an hour, my coffee cup is empty, and I have a good tip to leave for my server. See you all in session!

Today’s post is dedicated to my sisters and brothers at Annual Conference and to one awesome server who is currently waiting on 60 Amish folks from a tour bus. God bless her…