So…today is my 46th birthday.

About 9 years ago, a friend suggested that your birthday was the perfect time to assess… to name something that was truly a success, something that you learned, and some new vision or hope you developed.

Success

While you’d think keeping my business open and growing would be the item on the list, I think my biggest success is having actually reconnected with God. It was a long time coming… overdue, you might say… but to have regular conversations, to begin to feel a regular presence, to be open to learning how to love God… that is a success.

What I Learned

If I had to pick any one thing, it’s that I am already in ministry, and that the real question is what form it will take next. That’s surprising and humbling – but it makes me rethink what we all do; could it be true that anyone who does any work in the name of their faith is a minister? Maybe that’s what ‘shared ministry’ means…

New Vision/Hope

I seem to have a new vision for a future, that involves reaching more people with my ideas about grief, adversity, possiblities, faith, worship, deepening. I don’t know what the shape is exactly, but I know it’s tangible.

So what I realize is that all of my prayers, laments, reading, understanding, and exploring has been incredibly selfish and self-centered. It’s all been about what I want, how I see my world, how God can help me. There has been pride – I know more, I think more, I am holier more. And I have been angry – because I have been sure that all that has happened is a reflection of how much God has marginalized, disliked, bullied me. I have seen God only “as I understand God”…no more, not really any bigger than I can comprehend, limited, segmented, pidgeonholed into the role of giver.

And that, I am coming to realize, is a bunch of bull.

There’s a verse of the poem by Edward Hays that reads

Enlarge my half-hearted love
with the ageless truth
that if I seek your kingdom first,
seek to be fully possessed by you,
everything I need shall be given me,
and happiness beyond my wildest dreams
shall be mine.

What does it mean to be fully possessed? What does it mean to love God – and more, to act like I love God?

Does it mean…maybe… that I need to GIVE? That I need to think of God not in terms of what I get, or where God fits, or how I understand God’s role in my life… but rather that I think of God in terms of what I can do as one of God’s children, how broader God is than my little mind can imagine, how God understands MY role in GOD’s universe? And that means… that I sing, and worship, and praise…and talk, and think, and read, and ponder, and love, and give, and work, and play… all as a way of thanking God for being able to do all those things, rather than doing them to GET something.

CS Lewis talks about how we see faith as a bargain – and I think that’s right. We do. But there is a moment…and I think I am there… when we realize that there is no question of earning anything. God is just waiting for us.

And of course, I can’t bargain with God… there is nothing that I am that God hasn’t given me.

Now it’s hard…given the battle scars, given the hurt and pain and tragedy. How can it be that God’s given me that too? And yet…if I stay angry, I am never going to truly understand how exceedingly large God – and God’s love – is.

Rambling thoughts…hard to put into place. I know that my words this afternoon are failing to properly express my thoughts. I also know that the lowerarchy isn’t happy… dark images of Mom’s death, feeling a failure at my job, the general heaviness…tells me I am doing something right. I am pissing off dark forces because I’m willing to consider not only how expansive God is, but how I might start to love God.

A theme in my prayers and laments of late has been about how/why/whether God loves me. I’ve spent years certain I was his favorite punching bag, of little consequence. How could it be that after all I’ve gone through, I should know that I am loved? Why would a deity who supposedly love me treat me this way? And… if I am being called to something greater, why? Is it because I’m a sucker? Because I’ve proven to be good at being used? If this is how god shows love, then we need to talk.

What I have NOT considered – until last night – is that part of the problem is that I don’t love God.

Carl and I have been reading CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity (and yes, there have been many parts at which I’ve been ready to hurl the book across the room with great force – a topic I’ll address at some point). Last night, we read his chapter on Charity, aka Christian love. He wrote…

Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love beween human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God. About the second of these two, people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? … Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, “if I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” When you have found the answer, go and do it.

I had never considered, for one moment, this idea. I’ve been so busy waiting for God to love me, to show me God loves me, to prove God’s love through signs and hints and bounty and direction…. and it never once crossed my mind that my angry prayers and laments might not be enough. I’ve shown God plenty of frustration, anger, annoyance, even snarkiness. But I don’t know that I’ve shown God any love.

And I don’t know that I love God. I AM angry. I AM frustrated. I DO feel shat upon. I don’t mean to act the victim – that’s not my point. My point is this – I don’t know that I know HOW to act as if I loved God. I don’t have the answer yet.

But I’m willing to work on it.

A few days ago, feeling alone and without answers, I likened how I felt to being on Massachusetts Bay.

When I was a child, we spent our summers in Brewster on Cape Cod, and I have strong memories of walking out into the Bay at low tide – it was very flat, and it seemed that the sand went on for miles. Indeed, I suspect it did… we would walk for hours, digging for clams, feeling the moist sand under our feet, seeing the waves at some distance from us. Usually, we walked back in long before the tide itself came in (although there was one instance where that was in some question – apparently Mom was much more scared than she let on).

Anyway… Saturday night, feeling alone and unnoticed by God, I used this metaphor…that I was walking out into the bay, with the tide always going out, knowing God had been there because I could hear the roar of the waves and feel the moistness of the sand…but the further I walked, the further the tide rolled out. It was as though i could never catch it…and that the tide…God…would never come back to meet me even a little bit.

A lonely, exhausting, fruitless feeling.

The next morning, I went to church, feeling exhausted and a bit beaten up spiritually. I was slated to speak about stewardship during the service – why I give of my time, talent, and treasure. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but once I got there, and looked around at these people who had provided just what I needed, i realized that God was there – in their faces, in their hearts. I got weepy while I tlaked about giving of myself and getting bounty in return, for right there – in front of me, I was getting even as I gave.

Perhaps the lesson here is that the tide DOES always come in… the oceans and seas teach us of the constancy, the ebb and flow…. the tide will come in. It may take a while, and it may seem that the low tide lasts so much longer than it should… but the tide will roll in.

Now the second part of this tide is my conversation last night with my new spiritual director, Erik Wikstrom. We are meant to have a spiritual director as part of our Wellsprings program. I chose Erik from a list of local and not-local directors; we had originally tried to connect over a year ago, but it wasn’t right. Now, it was.

Erik listened patiently to my story – the spiritual journey, the seeking, the life events that brought me here, the tragedies and hardships, and the sense that I can no longer ignore the call to ministry.

He said three things that gave me pause…and which tell me the tide IS rolling in.

First, he said that I have already answered the call – I have been ministering to people for a long time, whether through pagan circles, or speaking at churches, offering the kinds of support and guidance I have offered informally through the years.  He suggested the question is not “is there a call to answer” but rather “what shape will it take now”… will it go toward formal ordination or something less formal?

The second point he made is that it’s not going to be this question that will likely dominate our conversations. Rather, it will be my anger toward God and learning how to better communicate with the Divine.

Thirdly, he heard my spiritual exhaustion. He agreed I needed to stop journeying and rest at the oasis for a while. He confirmed my feelings of needing to stop and listen. And I think he’s happy to sit next to me and help me hear.

So.. we will sit. We will listen to the still small voice…and watch the tide roll in.

“UU Wellsprings: Inspiration and Guidance for a Spiritual Journey”

Really? Another freaking JOURNEY?

I’m sick of being on a journey. I have wandered through the wilderness. I have seen the inhabitable terrain and exhausted myself climbing insurmountable mountains. I’m tired…so tired.

So why would I go on ANOTHER journey?

Which is why, I suppose, I have decided to think of this program not as a journey but as an oasis – a chance to stop by a beautiful, calm spring, a place to set up my tent for a while and rest in the presense of God, dwell for a while in mystery.

I think it’s possible to search too much – to bang around and drive so hard that you miss what you’re looking for. What I need right now is space to listen, to discern, to rest.

So… not a journey, but an oasis.

Today, I attended the first retreat for the Wellsprings UU Spiritual Deepening program – a ten-month program of spiritual practice, spiritual direction, and spiritual deepening. Along with 19 other UUs in the Capital Region, we will explore together deeper questions of faith, belief, and a call to action.

For me, it feels like a beacon of hope – as though, if I open myself up to the mystery and allow the process to work, I might discern some answers and a sense of where I am headed next.

My commitment to myself is to be open to the still small voice within, to allow God to speak, to allow for GOD’s answers, not mine. It’s scary – and I am afraid of disappointment and disillusionment. But I also know that if I am open, and have no expectations, the answers may come.

Ten months – certainly not that long in the grand sceme of things, certainly long enough to allow some of my questions to be answered, or at least be pointed in the right direction.

The journey begins…

So many things I wonder…

 I wonder about Union Theological – here’s a link to the tour video; it’s in the first few seconds that I saw in living color the sanctuary I have imagined in decades of dreams and meditations (although on second look, I see this one is enclosed with glass whereas my imagined one isn’t…but the rest of it’s the same).  

I wonder about my thoughts even ten years ago, when I said “if I didn’t get an MFA, I might get a masters in something like religion or theology.” I didn’t see myself in any type of ministry before, but I definitely had the thoughts about furthering my education in religion.

I wonder if I’m insightful enough; I am constantly amazed at how good the ministers in my life are at deep thoughts, compassion, saying the right things, etc. I fear my gifts in that are haphazard at best.

I wonder about my business – will there be any meaningful work after this current project is complete? I don’t see anything on the immediate horizon and that scares the hell out of me.

I wonder if this is just another in a long line of attempts at making meaning. You look at my resume, and I have done a bunch of very different things – and whether they lasted a year or five, I haven’t seemed to stay with any one thing for very long. If I turn away from publishing, after realizing how much I love it, am I just continuing my fickle ways? And what happens in five years after I try ministry? Do I walk away from that for the next cool ‘calling’?

I wonder, if I’m not meant to go into traditional ministry, what my path would be, given what I know, what I love, what I appear to be good at. And more to the point, how will I figure it out? Do I make it up as I go along? That’s not exactly been working out well for me so far…

 I wonder if I will ever figure this out or if I’m (frustratingly) meant to always been in nomad mode – wandering, waiting, wondering, never truly finding home – and of all the thoughts I wonder, this is the one that makes me the saddest and angriest. I’m tired. So tired. I’m tired of wandering in the desert. It hasn’t been 40 years…yet…but we’re nearing that. How long, oh lord, how long? What other mistakes do I have to pay for before I finally get to rest? How much more penance must I do? What else do I have to do to satisfy God? What else do I have to do before I get a little relief? One little answer? One hint that maybe there is a home somewhere for me? I’m so tired of wondering and wandering and worrying and waiting…so tired…

I feel unsettled today… wondering which way to go, how to proceed, how to parse the publishing business with the sense of call to ministry, and how/if this relationship will both grow and fit into whatever the choice is.

Of course, there’s the possibility that a choice never needs to be made – that I can sustain both a thriving business and some form of lay ministry that doesn’t require I give up anything.

But I get the sense that that is serving two masters… and I don’t know if I have it in me to do that.

And… there is the question of memory. Do I have the mental ability to go back to school? Can I retain enough to pass tests? And after that – would I have the mental ability to serve people, remember their details, help them?

And of course there is the question of money. I am not making enough now to support myself; how can I possibly expect to have enough to go back to school?

I ask myself, why is this even on the table… there are no practical reasons to think about it. On paper it is a non-starter.

And yet.

Something keeps drawing me to think seriously about it. And then… wanting to find the path that works, maybe in lay ministry of some sort.

I worry that the paths available to me in the UU are limited – ministry, religious education, music, governance. I don’t know that what I want to do fits in anywhere, and that worries me a little too.

I know I want more. I want to serve. I want to preach. I want to heal. I want to answer God’s call.

I just don’t know what that is.

What is it about the ocean that feeds my soul?

I recently spent several days on the Florida coast, soaking in the sea air, the sand, the surf, the constant and relentless rhythm of the waves, the ebb and flow of the tides. I swam, splashed, gazed, and absorbed.

And in some ways I feel nourished.

Now I’m not, in general, a nature-feeds-me kind of gal. And yet, I can feel my soul soak in divine goodness from the first whiff of salt-steeped air.

I know that I come to the ocean for answers…or at least to explore questions. High on my mind are questions about my future – which path do I take? What do I do with a growing need to serve my religious community, which on one level is in sharp contrast with my growing publishing business? How do they fit together? How do they fit with this growing but still uncertain relationship? Can my spiritual path be in concert with, rather than in opposition with his?

Truth is, I have an incredibly hard time seeing the future. I don’t know what it is I want on a practical level – although I know what the emotional/psychological vision is. I spent a good hour bobbing in the waves, wondering and thinking, and seeing no answers.

Except – I know I am letting go of a fear/belief that I will die early. And that in itself is an answer, I suppose.

But I digress.

I do feel nourished…rested, fed, and at the very least, ready for the next thing. I just wonder what that will be.

I have been watching a delightful documentary series called “The Choir” – an English show about a guy who took some teens from a school in a depressed area of London, and turned them into a choir that competed in the International Choir competition in 2006. The series has been amazing; they didn’t win, but they did a fabulous job at the competition itself (in China). And their opening song? “Bridge Over Troubled Water”….beautifully done, and another poke from God, reminding me that he’s always there…

 …and. There is something here for me about Jesus. I’m not sure I can put it into words yet…… well, there is something. I need to think about it.