Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Writing Prompt 23

Write about a time you made an important decision.
Did you use logic, or follow an inner knowing?
Looking back, where do you see God at work then?

The Spirituality of Insomnia

My brain was invaded on October 25 and the intrusive thought won’t let me go. My psychic energy, when I don’t divert it to the required matters at hand, keeps returning to this idea, particularly when I crawl into bed. I kiss my husband, put in my earplugs, slip on my eye mask, scoot the dog into place, switch off the light and my mind switches on.

It’s either my “stuck cingulate” in brain parlance––admittedly I am a bit obsessive. Or it’s the niggling that won’t let me go that I experience as God. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit––I’m not sure what the difference is and how I’m supposed to know. What I do know is that something within, but bigger than me, is goading me to thoroughly investigate this idea that feels like mine but not mine, as if it’s part of a grander plan.

I don’t mean to be obtuse––I’m trying to decide if and when the time is right to pursue a graduate degree. I’m only considering one program, a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, a low residency program underpinned in Christian spirituality (the only one in the country) that called to me when it was still in its planning stages.

I’d done the initial research years ago, looked into a couple other programs just for good measure, and set that all aside until some future time when my children were fully educated. My youngest daughter will be heading to college in Florida next fall, and the Seattle Pacific program starts at the end of July with the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe New Mexico, part of the work of Image Journal.

I’ve been looking at flight schedules and tuition costs, downloading application procedures, researching my mind numb. When I’m supposed to be sleeping, I’m composing checklists of responsibilities I’ll need to relinquish and let others assume should I become a student again. I’m tired, and I want to sleep, but it seems that I won’t rest until I’ve made a decision.

My indecisiveness born of my need to make a thoroughly informed decision won’t last long at this rate. Lack of sleep is wearing down my defenses, so that I’m inclined to just say yes now, swallow a Tylenol P.M. and figure out how to make it all work later.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Writing Prompt 22

When have you felt safe and welcome in a church or other setting?
When have you felt threatened and unwelcome in a church or other setting?
Describe the circumstances, pay attention to how your body and mind reacted.

Wrestling with Welcome

My congregation is participating in the Church Vitality Indicator process. We conducted a congregational survey then held a discernment process with our Committee on Lay Leadership that guided us to find out our strengths and places of most potential for vitalizing our ministry. It came as no surprise to those of us gathered yesterday at our local Church Conference and Convergence that our congregation places a high priority on faith sharing and experiential worship, and that focusing on our strengths of welcoming and inviting will have the most positive impact on our common life.

Here’ what our focus area will mean: Boulder Creek United Methodist Church strives for persons to feel welcome and safe. Together we learn and tell the faith story, sharing our own experiences of God as a foundation to include and embrace others. We provide a welcoming space to ask questions, explore differences and learn.

What does it mean to feel welcome and safe? To share our experiences, ask questions and learn without threat or fear?

I’m not sure exactly how to live that out, but I know what it’s not. In my past Political Science life, I participated in activities, campaigns and causes where I had to act, think and believe in a prescribed way. And because I believed my side was right, everyone with differing beliefs was wrong. My interactions with members of the opposing camps were characterized by trying to convince them of the error of their ways, and to convert them to the right way, my way. Conversely, they thought I was wrong, ignorant, and stupid, and took every opportunity, as I did, to point that out. I directed a lot of psychic energy at my opponents.

I soon burned out, wore out and withdrew. I needed a different type of community, one united not by minds sharing the same views on the issues of the day and attempting to convert others to our thinking, but one that made space for the soul and its longing for connection. I left politics and found the church. The church isn’t immune to politics, but my experience in it has been more positive. In my early days at Boulder Creek UMC, no one knew anything bout my education, employment, political leanings or theology. I was absolutely welcome, wrapped into the embrace (literally) of strangers.

In the past twenty years in this congregation, I have laughed, cried, taught, listened, prayed, learned, and changed my beliefs as my faith matured. I’ve been tempted to leave when conflicts rose, but stayed to experience first hand new growth and healing that can take place after painful pruning. I’ve grown from a twenty-something new Christian mother-to-be, to a middle-aged pastoral leader on the verge of an empty nest. I am still human, flawed, and still welcome.

What does it mean to be a safe place? At the minimum, when I preach, I need to share my passion and opinions in ways that help people build their relationships with God, not to force them to agree with me. To be a safe church, all of us need to get out of God’s way, to harness our tongues and to hold our cherished beliefs close and visible without pushing them on others. To be safe, inviting and truly welcoming, we need not only to enlarge our aisles for wheelchair access, but to enlarge our minds, hearts and expectations so that God has room to maneuver in, among and through us.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Writing Prompt 21

Write a prayer for an upcoming event or gathering, in prose or poetry.
Share it with your group, if they're open to it.
If not, spend time in prayer with your prayer before the event.

More on Hospitality

I'm continuing to think about hospitality. My husband and I were treated with extravagant hospitality by the folks at Northwest Navigation on our small ship cruise in the San Juan Islands last weekend. Our Chef, Christine prepared gluten-free breads three times a day, a luxury, since we confine ourselves to rice cakes and store bought rice bread bricks.

Captain Jeffrey asked what we wanted to see. "Orcas" was our answer and he delivered, with extreme cooperation by the whales who leaped out of the water, seemingly just for the fun of it. A lesson to me that in the midst of all our seriousness to survive and make a living, carve out a life, and more, that we are created for joy. More leaping needed all around.

The good people at Northwest, just three of them, have lovingly restored their boat, the David B, a classic from 1929 from dilapidation to new life as a passenger vessel. I can't recommend them or the experience more highly.

And more on the hospitality vein--a week from today my church is holding our annual meeting at a retreat center and will spend a day dreaming together after our business, Communion and lunch. We're calling it a retreat, but it's too full a day for that to be accurate. I've decided it's a Convergence. A coming together in a common vision and purpose.

In that spirit, I offer this pray for all who will be present, and for those of you preparing to lead and/or attend your annual church meetings.

Welcome us O gracious Host
as we come into your presence.
We have answered your invitation
to gather in celebration and striving
to be a people and a church
whose actions and desires
will bring us closer
into relationship with you,
with each other and our larger

May we rest comfortably this day
in this time set apart from the
everyday routines of our lives.
Renew us through your presence
and through the presence
of one another.
Guide our words and thoughts
as we speak to you
and to each other.

Feed us all that we need
to strengthen our bodies and spirits
to nourish our gifts and talents
to encourage our dreams and visions.

Let us share our lives
with you and with this family
gathered today, knowing
that you have created
each of us uniquely.
May we celebrate the diversity
among us, and the unity of purpose
that working in ways
to bring your love and Good News
into this world can inspire.

Transform us this day
as we pray, plan and feast,
as we listen, speak and ponder.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Writing Prompt 20

What does the word Saint mean to you?
Who are the saints in your life?

The Saints Stand Up

The saints––Barbara, Buena Ventura, Fernando, Francisco––stand up straight in the painting outside the door to my room at the retreat center. They appear neat, tidy, benign, as if they never got dirty, never made a mess of things, never got in trouble with the bishop or the neighbors. But, hah, I’ve been studying spiritual formation. I know better! I read a little about the saints and find out they were, “like, real people, totally!” Life was never neat as a pin, pretty as a picture. Underneath the groovy outfits and golden halos painted behind their heads, the saints battled demons and ridicule, sunburn and lice, measles, and diarrhea.

I try to remember that when I wade through the muck of introspection, carting my old garbage and recycling, smacking into people and things while carrying my cross. Listening to God is messy business. Open the door to my room at the retreat house and you’ll see ear plugs to block out the noise, an eye mask to block out the porch lights, a heating pad for my backache, a special pillow for my neck, a travel clock and cell phone both with alarms set. I want to be prepared for everything, but I’m never really prepared for life, annoying the Girl Scout in me. There are jumper cables, Powerbars and bottled water in my car. But maybe I need an apron, rubber gloves, waders or Lysol?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stayed home. After all, there are 187 channels on cable, a zillion shows I’ve never watched, which could be informative, educational, food for thought. But I’d have to learn to work the remote.

So, I get up off the couch and remind myself that life is chaotic and disease-ridden. Life chooses its course, and it comes, tidal wave or puddle, or something in between. Either way, life floods across my path and when the time comes to decide, I step in. I might as well have company on the journey. I might as well try to walk with God.

If you’re anything like the saints I know, you don’t really have a choice. It’s a no-brainer, reflex kind of thing, this standing up, this stroll with the divine, even without a groovy robe and golden halo. Just ask some of my recent companions on the journey––Saints Erika, Diane, Chris and Jim; Saints Nancy, Nan, and Monika––why they do it. What makes them pull on their slickers and wellies and venture out in the storm, looking for Jesus in the rain, offering umbrellas and towels to those caught in the down pour?

At home now, I stand in my garden in the dusk after the first rain, looking at the poppies I didn’t plant, the larkspur that has volunteered to grow with the strawberries, several boxes away from the flowerbed where I planted it. I remember a friend’s hearty volunteer peach tree, and my mother-in-law’s volunteer tomatoes. I think of the birds that spread the seed and our surprised delight in the gifts we didn’t know they brought us. The saints I know sow the gospel the way birds spread seed, mostly unaware. God’s good news springs up in unexpected places.