Good morning, chickadees. Are you warm and cozy? I hope so.
As I sit sipping coffee (surprise, surprise) from a mug lovingly made by my talented friend Jill and watch the sunrise set a dark sky afire with oranges and pinks, I’m feeling reflective. The past couple of months have been something of a spiritual pilgrimage for me. I thought I’d share a bit with you about that journey. It began with a physical one — back to my wee home across-the-pond, Belfast, at the end of November. We minister-types get continuing education support for things that tend to our souls, minds and bodies and going to Northern Ireland was to be one such opportunity. It was designed to be a week of delving deep into my own spirituality with a pastor friend there, and discerning how we might connect with our Creator and our congregations in more profound and authentic ways. My week there was also generously peppered (foodie, here) with beloved friends, with me filling every possible nook and cranny with coffees, lunches, glasses of wine and dinners in which the goal was laughter and catching up.
I had great hopes that such a week would refresh my soul and spirit, in the particularly sarcastic and delightful way that only Northern Ireland can. What I experienced there was something even greater. To be invited to retrace one’s steps in life, to walk back through times of challenge and joy, is a gift. It makes you see yourself, not as you’ve been and not as you would like to be, but exactly as you are. As I preached in Fitzroy, donning that collar that used to be so uncomfortable but seemed as natural as can be there, speaking with folks whose names seemed to just appear out of the ether to me as I saw their face once more, and celebrating all God has continue to do in that place, I felt completely at ease in my own skin. I did not feel like the past few years had changed me in any marked ways, but we rarely see change in ourselves, right? We recognize it in the eyes of another. So, those Fitzroy folk showed me that I had in fact changed, not in massive ways, but in the subtle ways of being more at ease, more myself, more at home in my role as a minister.
As the week wound down, Steve (the pastor of Fitzroy and a good friend) and I gathered for the last time and prayed together. Prayer is a funny animal, y’all. Perhaps not all the time, but sometimes, strange things happen. Now, I know, I’m Presbyterian…prayer isn’t usually a metaphysical experience for us, but often sounds more like reading a page from John Calvin’s diary. But something happened during that prayer. I was praying out loud and, after a week of intense discussion around congregational dynamics and the role of a minister, I heard myself say something I’d never said before. I prayed, “God, help me translate anxiety into vision.” Hmm. Those really weren’t my words. They just came. And I would say from the Divine. I felt that, in those few words, I realized why I was meant to come back to visit Belfast, and why it would impact my role in lovely Cameron. Anxiety into vision.
I think a lot of what ministers do is bear the anxiety of others. I don’t mean this to sound like a negative thing — it’s not in the least. It’s just that so much of what happens in a church, from intense pastoral care conversations to worries about bulletins or committee meetings or this-person or that-person, stems from anxiety. Because anxiety is part of the human condition. And as such, it can be either degenerative or generative. It can immobilize us with fear and worry of what we can’t control, or it can push us to newness: new energy, new courage, new vision. I began, through that prayer, to see my role as a minister as a bearer of the anxiety of others, of our church, our community and the world, who then listens to the Spirit to help translate and transform that which causes our stomach to flip into that which causes our worldview and patterns of living to flip. Flip from anxious to hopeful, from worried to energized, from greedy to generous, from conflict-generating to reconciling, and so on, and so on…
(Okay, this is getting long, go get thyself another cup of coffee…)
And so I returned from Belfast, more at home here than ever, more at home in my own skin than ever. And I dove into Advent, that season of expectant hope for God coming to become one of us. I shared my sense of call to translate anxiety into vision with my Session. I taught Bible studies and preached and visited and packed food boxes for our community and even danced. I also happened to fall in love, but that’s a story for another time.
December was a flurry of activity, and beneath it all, that call kept coming: “Translate anxiety into vision.” And then, just like that, Christmas was over. The child was born! The world was filled with hope! And the pastors were exhausted. I hopped a plane to Texas to ring in the new year with family and that was a much-needed and cathartic visit. I’m so grateful for my family. And then I hopped a plane back again and celebrated my 32nd birthday by dancing with a certain someone until my cheeks hurt from laughing.
The next morning, I was up bright (well, a bit dim, really) and early and ready to do my Sunday thing. The church surprised me with beautiful flowers and sang me a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday (after which I offered to blow out the candelabra and make a wish). The celebration of Epiphany was joyful and the birthday lunch after church was delicious. So, so much love there. I came home and napped like the old 32-year-old that I am (I kid) and then saw on Facebook that my friend Marci was giving out Star Words for the new year. You can learn about them on her blog, here. These are words that will guide our connection with the Divine for the next year, words we will ponder in prayer and discernment. I asked Marci to randomly select a word for me, something to guide my thoughts and prayers in the coming year.
My word? Vision, of course.