The Presence of Clouds

I can't seem to allow my creativity to be my prayer today -- at least, I can't find that creativity in images. The text from Exodus 40:16-38 just doesn't inspire me. It's too precise in its description. It reminds me too much of math. I don't want to draw the tabernacle even if it does have a mercy seat. (I find this a strange term since the mercy seat is really the covering and no one is going to sit there at all except perhaps God. Somehow I can't quite get my head around God needing mercy -- but I suppose if I need it, then so does God.)

Instead, I'm wishing I had a different kind of faith. I'm wishing that it were possible for me to see clouds and fire and claps of thunder and even the birds of the sky as God. I'm too rational for that. I can explain it away. As in, it's a bird. It may have been created by God but just because it landed there doesn't mean that there is any purpose for you. It's just a bird doing its thing. And yes, it's just a cloud. It doesn't matter how low it is or if it feels like it's covering you. It's just a cloud. Everyone else sees it too. It doesn't mean that God wants you to stay. It's just a cloud. Of course, the Israelites didn't think this. The cloud was their protection. It let them know when to travel and when to stay. They didn't send a bird out like Noah had. They had something more immediate. They had a cloud that stayed with them, that covered them, that let them know when it was safe to continue the journey.

I would like something like that. I would like to be able to believe in the presence of clouds in this way, but I can't quite grasp it. There's a metaphor there, I think. Certainly, there are things that let us know when it is time to do and when it is time to stay. There are things that protect us and allow us to feel the safety that the Israelites knew in the presence of that cloud. I just don't think it's a cloud for me. It would be nice if it was. If I could just look out my window and see the cloud and know that it's time to stay, I think life would be pretty simple. Obviously, it's not. It's more complicated than that. And so, I have to look for metaphors in other places -- or I have to decide if the freakin' "cloud" is there at all.

See, I think this story could be about call. It could be about the times when we know it's time to go and do a new thing and when we know that we're in the right place. My faith is simple enough that I trust this concept. I just don't know what the damn cloud is that will clue me in to when those particular times are. Right now, I'm feeling like the cloud has lifted. I'm feeling like there is something nudging me toward going on the journey. I'm not really sure what that means though. There are the practical aspects -- like who the hell wants to move to a new place and make a whole new batch of friends, the fact that I bought a home here less than a year ago, the fact that I'm still trying to write this book that I don't seem to find enough time for and the fact that there are things that I've said I would do with this congregation that I haven't done yet. But, there are other thoughts that pop in my head too. There's the fear that I don't know what it is that I would want to do differently than the ministry I have right now. (Not being an Associate Pastor is obvious but I know it's more than that.) There's the reality that every time I look at the Employment Opportunities, there's nothing that grabs my eye. (There are far too many churches that identify as traditional and I want progressive and socially active.) So, I'm left to wonder if the cloud really has lifted or if I just need to allow myself a wee little bit of grace. Maybe I should just plop myself on that mercy seat. Hopefully, God will sit down beside me.


If you come to me in friendship...

Can I confess something to you? I didn't pray this morning. I opted for a trip to the farmer's market instead. Oh. I love the farmer's market -- especially when there are yummy veggies starting to appear like fiddleheads and asparagus. Yum. It so beats all the plants all over the place. As if I know what to do with those. Ha! Despite the fact that I didn't pray, I'm still thinking about this line from Monday.

If you come to me in friendship...

It's an invitation, but there is caution. There is hesitation in these words. There is trepidation like someone that's afraid of being wounded, someone who has perhaps been hurt before, someone who (just shooting in the dark here) had her heart broken recently. There's a desire for relationship, to be connected but it's not clear if it's worth the risk. It's not clear if this invitation will be held as tenderly as this person (ahem) needs to be held.

If you come to me in friendship...

It's a line that should be familiar to me. Over the years, I've made decisions about what friendships I want to go into. I've been fairly clear about where I'm willing to put in the work and where I'm not. Recently, I've been a little sad that my college friendships have eroded. The women that I was dear friends with in college are scattered across the country. We haven't seen each other in a long time. I'm not a phone person. They don't email. They're all in relationships. I'm single. It's not for lack of care. Our friendship has just faded.
And then, well, something weird happened. First, I got a Facebook message from a woman I knew in college. I'd like to believe there was a kindredness between us -- but we were never really close. It doesn't really matter. Somehow, through Facebook or life or God, we've been pulled back together. 

If you come to me in friendship...

She's studying to be a therapist now and wrote in the interest of understanding how faith informs the human construct. She's never had faith. She has a longing for it but it's never been something she's claimed. So, who better to ask then a college friend that posts on Facebook about her ministry in the Christian Church? 

If you come to me in friendship...

She came to ask me what I thought. I'd totally forgotten the similarities in our stories -- the loss we'd both experienced at a young age, the ways we coped and the ways we didn't. She came to understand -- or in the language of David -- she came to help me. Sure, she was asking out of her own wonder but she came to me in friendship. She wanted to know what I thought. She wanted to know how I felt

And so, though she might never know it, she helped me. She gave me peace -- and so my heart is indeed knit to her. (I like knit better than bound.) Perhaps it already was. Perhaps it was always there. I just didn't notice. I hadn't paid attention to the similarities -- but felt the distance as I had with so many relationships in my very, very secular college -- in the differences I felt as a person of faith. Perhaps I've used this as an excuse too often. Ok. I definitely have. I've allowed this thing about my faith separate me from those that don't get it. I've ignored the fact that at some point in our past, these wonderful people that I knew in college came to me in friendship. They've been knit to me. They will always be part of my heart. Always... even when I shudder at the photos of us.

The emails continue. Other relationships have reformed. I just forgot that they are indeed still there. They will always be knit in my heart. I just needed a reminder.


Hell Yes!

After the weird retreat last week that did nothing to rejuvenate my prayer life, I finally sat down to pray again this morning. I took out my Daily Lectionary book to discover that the reading for today came from the chronicles of war-loving David. Awesome. Just what I need after Mother's Day. I'd much rather read the Mother's Day Proclamation but instead I'm stuck with David. Kill me now. 

However, David surprised me. I like that about the Bible. I like that I can find rare treats that I never would have expected. I like that I can find words that I really need to hear from people that I don't really get. David may have written lovely poetic songs, but the dude had issues. I'm not over it. Anyhow, it was only the second verse of my reading. It's this one.
‘If you have come to me in friendship, to help me, then my heart will be bound to you; but if you have come to betray me to my adversaries, though my hands have done no wrong, then may the God of our ancestors see and give judgement.’ 
1 Chronicles 12:17 NRSV
Yes, I know there's terrible war imagery there. I prefer to think of it as a wounded soul here. You know, it's the injured person that really wants to be open and welcoming and gets squashed. Fine. My God will take care of you. So there. But, that first line. Wow. That first line. I needed that. Amen.


Am I Bitter?

Last night, before I tucked myself into bed after a really lovely night of excellent food and bluegrass, I read Anne Lamott's article Why I Hate Mother's Day. I appreciated these words so much that I tweeted them. My tweets end up on my Facebook page which means that my grandmother read the article. Her comment was that Lamott seems "really bitter" and hopes that I'm not turning into a bitter woman too.


I realize that these words might come out of the same hurt place that so many others feel when I scorn at Mother's Day. I'm fully aware that my rejection of the holiday seems like I'm rejecting the whole idea. I'm not. I've been blessed with two amazing women that I've affectionately and lovingly called "Mom." One of them was the woman that gave me life. She was the woman that taught me about God and reoriented my life forever with her death. The other "Mom" in my life was the woman that my father married only two years after my first "Mom" died. I was so thrilled to have a mother in my life that my eight year old self gave this wonderful woman a "New Mom" ribbon. My stepmother has healed more wounds than she knows. She allowed me to write late night emails to her in college to process all of the hurt that I didn't understand. She didn't reject me. She wrote long, thoughtful emails back. In every sense, she's been my mother -- and I'm so lucky to have her in my life.

I don't intend on removing that honor on this day to either of these women -- nor do I seek to devalue the fabulous mothering relationships I've found in grandparents, cousins, great aunts that stare at the ocean with me, friends that are like family and too many others that have formed me to be the person I am today. All of these people deserve my love and respect each and every day. Instead, I struggle with this one day. It's complicated. I want to insist that I honor all of these loved ones every day. I want to believe that I tell my stepmother I love her and appreciate her on other days than this one -- but it's not really true. I fall short. Still, I hope she knows that she means the world to me. I hope she knows it as much as my great aunt, my best friend who I talked to for an hour on the phone today when we could have just gone for a walk and my little sister. I probably don't say it enough -- but I hope they know. Of course, on this day, it's more complicated than that. It's not just about all of those wonderfully affirming relationships that are present in my life. It's also about the one that's missing.

I suppose this is what makes me sound bitter. I prefer the language of today's Gospel Lesson. I'd rather identify with those that are blind, lame and paralyzed by the pool under five porticos -- because I can really relate to that man who Jesus asks, "Do you want to be made well?" Yes. Obviously. What a stupid question, but don't we always ask stupid questions about things that we don't understand? That's what today is like for me. I listen to all of the wonderful demonstrations of love among my church members. I'm happy for them. I don't want to take that away from them, but still my stomach turns. I don't really know how to explain it, except to point to all of those moments where you really want to call your mom. That never goes away.

There are certain moments in life that you'll always want to pick up the phone and call your mom. There are big moments like graduations and when you realize you're falling in love, but then there are smaller moments. There are the silly trivial things that you just want to tell her that you kicked ass in that interview or that he broke your heart. (My stepmother fielded both of those calls.) There's the moment where you just start thinking about her and you wonder how she is so you grab your phone from your purse and start dialing. That never goes away -- even if she's been dead for over 20 years.

That's what I feel today. I want to call my mom and make her breakfast and thank her for giving me life, but I can't. That might mean I'm bitter. It might but I tend to think that this is the reality of my grief. It's the part of me that's blind, lame and paralyzed to Mother's Day. I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry if my grief ruins your day but it's not really cheering me up either. I'm trying as hard as I can to pick up my mat and walk, but I need your help just as much as you need mine. I might be blind to what this day means to you. I may be so paralyzed in my own grief that I can't see through it. I may be lame right now. Ok, I'm definitely lame right now but I'll try again tomorrow. So will you. But, right now, I'm just trying so hard to be made well. I wish that for you too.


I'm Young, Damn It

This week, I went on the Spring Clergy Retreat hosted annually by my denomination. I was interested in this particular program because it was about art and I'm hitting a wall in my prayer life where I needed and wanted some new energy in my drawn prayers.

I have never been to one of these retreats before. I have not gone for a very specific reason. I'm at least 30 years younger than all of my colleagues -- and though I don't feel this is a barrier when those that I call peers are often older than I am, it's the first remark that graces my colleagues lips. This time was no different. I was singled out for my age. I was told that I was younger than their children. I was told that I could be their grandchild. I am not graceful or gentle when these comments are made. For me, there's nothing gentle about wanting colleagues.

Of course, it so happened that this was the theme of the retreat for me. It wasn't at all about art. It wasn't about my prayer life. It was about my youth. Damn it.

The context of my ministry is in an area of our country where there aren't many young people. There is a seminary in the area. In fact, there are two that aren't far from me -- but most of the graduates from these institutions that serve the churches in my context are second career women and men. And so, I don't fit the mold. I constantly enter into the conversation that there is a trend in seminaries now that reveals the opposite that we see here. There are more young people in seminary. They are just not here. Of course, these eager elders want to know what will draw young people to our churches here in the snowy North.

The answer in my eyes is obvious. I want to look them narrowly in the eyes and proclaim, "Well... You want young clergy to act like you. Stop it. Really. Stop. We're not you. Don't call us for what we represent. Call us for who we are." In the four years that I've been ordained, serving the same church, I've struggle with these assumptions of who I am as a young person. I constantly force the reminder that I'm not the same age as their college-aged kids. I'm not  even a millenial. Really. I took the quiz. I'm so not a millenial. I'm Gen-X if anything but I really don't want to be placed in an age bracket. I want to be who God called me to be without having to fit neatly into a box. I don't want to be seen for my age.

In the church, we honor everything that is old. If it has been around for a long time, we think it's good. The old chalice connects us with the founders of the church. The old Bible connects us with the language that some of our members heard as kids. The old preacher obviously has more experience and knowledge. His gray hair proves it. He's been around the block a couple of times and can relate to the vastness of human experience. There is no point of entry for me. I'm young. I push for new language, chalices that connect us to a global community and highlight my hair to celebrate my youth. (I miss being a towhead.) I celebrate older women (and even men) and the validation that they need for their own calls in the wisdom of their age -- but that pushes me out. It gives me no place. Plus, in my worst self, I can't help but think that the church is going to die with these old crones. I don't really believe that. I want to think that there is another way where we can celebrate a new thing -- even a young thing. After all, isn't that in the Bible?