Come on over. My house is a mess.

My mom and my aunt giggle remembering the Ritter family in their 1950’s neighborhood.  Apparently, whenever my family would pass by their house the curtains were unflatteringly askew.  It came to be a thing they looked for and snickered about and, eventually, named “rittered curtains.”  As in, “Fix those curtains.  Look at how they’re rittered.”

My mom also remembers her mother ironing handkerchiefs.   

stylized maid serving tea

My parents tell another story about the house I grew up in.  At one point my mom took down the curtains in their bedroom to wash them.  Many weeks later when my dad noticed them missing he asked about it.  They were in a washed but wrinkled pile in the laundry room, waiting for my mom to iron them so she could put them back up on the windows.  Once she’d filled him in on the proceedings, my dad said, matter-of-factly, with no judgment, “I guess we’d better buy new curtains.”

My mom hates ironing.

I love the satisfaction of an ordered, clutter-free, no-rings-around-the-tub house.  I feel like I can relax and enjoy being in it when it’s clean and tidy.  I am definitely the kind of person who cleans for company – I even clean when I invite students over for dinner.  Company is company.  But we haven’t had anyone over in a long, long time.  Until this week – because my parents are coming – I’m pretty sure we hadn’t cleaned the entire house since New Year’s Eve. 

I know where my iron is but can’t say the last time I used it.

I fantasize about hiring someone to clean our house twice a month.  I have it all worked out, how the cleaners would arrive on Monday mornings after my lovely but magically-crumb-producing stepson leaves from the weekend.  I hesitate for many reasons:  I come from a family who invented “rittered curtains” as a category; I come from a family who’s always done our own cleaning; and, it’s not in the budget right now. 

I also hesitate because there’s a part of me that thinks If you’re too busy to clean your house, you’re too busy.  It’s a strange life when the things that sustain us –preparing food, cleaning our homes, sleeping, moving our bodies about outside, relaxing – are considered things for which we are “too busy.”  I don’t need enough time on my hands to take up ironing sheets (and undershirts and handkerchiefs, if men still wore these) but I would love to feel like we have enough time to keep up with the basics.  I would like to be on a cleaning schedule that’s more frequent than quarterly.

You can see from this tale how each generation of my family has relaxed the standard of the previous generation.  But I still want to invite someone over to a comfortable and clean house.  I can’t completely give that one up.  So we’ve had very little company or dinner guests lately.  Here we are at Easter weekend with our first company since New Year’s Eve.   

It’s Holy Week and I have been sick with the crud since Sunday night:  these two facts alone should be enough to cut myself some slack.  Nope.  I knocked myself out (and my husband, too) to get the house clean by Good Friday.

This isn’t simply about busy-ness or family lineage.  It’s about perfectionism.

Brené Brown tells a story about friends stopping by her house unexpectedly when the place was a mess.  Brown’s daughter came to find her with a worried expression on her face – worried in advance about the stress the surprise visit would generate in her mom.  But Brown, who was at that very moment working on her book (The Gifts of Imperfection),  simply changed her clothes and said to her daughter, “I’m so glad they’re here.  What a nice surprise!  Who cares about the house!”   She walked bravely to the door with a smile on her face and welcomed her friends in for a visit in her completely imperfect house.  She says she did so while putting herself “in a Serenity Prayer trance” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 58). 

Maybe someday Brené Brown will be the matron saint of vulnerability and glorious imperfection.  Maybe I’ll have a little statue I can shoot a glance at when the doorbell rings or a text chimes with the opportunity to entertain a guest.  I need the encouragement because I am not there yet on my own.  Clearly.

How about you?  How do you save your sanity while not living in swill?  How do you cut yourself some slack?  What family traditions have you let go of in order to make more room for life?  How’s your life becoming more gracious these days?

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photo credit:   Public domain.  Originally produced for the Works Progress Administration, circa 1939.


Snow, Spring, Haiku

I realize almost everyone in the US is ready for spring that acts like spring.  I know most folks have had more than enough snow this year.  But I won’t complain next week if we get more, as they are beginning to predict.  It will eventually stop and, God help me, it will be Virginia-humid and 90 degrees.  Count on it.

snow piled in front of cars ready to shovel

I have loved the snow this winter, even with this driveway and all the shoveling.  (And, no, we do not have helpful neighborhood kids who come over and offer to shovel with us – it’s all us.)  For someone with a blog called Snow Day I didn’t pause often or long enough this winter.  Ready-made excuses drifted up to my door but I barreled through most of the called snow days sitting at the computer, as usual. 

There was one early morning storm that caught my attention for about 40 minutes as I drank coffee and wrote haiku by hand on the legal pad.  I stopped long enough to simply watch what was happening.

At the edge of spring I’m pausing to remember that morning and breathe it in one last time.  Whether we’ve seen the last of the snow or not, I give thanks for the beauty of what’s been and for the traces it leaves behind.

 

Gentle rain of snow

Awakens me before dawn

Stills my attention

* *

Grey sky, bluish light

White fuzz muffle flaking down

Quiet streets outside

* *

Sound of heat blowing

Feel of fleece robe on my skin

Sight of world in white

* *

Snow, awaken me

Show me a new world outside

Absorb our noise now

* *

Thank you, God, for this

Day of snowflakes and stillness

Gift of present time


Ash Wednesday Reflection

A reflection for Ash Wednesday, preached at Wesley Memorial/Wesley Foundation during today’s worship services with imposition of ashes.

public domain_wikipedia_800px-Crossofashes

I tried to click on a web page this week and the browser came up with a blank white screen and only these words, small, at the very top: “Too many connections.” 

 

It was the first time I’d seen this particular computer communiqué and it left me wondering.  What does “too many connections” mean?  Too many links on the page to which I was navigating and it didn’t know how to choose the one I wanted to connect with?  Too many other people just dying to get onto the Ministry Matters website right at that very moment?

I still don’t know what it meant and, after a few minutes, the site came up as normal again.  But it’s a good image for starting Lent. 

We are a culture of “too many connections.”  When’s the last time you asked someone how they were and they didn’t respond with some version of “crazy busy!”?  Too much on my plate…too many irons in the fire…not enough hours in the day…

And yet, the season of Lent calls us to pour out some of the fullness and voluntarily empty ourselves.  Lent calls us to clear away that which clutters our ability to connect with God.  Lent calls us to reflection and prayer and renewed spiritual focus, which is exceedingly hard to do when you have too many connections.

So we bring it back down to basics.  Back down to earth.  Right back to where we started.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  This is what Ed and I will be saying as you come forward to receive the ashes in a few minutes.  It’s a weird thing to say.  It’s an odd thing, on an ordinary Wednesday, to have someone smudge your forehead and remind you of death and dust. 

But it’s also comforting.  It reminds us that God formed us out of regular, ordinary, everyday earth and that one day our bodies will go back to the earth again.  It reminds us that we aren’t superior to or set apart from creation but part of it, connected.

Artist-writer-pastor Jan Richardson says it so beautifully in her blessing for Ash Wednesday (The Painted Prayerbook, “Blessing the Dust”).  She says the ashes remind us that we are:

marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

You’ll head out into Lent today marked with ashes, claimed and called by God.  The way leads to wilderness, through death to life.  Stick with it.

You might be tempted to pack too much for this journey, to take along too many connections, so to speak.  Resist.

Take only what you really need and rest in the knowledge that God can and will provide the rest along the way.

Thanks be to God!

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photo credit:  public domain


Where I Stand

A friend asked me recently, commenting on the news of United Methodist clergy celebrating weddings for same-sex couples, “Where do you stand?”  Specifically, she wanted to know what I would do if a same-sex couple came to me to celebrate their wedding.

It’s not a short answer.

Our church’s fights over sexuality are part of why it took me so long to be ordained.  If I’m honest, I was hearing God at least as far back as college but was still resisting the call even during seminary.  Besides a Jonah-like stubborn streak, the sexuality wars were part of my resistance.  Some of the people who inspired me most in ministry, who gave me a vision for what it could be like to serve in the church, are gay.  I watched as they switched gears into other careers and callings.  I went to seminary with some who would be much stronger clergy then I am, but who don’t have that option available, based on their God-given sexuality. 

logo for the Reconciling Ministries Network

For too long I thought accepting God’s call to ordained ministry meant accepting everything the United Methodist Church currently states in its Book of Discipline.  (Here’s the section called The Social Principles, where our positions on most cultural issues are found.  We currently do not ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” nor are clergy permitted to officiate or churches permitted to host same-sex ceremonies.)  I knew I couldn’t do that with integrity and it held me back.  I didn’t exactly have to spend time in the belly of a whale, but through years of wrestling and running I came to understand it differently.  I realized I need to be able to articulate the church’s current positions but complete agreement on non-doctrinal matters was not part of the call.

During the Jonah years, during the long-awaited ordination process, and during my ministry I have not been quiet about my disagreement.  In my preaching, teaching, conversation, writing, witness and pastoral care, I have not been quiet.  But let me be crystal clear:  love is love; I fully support LGBTQ people, marriage equality, and ordination regardless of sexuality.  I think our church is wrong on this and I’m inspired by the rumblings and protests and what feels like more and more energy in the right direction.  I am rooting for change and I am trying to help enact it.

Last spring I signed An Altar for All.  I really wanted to sign the first option, that I would officiate at same-sex weddings.  After thought, prayer, and a long conversation with my husband, I signed the second option, which is “clergyperson supportive of others officiating same-sex ceremonies.” 

Of course I wanted to sign option one.  Of course I want to be able to say yes when students, alumni, and friends come to me asking to be married.  I want all of them to know they can come and I can say yes.

We’re not there yet.

The problem with taking a long time to answer God’s call to ordained ministry is I had plenty of time to get really clear on what I was answering.  The call is from God and my deepest allegiance is there, which is why I understand and support clergy who feel called to act in defiance of our current Book of Discipline (a document that is by its nature changeable, edited every four years at General Conference).  But for reasons I still don’t fully understand, God called me to ministry in the United Methodist Church and I believe God is still calling me to ministry in this church. 

When my husband and I discussed this and the dynamics of institutional change, he said, “Not everyone can be the point of the spear.”  Some are called to this.  Some are called to work more incrementally, from within the system as it currently exists.  I would love to be the point of the spear.  My ego wants that.  But being a Christian means God’s call takes precedence over the way I would write the story. 

I still hear God calling me to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.  And I believe God is working in the church and transforming individuals and the institution.  I hope the work goes quickly and I am trying to be part of that work – because I believe the church is better with me in it.  That’s not always a comfortable or ego-pleasing place to be, but it’s the place I feel called to be.

I don’t know what will happen in our church.  We seem to be gaining momentum, at least in the United States.  I don’t know if we’ll be tempted to split or if we’ll give in to that temptation.  Maybe, if we do, it won’t be temptation but yet another call.  I can’t tell from here.

All I can tell you is that, for now, I would have to say no to officiating at a same-sex ceremony.  Even as my heart would want to scream yes and even as I continue to work for change in the institution.  Even as it breaks my heart that we’re still here and still stuck.  Even as I would be unable to serve as a juror in a clergy trial because I’d never find someone “guilty” of officiating a same-sex wedding.  Even as it would be both a huge victory and a huge embarrassment to have the Commonwealth of Virginia “beat us to it.” 

But the end of the story is never where we think it is with God.  We worship a wily and confounding God who is surely stirring hearts and minds as She blows through this institution, messing with our ideas, allegiances, sacred cows, and callings.  So I keep attentive, keep listening, keep hopeful.  And I keep working for change, for justice.

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Photo credit:  Reconciling Ministries Network


Return to Pottery

return to pottery

Two roads diverged…Go left for pottery! (My teacher’s studio sign.)

Last week I was so full of anticipation, driving to my pottery teacher’s studio, I stopped in the road to take this picture.

We usually have a break in the class schedule from late October through early January.  This year our teacher had an unfortunate break in her ankle, so the pottery pause was even longer as she recuperated. Even in a normal year, two months is a long time to be away.  The first day back is awkward as we try to remember where our hands go and precisely how we manage to move clay around into shapes.  On purpose.

But last week we finally sat at our wheels again and got gloriously messy.

Soon enough I’ll have pictures of pots.  Today I simply give you a giddy woman’s mid-road-pause-picture, full of anticipation for what’s next.


The Scarlet V

For the record, I have never wanted a Whitman’s sampler or something from Jared.  But I have wanted something different out of Valentine’s Day for most of my life.

Wesley love_cookies collage_marylacygrecco_c2014

In high school you could buy single flowers for people (mums at homecoming, roses at Valentine’s).  It was both fundraiser and humiliation device.  By lunchtime, the popular kids were piling stacks of long-stemmed roses on top of their books as they struggled to make it to class under all that love.  Throughout the long morning, flowers were delivered to individuals in their classrooms.  So it wasn’t enough to watch someone’s tally grow as a pile they carried around all day – you had to have class interrupted multiple times, all eyes on the delivery personnel, as the well-loved were brought yet another rose.

I got flowers from my best friends and my brother.  I was thankful they loved me, sure, but more so that I could carry around at least 2 or 3 flowers rather than none.  I really wanted one of my unrequited loves to come to his senses, though none ever did. 

Throughout my childhood and most of my adulthood my mom has given me a Valentine’s card.  For a long time I felt like I did about the flowers in high school:  thankful not to be entirely left out but a little embarrassed that they weren’t “real” Valentines. 

By the time I was in seminary I openly fantasized about throwing a Hester Prynne party on February 14th.  I wanted to make gingerbread cookies and decorate them with scarlet icing on each little chest.

When Woody and I met and he discovered I had never had a boyfriend when Valentine’s Day rolled around, he made sure not to overlook my first time.  It was sweet, attentive, silly, and full of chocolate, rose petals, and love notes.  It was lovely.

But, as my friend Jan has said about life with her husband, at that point it was redundant.  That Valentine’s Day with Woody wasn’t any better than every day I spend with him.  He makes it a point to show and tell me he loves me all year long.  (I only hope I’m half as good at showing and telling him.)

I still think a Hester Prynne party would be fantastic.  But over 39 years of unsatisfying Valentine’s Days, I dreaded the day because I wanted proof I was lovable, demonstrated in some publicly understood manner, so there were no more questions on the matter.  It’s painful to admit that because, if you had asked me on any one of those days, I would probably have given you a superlative feminist cultural critique about why it didn’t matter, while inside feeling heartbroken yet again. 

What’s even more painful to admit is how blind and stupidly proud I was.  I don’t know how lovable I am, but I have been loved well by many people my whole life.  The Valentines my mom gave me were also redundant.  Among many other examples I could give:  Mom came from two hours away to do my laundry every week for the four months I was on crutches with a broken ankle.   

As with God’s grace, I have done nothing to deserve or warrant any of these good and loving people.  But I am so thankful for them.  I spent too many years hoping for something that hadn’t come along yet and not fully recognizing what was right there the whole time.  Don’t make my mistake. 

Happy Valentine’s Day. 

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photo credit:   © 2014 Mary Lacy Grecco.  Used with permission.

 


7 Ways to Improve Your Ministry and Your Relationship with Time

sundial in snow_2010_noakes

Wondering how to fit in a vacation this year?  Can’t remember the last time you took a day off or experienced a weekend without work?  Stop that!  Here’s some of what I’ve learned and am still learning, offered for clergy and others who long for a healthier, more relaxed pace.

 [Click here for the rest of the story and my list of 7 ways to improve your relationship with time, over at the National Campus Ministry Association blog.]

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photo credit:  “Sundial covered in snow” © 2010 Will Noakes,  CC BY-2.0

 


5 Things that are Definitely Not Resolutions

I am not into resolutions.  You can probably tell by the fact that I’m writing this in February. 

Increasingly New Year’s resolutions seem like one more thing.  Already, I don’t know a single person who does everything on the list:  checks her credit score every week, exercises precisely the number of times per week and minutes per session for optimal health, spends quality time with the children and spouse and herself, reads for fun, takes a class to push herself, optimizes job performance, relaxes fully, sleeps well, eats just enough, visits with neighbors, visits family on a regular basis, powerwashes the house before it starts to look green…Do I have to keep going here?

public domain_800px-February_calendar

Instead of resolutions, some folks receive star words to live with for the year.  These are meant to help you set an intention that’s a little more wide open than a list of resolutions and they are meant to unfold and illustrate and absorb meaning over the course of your year.  I like this idea better than naming a list of resolutions, but I’m just not looking for more to attend to – even a word.

Stepping out of my usual routine into vacation time over the Christmas break helped remind me of a world where people have each other over for dinner or show up for a visit and some coffee mid-afternoon.  I miss that world.  Of course I know it can’t be like that all the time, but neither can it all be saved up for a once-a-year-family-and-friends-fest – and then back to a starvation diet the other eleven months.

So this is not a list.  It’s not complete or authoritative.  If you are doing fine with your resolutions or your word for the year and you don’t need this, fantastic.  Come back when you feel hurried, crammed, or lonesome.

For the rest of us, 5 ideas for changing your pace and connecting to people and life at a deeper level…

Learn to cook something (new).  You can go big with something like fondue or simply make a homemade soup.  This one’s about delight, nurture, sustenance, and feeding your creative spirit as well as your stomach.     

Take a walk without having to get anywhere and see where it takes you.  You can do this in a mall or a nature trail or a state park.  Don’t set a goal.  Don’t rush.  Saunter or, as the French say, be a flâneur.  This one’s about being present and open to adventure.   Experience unfurling.

Sit down and compose correspondence.  You can do it by email or letter, but it should include thought and time.  (If you are unable to stay with the one draft you’re working on, rather than checking and responding to other email messages in one big multi-tasking mess, then compose offline.)  Say what you’ve been meaning to say to the other person or simply catch him up on your life.  This is qualitatively different than posting a bunch of Instagram pictures for him to cull through.  This one’s about going slowly enough to consider, gather thoughts, revise.

Give yourself regular time (daily or even weekly) to be unplugged, unscheduled, and unproductive.  Start with 10 minutes.  Turn off ringers and other intrusive notifications and set a timer so you don’t have to monitor the time.  You can sit on the porch, watch the clouds and squirrels, and be still.  You can use the time for mindfulness practice or prayer – but if that feels “productive” (One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend time in prayer each day) then don’t.  Be.  Rest.  Catch up your body and soul with one another.  See where this leads.

Ask someone to show you what they love.  Why does your daughter love that song?  What does your grandfather get out of whittling?  How is running integral to your friend’s life?  Listen and pay attention.  You don’t have to love it, too, but love them.  Make space in your day and your heart to listen and receive (a gift in itself).  Let the other person take you by the hand and let yourself follow.

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photo credit:  public domain image

 


Becoming a Cake Saver Kind of Person

Do you have a pickle dish?  I don’t, but I grew up in a pickle dish family.  My grandmother canned and pickles were a staple, always in the fridge with plenty more jars lined up in the pantry.  Most meals at her house included pickles.  They were just one of those things you made a place for on the table, like salt and pepper or butter.  She served them in oblong cut-glass dishes, with little forks tucked in the side.  

glass pedestal cake saver with dome and doily

Towards the end of her life when my grandmother struggled to move around and unscrew the lids on pickle jars, the rest of us tried unsuccessfully to get her to forego the pickle dish.  Just put the jar on the table.  That’s good enough. 

The rest of us – visiting for the weekend from school and work and used to slap-it-on-the-table meals at our own homes – wanted the cooking and cleaning and towel-drying over with sooner.  Her way wasn’t our way and doing it my grandmother’s way meant more work for us.  All those special dishes pulled out of their spots in the cabinet, put into service on the table, emptied, cleaned, and put back again – and most of us didn’t eat many pickles either.  Why was this worth it to her?

I should point out here that I was once annoyed by the suggestion that bagged ice ought to be emptied into a serving bowl.  A friend’s mother asked to host her son’s birthday party at the Wesley Foundation and, after turning on the lights and hauling out one of our travel coolers to throw the bag of ice in, I was surprised when she asked if there was something nicer we could arrange.   

For someone who has prided herself on offering hospitality, I’ve been clueless about some of the finer points.  Let’s face it, there are times when the way someone offers hospitality doesn’t feel very welcoming and doesn’t incline you to make yourself at home.  But that can happen as easily through a thoughtless simple cooler as it can through a thoughtful fussy pickle dish.

Here’s the real confession:  I now have a cake saver.  One of those cut-glass, pedestal, domed cover things that seem so very Betty-Crocker-1955.  I don’t make many cakes or pies and I am strict about how many one-purpose items clutter up the kitchen.  So , for a long time I thought keeping a cake saver on hand for those infrequent occasions was unnecessary.

I don’t know why, but a couple of years ago I started to think otherwise.  I wanted a cake saver.  I had no grand plans to become a pastry chef or to start having a cake for Sunday dinner each week.  I simply thought it might be nice to have for those times when I did have a cake or pie to serve – or maybe even for a mound of cookies.

Visiting with my parents at the house that was once my grandmother’s, I found the cake saver in the same cabinet where she kept the pickle dishes.  No one’s baking cakes there anymore and nobody else in the family had claimed it, so I did.

Most of the time it sits up high on top of my kitchen cabinets and needs to be dusted when I bring it down.  But when I use it I see what was harder for me to understand when I just wanted to get the kitchen chores over with.  I see in it an attentiveness to beauty and delight, and hospitality deeper than the dish but showcased in it.

It’s worth it to make a place for all that on the table.

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photo credit:  © 2010 Lauren Mitchell,   CC BY 2.0

 


How to Quit Like a Scout

old girl scouts sash with badges

I don’t know where I got my notions and expectations, other than the word scouts, but I had the impression we’d be camping and spending time in the woods and, while not exactly learning survival skills, at least learning how to tie a knot. Nothing in my family life encouraged these expectations. We weren’t a camping or hiking family. My dad grew up on a farm but we were firmly planted in the suburbs. I was the oldest child and the oldest grandchild, so there weren’t more experienced siblings or cousins to suggest my Girl Scout experience wasn’t up to par.

I just had an inkling…

[Click here for the rest of the story at catapult magazine.]

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photo credit: © 2012 Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0


A Year of Snow. Sort of.

Last week marked a year here at Snow Day.  As I said in my very first post, “I decided to invest more of my days with that snow day feel – space and pace…A walk through the snow makes it easy to taste and see what’s holy.  But there is holiness everywhere, every day.  I’m trying to leave enough room to notice that.” 

greenhouse in snow

 

I’m not all the way there yet.  I caught myself in a tizzy in December, fretting aloud to my husband about the craziness of my schedule that week and the domino-effect of changing one teeny thing in the line-up.  In full-out rant, I stumbled upon a deep truth as I blurted out, “I do this to myself!”

 

Then again, we took a Snow Day Weekend before students returned in January and it was the deepest relaxation I’ve experienced in a long time.  The fact that there was no actual snow involved should probably count as significant progress.

 

Relevant Magazine recently ran a piece about what to ask yourself before posting to social media.  The whole thing is good, thoughtful advice, but the question that has stuck with me is this one:  Is this a moment to protect?  The author talks about our cultural tendencies to interrupt ourselves in the midst of intimate, important moments in order to “share” those online.  

 

But the question hangs there for me, implicating other tendencies.  Is this a moment to protect?

 

I’m not picturing a smothering “protection” based in fear or controlling behavior.  I’m picturing the way tented plastic protects fragile plants from an early frost.  Just enough cover to allow them to grow and thrive, to assist in what they are already trying to do.

seedlings in plastic cups

 

A year in, I’m still looking for more internal snow days.  I’m not holding out for real snow days to do the work for me (though I’m ready any time, Mother Nature!) and I’m trying to rely less on permission from others.  This little plastic tent of a blog has afforded me a few protected moments and I hope it has for you.  Thank you for being part of the journey.

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Photo credits:  © 2008 Axel Kristinsson,   CC BY 2.0 ; © 2007 Tess Watson, CC BY 2.0

 

 


Resonance

The first time I celebrated Communion I wrote down everything I was supposed to do.  “Arms lifted.”  “Arms down.”  “Lift bread.”  Like stage directions, so I wouldn’t forget or have to think and talk and celebrate a sacrament all at the same time.  I went over it all with my colleague Alex to make sure nothing was left out. 

Communion chalices and bread on rock outcropping

When it came time, I was not too nervous and managed to stay out of my head and focus on my script.  Until I got to “Pour out your Holy Spirit…”  The stage directions said to hold my hands over the bread and wine as I asked God to send the Holy Spirit to make these simple elements be Christ’s body and blood for us.  As I looked down and saw my own hands hovering there, I thought, That’s it?  Just my hands are enough?  Alex doesn’t have to come do something, too?

It was startling and real in a way I hadn’t expected.  And, of course, I told Alex about it later.

We worked together for four years, during which I finally stopped running from or ignoring my call to ordained ministry and agreed to go to Nineveh like God had been asking me for some time (Jonah).  I remember talking with other people in the ordination process, wondering together whether being an associate pastor or a solo pastor was more desirable.  I heard uncomfortable stories about working “for” senior pastors.  They were hard to reconcile with my own experience of stumbling into a friendship and collegial relationship with someone who was a peer in age and a mentor in ministry.

While Alex and I were still serving together, I spent a year going through CPE at the hospital.  I wrote one of my reflections about the grace and humanness Alex demonstrated while celebrating Communion.  On one occasion, as he lifted the bread, he said, “Then Jesus took the cup.”  He stopped himself, smiled, and continued, “Jesus took the bread.  A minute later, as he lifted the cup, he continued, “Then Jesus took the cup.”  At the time, I was writing papers and going through ordination interviews and worried more than I should have.  I remember being worried for him when he first misspoke.  But his acceptance of the flub made it ok for everyone and it offered me another vision of how ministry and ministers could look.  

There are very few maxims or standard operating procedures Alex imparted and I memorized, though it seems this is what many people mean when they describe a mentoring relationship.  There’s a strange focus on “the takeaway.”  What I took away was something constructed over time, in small moments and flubbed lines:  an incarnate example of living out a call to ordained ministry with authenticity and grace.

That’s what I needed to make it real.  I needed to see how it was done and how it felt, to ask questions – especially when they seemed embarrassing or stupid.  I needed someone to say, like Alex did once, “It took me about 10 years to feel like this was really my life, and not a role or persona I was adopting.”

We all need people who are willing to be real and to let that real-ness be visible to others.    This is the gift of a mentor and it can be carried further and lived out more fully than any maxim.  It’s the gift of resonance between lives.

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photo credit:  “Open Table (Rock)” © 2011 Aaron Stiles, Used with permission.