I need to be still for a while.
I need to savor and integrate a month of bounty, a year of gratitude.
I need to listen long
to the captivating resonance of relationships,
that singing bowl of community.
I recently made a big change in my life and how I will spend my hours in the coming years. I retired. When I hear this word, retire, I see myself driving my car over to the repair shop and saying, “Hoist me up, Mike, and put on some Michelin Pilot Sport Pluses all around this dune buggy. I need something sturdy that will hold me to the road in all weather. Mike, my man, I got places to go and things to see.”
As the old year closed I said goodbye to a community I served for over twelve years and began my retirement from traditional parish ministry. The Sanctuary Foundation, which I founded over twenty years ago, will continue. In the coming year I will offer spiritual guidance, teach a little, and finish a new book.
Most importantly, I will practice what I have preached. I will allow the stillness to feed the hunger of my heart, and offer my life with greater integrity to what I feel most deeply called and what the church, regardless of all its good intentions, seems least able to support.
Mind you, I do not leave parish ministry burned out, beaten down, or resentful as some do. This may be because I worked part-time. I also did not carry the same responsibility, which a head of staff carries. And I continued my long established practice of taking a day a week for solitude and prayer through those twelve years. Besides, even though they work hard and balance multiple tasks and responsibilities, clergy continue to show statistically that they are among the happiest professionals.
I continue to believe in the church, which is to say, that I believe in the wonder of people stepping out of their daily lives to come together to sing, and to lift their hearts and minds to something beyond their own manipulation and control. I believe in the miracle of people, who seek to love, forgive, and work together in spite of their differences. I believe in the Power that inspires their faith and surrender to One kinder and wiser than they. I believe in the Grace which meets us in vulnerability, admitting failures, and in opening our lives to the scrutiny of a loving God. I believe in the Compassion that leads people to acts of justice and mercy and the Love that empowers them to lay down their lives for each other.
In this sense church is a singular, unique mystery, which has grasped the human species. It startles the wits out of me every time I walk into or stumble upon such church in one of its many manifestations.
To leave parish ministry and my particular community of faith felt like parts of my heart were being pulled out by the roots. So deep was the love we shared and the goodness of God in our midst.
So why leave? Over the past thirty years of my service to the church I have found the traditional forms of ministry, as much as I have loved the work, have always seemed to require a compromise of what I hold most deeply – a life lived prayerfully, mindfully, steeped in the substance of the living God. Too often the church seemed to ask me to live more of the world, than in the world. The church, like each of us, is deeply influenced and captive to the values, practices, and gods of a secular culture. I find it very difficult to stand against that tide of endless production, pragmatism, and focus on self and survival.
Instead of becoming of the world, Paul calls the church to a transformation of its mind, its self understanding as it exists in the world.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12: 2 The Message
I never fit in. My personal tension with the church is not because the church has failed. It is a because I am a monk, albeit a gregarious one. Monk, which means solitary is in direct conflict with church and its sense of gathering. And there’s the rub and the glory. Service, whether in the hermitage or in the pulpit, on one’s knees or at the bedside of a suffering soul, listening to the pain of the poor or raising money for mission, always requires a death, a sacrifice of some desire or another. I do not blame the church for this, but, rather, the church has educated and purified me through the very conflicts which tried and tempered my soul.
I, alone, am responsible for following the call of God in my life. I am grateful to my denomination, Presbyterian Church(USA), those intelligent, imaginative, decent and orderly ones, and the Presbytery of Northern Kansas for making space for their solitary, monkish sister. Now at the end of her service and the beginning of her honorable retirement, she will embrace what called her out of darkness and back to the church thirty three years ago, in a way more congruent with her heart’s deepest desires.
So as you can see, I have some things to mull over. I need time to downshift and decelerate as I make for myself a life more congruent with the word of God as it sings in my heart and speaks to me in the ancient texts. Besides I have a big pile of thank you notes to write, and I need to get over to Mike’s and get those new tires.
I will take a couple weeks off from writing The Praying Life. And I will be back before you know it. In the meantime I will post occasional thoughts and links here and on the Sanctuary Foundation Facebook page.
in your will is our peace.
In this moment is your will.
Let’s hit the road.
Dear Reader, I am interested in hearing from you. What do you need? How might this blog speak more directly to the hunger of your heart in the coming year? Email your ideas, questions, and suggestions here , or comment below.
I am looking forward to the journey ahead!