Re-tired: Embracing the Call to Solitude

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.

A Japanese rin marks the beginning of moments ...

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.

Holy God,
in your will is our peace.
In this moment is your will.
Here, now.

Let’s hit the road.

With deep love and gratitude to The Reverends Paul Waters, Ron Schultz and Rob Winger and the members and friends of Crestview UMC in Topeka, Kansas.

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!

13 responses to “Re-tired: Embracing the Call to Solitude

  1. Margaret Luplow

    I am thinking that I am happy for my Old Friend who now can allocate time as she sees fit. Thank you for the generous sharing of your self and your thoughts; they enrich my spirit. Margaret

    • Oh, Margaret. Yes! I will never forget when I first began Sanctuary over twenty years ago, you handed me a check. You were the first person who supported this venture with your financial gifts. You believed a Presbyterian could be a monk.

  2. Your comments resonate with me as one who is in the church and intends to stay in the pulpit and parish, God willing. Rather than sharing in your monkishness, I need separate bits and pieces of monkishness. Sitting out on my mom cave as I am now & watching the birds of winter feed on our always-full feeders, is my sustenance – waiting for God to speak to me. But of course…I must usually turn off the computer and close the books and temporarily turn my back on my productivity in order to listen carefully. I can just imagine your gentle smile as you continue to practice the preciousness of space apart, praying for me.

  3. For the next chapter, the next stage – I wish you joy, light, peace and oh so many unsearchable things that are longing to be revealed, if only we’d call, if only we’d wait.

    As to want I want from this blog – I want companionship, anam cara, journeymen & women. I want your words, your sight, your dreams and your thoughts. Not all of them – just some of them marinaded, slow roasted and served in your unique scintillating way. I want depth, I want truth, I want you – God in you. That’s all. Is that too much? Yet more than that I wish, I hope, you enjoy the silence. The extended silence. I hope you enter caverns of deep eternal mystery. And if you can find the words to describe what you see, what you hear, then know there are many many hungry to listen.

    Oh! and I do believe it’s possible for each of us, with our lives, to speak/ live one unveiled word of God. It is, we just don’t do it that often. But when we do then the fireworks begin.

    Love & joy

  4. As someone seemingly called to similar things, it would encourage me to hear how you stay still and stay the course. Is it really ok if I feel like God is calling me to grow flowers in the midst of the inner city and weep over the brokenness, even if I never “get out there” and tutor or lead a Bible study? Is being called to prayer and prayer alone a true call? Or am I just an introvert who REALLY likes to garden? Or are both true? So more on that, pretty please. ; )

    • Heather, “staying still and staying the course” really is the task, isn’t it. Good food for thought here. And the questioning of one’s self: Is it really ok to do prayer, tend a garden, and weep for the suffering? Ought I not be out there with my sleeves rolled up serving soup and building houses? This questioning of the validity of call to prayer haunts many I talk with. This will be a good topic to explore here in 2012. Heather I am grateful for your prayer, your garden, your compassion. I know God is too.

  5. Celebrating you with gratitude

  6. “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.”

    That speaks to me, too. When I was growing up, I talked about wanting to be a monk. I don’t want to be a formal monk, although monastic life and values does speak to my heart, but it’s the solitude and prayerful life that I’m drawn to. I think that’s why my present congregation fits me so well. We have 52 members, so even though we gather, it’s a smaller gathering. And they have allowed me to do work each week in solitude. When I was associate pastor of a 500 member church, I was exhausted after Sunday morning and needed a very long nap on Sunday afternoon. I still need naps, but not as long. I think it’s because the Sunday morning gathering is smaller.

  7. Sending Love and respect Loretta! I would so love to sit with you some day! Peggy

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