Thursday, May 12, 2016

Does the Pastor Have a Pastor?

Let your mind wander through your life, and let it notice what it hasn't noticed yet.
 L. Roger Owens

In his book, Abba, Give Me a Word (2012), L. Roger Owens tells the story of his journey in spiritual direction. The volume is one of a kind: I know of no other practicing United Methodist Pastor who has authored a book on his or her work as a directee.

Does the pastor have a pastor?
Let the tremendous benefits to personal well-being and ministry outweigh whatever barriers you have.  Begin, Owens, suggests, by writing a "longing list," noting what you want, the things you are longing for. Do this for three days, writing for five minutes each time without over-thinking. "Just write." Eventually, we will probably move from a new roof or car or suit to things like peace, quiet, healing, God.
The fuel for spiritual direction is our spiritual yearning for more of God. This longing is more important than the obstacles we might construct to seeking spiritual direction.

Thus, in the "Finding" chapter, Owens addresses the process of finding a spiritual director, what can make for a good fit, and whether or not we "pay" for it. This chapter may be the most useful in offering practical help to Protestant clergy who are new to spiritual direction.
The chapter, "Offering," covers the reluctance we feel in offering to God the messy fragments of our life. "Just bring yourself," God says. "I've taken care of all the rest." Owens counsels:
Where in our culture do we have a safe place to offer even our worst, where that offering will not be rejected? At church? Not many. At work? Certainly not. And that might be the reason you are longing for a spiritual director because you've heard someone say, "It's one place I can offer everything without fear."
Spiritual direction is that space where I can be myself,  where I learn to let God take what I have to offer, even if what I have to offer is a mess. How I need this space cannot be overstated, especially if I am charged with the care of souls. This care is impossible to offer when my default is to attempt spiritual formation and ministry all on my own. I can begin to see more wholeness and less fragmentation as I seek out spiritual direction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Goodbye Birds, Emilie Griffin

Emilie Griffin's volume, Goodbye Birds and Other Poems (2014), is an authentic witness to an exuberant faith lived deeply and well. The themes and metaphors are far ranging and relevant.
For example, the book's namesake, Goodbye Birds, is a comment on the ecological disaster of the "deep petroleum roar," while The Loss of Monarchs and other Puzzlements, refers to global warming affecting all living things: "Across the blue world, summer extends."
...poetry that is kind and truthful
But the little, powerful volume is also the fruit of life-long reflective and lived faith in Christ. As an octogenarian and one who suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Griffin patiently, courageously, makes her way on walker up to the front of the room to speak about her life and writing. Griffin has earned that right to speak of aging, God, and spirituality. But it's also her gift:
This is what you may call if you like to give names to things a spirituality of rheumatoid arthritis:
the human spirit, fueled by grace rising up joyfully from the chair to say, Oh yes, I did have a headache,
I was a bit unwell today
but I am well in the grace of God
Well enough to withstand whatever the universe is dishing up today and well enough to ask hard questions
not to mention well enough to hold my Bible in my lap
until the day of Resurrection.  (from The Middle Step)

Then, along with the playful Pope In, Pope Out-  Hawking, Get Used To It, brings a smile:

Something flung wonder
from NO to Where.
I say he is Someone
and has a name.
The native Louisianan (see Louisiana: Three Recollections) and well read in the classics, she writes nimbly and triumphantly of spring and the first Wisteria in the back garden and offering a wonderful metaphor for God-presence:
Christ walks here
in light that bleeds
through shards of memory
sky places
earth faces
Resurrection blooms.
Wisdom hard won, faith clung to, and in the end, as with many of these poems, a note of victory. There's this example from Loss of Monarchs: "Yet over the wounded planet mercy prevails. God sovereignty permits, denies, keeps this, not that. Meantime grace blankets us from pole to pole."
Emilie Griffins other books include Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey, and Green Leaves for Later Years, both available on her Goodreads page. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Please Wait

They also serve who only stand and wait. John Milton, quoted in Griffin, Doors Into Prayer.

My mother, Judy Endress, died earlier this year, in January, 2016. Instead of ruminating about making changes, the best decisions I am making are about self-care here and now, and living well through this experience of loss.
Nothing, no one, can take your grief away
For clergy who cannot avoid facing death, dying, and grief as apart of their ministry, it is especially important to make our well being the priority.
Take time by: scheduling a private retreat, seeking a skilled counselor, seeing a spiritual director, listening to the waves roar and the birds echo. 

Grief is not easy nor is it temporary. There's no "getting over it," nor is there a solace that removes the reality of the loss. There's no "cheering up" or feeling good because the deceased lived relatively happy and long, or died some kind of hero. There is not a pill nor a therapist nor a Bible verse that is going make it all better, to take our grief away. What would it be like if Jesus, instead of breaking down in desolation at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, started quoting Bible verses to Mary and Martha? 

After a significant loss, there's nothing magical about waiting a year or more before making major decisions. It allows us to experience a year of seasons and holidays and times in which I mark my loss.  
One of the most helpful readings I have come across is from Fenelon, the French Archbishop and spiritual director of the later half of the Seventeenth Century. Because his sermons and other writings were destroyed (unhappily by his own church ), only his letters to spiritual directees survive today.

Here is an excerpt from The Seeking Heart 
Never make important decisions in a state of distress. You just are not able to see clearly...
When you are in a place of calm and quiet rest, do all that you sense within your spirit. But to suppose you are level-headed when you are in the agony of distress is to set yourself up to make a mistake... Any experienced spiritual counselor will tell you not to make decisions until you regain your peace and re-enter inward prayer. Never trust yourself when you are suffering greatly because your nature is so unreasonable and upset...

It is as clear as day that you will fail to do what God wants if you act when your old nature is feeling deeply wounded to the point of despair. Wait until you are not feeling so hurt. Be open to every alternative that God might suggest.
The peace of Christ be with your spirit. 

Oldies but Goodies