I wonder sometimes about God — how God works in us, how God graces us, how God calls us. I wonder, too, if I will hear God’s call in the voice of a Mother God or a Father God. The gender of God’s voice matters to me because I sometimes fear the voice of God our Father and instead long to hear a gentle voice spoken by the Divine Feminine. So the God I envision, a God who is both male and female, comes to me in the ways I need, calls out to me in a voice I do not fear. Still, I wonder at times if God speaks to me at all, if God values me. I wonder if I am really worth more to God than the sparrow God watches so intently. (Matthew 10:29-31)
As I contemplated my sacred worth as God’s child, I could not help but think back to my baptism, the first day I felt truly chosen, the first day of my wholeness, the first day I heard so clearly my call by God to ministry. I was eighteen years old, yet I knew beyond any doubt that my life had been transformed. In the years that followed, the brightness of my life transformation dimmed from time to time by those that would degrade my call and devalue me as a Christian and a minister. It was not easy in those days for a woman called to ministry. What God had affirmed, the Church denied, and I felt diminished and despondent many times through the years.
Which brings me to a beautiful, comforting quote I happened to read today that answered my question about whether or not God values me.These words were part of a sermon preached in January of 1998 by The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church, USA:
A transformed heart is a heart that has been cracked open by God’s love; it is a heart willing to have its tendency towards accusation and judgement overruled by the same voice Jesus heard at his baptism, a voice that speaks to each one of us and says, “You are my daughter, my Son, my Child, my Beloved, my Chosen One in whom I delight, in whom I rejoice, with whom I am well pleased simply because you are. Live on in my love; enter into my joy; abide in my peace.”
Simply because I am!
I can live with that — knowing that God really does value me as a child of God and knowing that both my transformation and my call to ministry matter. “Live on in my love; enter into my joy; abide in my peace.”
For that knowledge, thanks be to God. Amen.
Every child of God is called. “Follow me” was spoken to fisherfolk, not to the religious leaders of the day. This song is special to me because it was sung at my ordination. I hope it will inspire you in the times you struggle with your call from GOD.
This morning, I prayed a prayer of lament. Lament was the only prayer in my spirit. It is difficult to express the deep sorrow I felt yesterday when I learned that no charges were brought against the police who shot six bullets into Breonna Taylor’s body.
Shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, Louisville police officers used a battering ram to enter the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who had dreams of a bright career ahead. She and her boyfriend had settled in to watch a movie in her bedroom on that tragic night. Police came to her door and minutes later, she was fatally shot. Her death sparked months of protests in Louisville.
Yesterday, six months after the fatal shooting — six bullets — a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. A grand jury delivered the long-awaited answer about whether the officers would be punished. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Breonna Taylor’s death.
For me, there was only lament. I imagine that for Breonna’s family, there was the deepest kind of lament. For her mother, lament was the only response she could express as she wept uncontrollably. And, even for the protesters who filled the streets, I believe there was lament.
Theologian Soong-Chan Rah explains in his book, Prophetic Lament, that in the Bible lament is “a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and suffering.” He goes on to say that it is a way to “express indignation and even outrage about the experience of suffering.” Racism has inflicted incalculable suffering on black people throughout the history of the United States, and in such a context, lament is not only understandable but necessary.
Perhaps white Christians and all people of faith have an opportunity to mourn with those who mourn and to help bear the burden that racism has heaped on black people. (Romans 12:15) — Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
In the end, many people see only the rage, anger, impatience, violence of the protesters. Can we also see their lament for Breonna, as well as for centuries of racially motivated murder — beatings, burnings, lynchings and murder committed by police officers?
People of faith — white people of faith — will we try to understand the rage of our black and brown sisters and brothers? Will we join them in righteous anger? Will we mourn with them? Will we lament when lament fills their souls and overflows in cries for justice?
We must, in the name of our God who created every person in God’s own image!
Last night, I heard an interview with Brittany Packnett Cunningham on MSNBC. Her words were eloquent pleas for justice. She spoke about how persistent and all-encompassing racism is in our country and about the murders and the protests and the political rancor that fuels it. She acknowledged racism’s strong, unrelenting hold on this nation, a hold that is virtually impossible to break. And she said something I have said for a long time, “Racism cannot be reformed. It must be transformed.”
To me that means a transformation of the heart and soul that compels each of us to lament, to comfort, to speak truth in government’s halls of power, to stand openly against any form of racial injustice.
May God make it so.
Will you pray this prayer of lament with me?
O God, who heals our brokenness, Receive our cries of lament and teach us how to mourn with those who mourn. Receive even our angry lament and transform our anger into righteous action. Hear the anguish of every mother assaulted by violence against her child. Hear the angry shouts of young people as shouts of frustration, fear and despair. Grant us the courage to persist in shouting out your demand for justice, for as long as it takes. When deepest suffering causes us to lament, grant us Spirit wind and help us soar. If we resist your call for justice, compel us to holy action. May our soul’s lament stir us to transform injustice, in every place, for every person, whenever racism threatens, for this is your will and our holy mission. Amen.
She described herself as an unruly woman of God — Mechthild of Magdeburg. “I want also to circle higher still,” she wrote in one of her mystical poems. She had her first vision of the Holy Spirit at the age of twelve. As a young woman, she left her home and “renounced worldly honour and worldly riches.” She was an ascetic, a writer and a mystic who viewed God’s will in unorthodox ways. Her criticism of church dignitaries for religious laxity and claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. Her words seemed to have kept her in deep trouble!
Her story reminded me of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter,” a book that set me on a pilgrimage in 1996 that changed my life. This was a book that screamed out to me, “Find your own soul! Nourish it! Protect it! Bind it closer to God’s soul and, for the first time, live out God’s call to you!”
Sue Monk Kidd said this as she reflected on writing the book’s first edition:
“The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” sparked heated, sometimes scathing reactions, including public accusations of heresy, boycotts of my lectures, and a plethora of derisive letters in my mailbox. One of the more memorable began: Dear Whore of Babylon. It was the “Dear” part that made is so indelible.
This statement rings true when I contemplate the life of Mechthild of Magdeburg. Before we get back to her, though, let’s look for a moment at The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, the book that left me with these nuggets of wisdom I will always hold close.
How many times have I denied my innermost wisdom and silenced this voice? How many times can a woman betray her soul before it gives up and ceases calling to her at all?
We must wake up, journey, name, challenge, shed, reclaim, ground, and heal.
When someone tries to put you back into a box from which you’ve already escaped, you might recall a line from the Indian poet Mirabai. She said, “I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders and now you want me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious!}
As women we have a right to ask the hard questions. The only way I have ever understood, broken free, emerged, healed, forgiven, flourished, and grown powerful is by asking the hardest questions and then living into the answers through opening up to my own terror and transmuting it into creativity. I have gotten nowhere by retreating into hand-me-down sureties or resisting the tensions that truth ignited.
The main thing is to stop struggling and nourish yourself. When you nourish yourself, your creative energy is renewed. You are able to pick up your lyre again and sing.
— Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
Yes! Sing, and even dance your dissident dance! Your song may sound to all those around you like a revolutionary song, discordant to their ears. Your dancing may scandalize your observers. Still — Sing! Dance! — to the stirrings of Spirit within you!
That’s exactly what Mechthild of Magdeburg did and the religious world labeled her unruly. In her book, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), she described her visions of God. She could not read and write in Latin, but she is known for being the first mystic to write in German. Her confessor, Heinrich von Halle, finally persuaded her in 1250 to write down her visions and spiritual experiences. She did this in her own hand, in the conviction that it was God’s will.
By 1270, six of the seven books of the “Flowing Light” were brought to parchment, collected and given chapter titles by Heinrich. Mechthild saw her book as a message to both believers and clergy, for she feared the church was in danger of being hollowed out from within; she called the powerful church officials, who often enjoyed worldly luxury, “stinking billy-goats.”
Thus, Mechthild was known as a very unruly woman of God — a defiant, dissident and radical rebel! “Stinking billy-goats!” No wonder she became known for her “rebelliousness and unorthodox ways.” The community she was a part of, the Beguine order, was known for the same kind of unorthodox rebelliousness.
The Beguine order was a Christian religious movement active in Northern Europe during the 13th-16th centuries. The Beguines were women who lived as nuns in semi-monastic communities. Through their intense devotion to God and their somewhat ascetic lifestyle, they came to be known for their acts of rebellion and their unorthodox ways.
Mechthild of Magdeburg definitely danced to her own music!
With her order, she was part of a great spiritual revival movement of the thirteenth century, a time when the Catholic Church was falling into disfavor. The Beguines sought to imitate the life Christ through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion.
With advancing age, Mechthild was blind. She was alone, still the object of much criticism. With singing silenced and dancing impossible, she was left to sing songs in her heart and dance the dances of her imagination, always seeking Spirit promptings.
Some scholars have speculated that, due to increased persecution and failing health, Mechthild was forced to retire to the convent of Helfta around 1270. There, she met three other notable writers of the time, Gertrude of Hackeborne, Mechthild of Hackeborne, and Gertrude the Great. Helfta was a good place for a writer such as Mechthild. Under the leadership of Gertrude of Hackeborne, Helfta had become a hub of learning and writing for women and a center for book collecting, copying and illumination.
Still, Mechthild portrayed herself as a reluctant writer urged on by God and her director to continue her work. She calls her director “my dear schoolmaster,” who taught her, “simple and stupid as I am, to write this book.” About the urging of God she said, “I cannot nor do I wish to write “unless feeling the power of the Holy Spirit.” At one point, Mechthild wondered why God did not choose a priest rather than herself for this work, and she is told that God always seeks out the lowest and smallest so that “unlearned lips can teach the learned tongues of the Holy Spirit.”
In spite of the fact that Mechthild was unable to read and write in Latin, these are some powerful quotes by the graceful mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, from her book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), where she describes her visions of God.
The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.
If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion. Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help them both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God that causes the devils much distress.
From suffering I have learned this: that whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless she embraces the very same love which wounded her.
A Light of utmost splendor glows on the eyes of my soul. Therein have I seen the inexpressible ordering of all things, and recognized God’s unspeakable glory — that incomprehensible wonder — the tender caress between God and the soul . . . the unmingled joy of union, the living love of eternity as it now is and evermore shall be.
I cannot dance, Lord,
unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment
beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain,
yet want also to circle higher still.
— Mechthild of Magdeburg
Like her, I want to “circle higher still.” I want to escape from chains that shackle the highest expression of my spirit. I want to sing the songs God placed in my heart! I want to dance to the Spirit’s rhythm hidden in my spirit!
Without fear! Without fear . . .
taking the journey set before me to follow Christ into places of poverty, fear, sickness, desperation. Breaking the rules if I must. Taking criticism if I must. Being persecuted if that is in the cards for me. I want to move forward into my calling with the Spirit of God upon me . . .
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied,
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
I wonder . . . was it her faith or her stubborn tenacity that led to her daughter’s healing? Stubbornness is typically not one of the virtues to which Christians aspire. In fact most of Christendom would rebuke a stubborn woman, in ages past as well as in our day. I know this to be truth! I have been rebuked a time or two, or at least received “strong suggestions” that I should dial back my demeanor. The woman of Canaan, though, returned to Jesus again and again until he healed her suffering daughter.
I can be a bit tenacious, but no one would describe me as stubborn. I typically have a very calm and quiet demeanor, but I remember well one of the few times in my life when I was fierce and stubborn. Our son Jonathan was quite young and very sick with severe vomiting, along with strong spasms that caused him to be unable to breathe. The loud inhalations as he struggled to get a breath were extremely frightening to us, especially to him. Jonathan was a strong boy, an athlete, and very self-sufficient, but these long episodes brought him directly to his Momma. We had been to the hospital emergency room and were now in his pediatrician’s office. This violent gasping for air had been going on for hours, and it should have been obvious to the office staff that Jonathan was in trouble.
Now they would know real trouble!
Jonathan had another violent attack. I jumped up from my chair, went to the desk, and had some strong words to say, in a loud voice, with the passion of a mother desperate to protect her child. I got the familiar line about the doctor running behind.
You know, I don’t care if the doctor is behind! (in my loudest voice) Can you not see and hear that my child is throwing up all over your waiting area and is unable to breathe? Do you realize that he could be infecting every child in here? Take us to an exam room, NOW, and get the doctor away from whatever he’s doing! Because if you don’t, I am headed to the president of Baptist Medical Center who knows me very well because I am a chaplain in this hospital!
Not like me at all! But that is a “Momma response” that almost always erupts when her child is hurting or in trouble. We were in a desperate place and were being ignored. Jonathan was terribly frightened and had been dealing with these spasms for hours. In time (too much time) it was resolved and we were able to get Jonathan settled and resting.
And about the “Canaanite Momma” . . . well, she was definitely stubborn and persistent that day. Clearly, Jesus did not realize who he was dealing with. Maybe he did know! Perhaps Jesus knew precisely what he was doing and chose to use his encounter with the woman from Canaan as a teaching moment for his hearers. Or perhaps he was simply in a stubborn mood and found himself facing someone who could easily match him, stubborn for stubborn!
Either way, the story shows us that when it comes to saving what needs to be saved, being merely nice and calm won’t usually win the day. Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering! The text simply portrays the Canaanite woman as a stubborn, persistent mother of a very sick daughter.
Remember, the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. She was obviously making a lot of noise, crying out and disturbing their quietude! On top of that, Jesus was somewhat stubborn himself, saying that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.
But this “Canaanite Momma” went back to Jesus straightaway, knelt down before him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
And we know what Jesus finally did. He praised her faith and healed her daughter. So was it faith or was it stubbornness, persistence? Maybe it was both, that her faith empowered her to stubborn persistence. Clearly, she believed Jesus was able to heal her daughter, so she tried to convince Jesus more than once. The disciples didn’t deter her. Jesus Could not dissuade her with his statement about dogs!
“Woman, you have great faith.”
A wonderful portrayal of what this woman might have said about her encounter with Jesus is a poem written by Jan Richardson entitled “Stubborn Blessing.”
Don’t tell me no.
i have seen you
feed the thousands,
seen miracles spill from your hands like water, like wine,
seen you with circles and circles of crowds pressed around you
and not one soul turned away.
Don’t start with me.
i am saying
you can close the door
but i will keep knocking.
You can go silent
but i will keep shouting.
You can tighten the circle
but i will trace a bigger one
around the life of my child
who will tell you
no one surpasses a mother for stubbornness.
i am saying
i know what you
can do with crumbs
and i am claiming mine,
every morsel and scrap
you have up your sleeve.
unclench your hand,
let the scraps fall
for the life
of my child,
the life of
The work of protection is definitely not for the faint of heart. The work of advocacy on behalf of another person may take some stubborn persistence, the kind of stubborn persistence that Jesus seemed to call by another name — “great faith.” When we advocate for people who are suffering, especially people in need of profound physical healing or deep spiritual healing, their greatest need calls us to our greatest resolve, a fierce resolve. Maybe a touch of defiance! It is in those moments that we call on our hearts to give us strength for sacred stubbornness that will heal the broken, comfort the brokenhearted, restore justice to those who are oppressed.
The angels, the star, the kings and princes, the shepherds — all have moved away from us, taking their splendor with them. Does that mean that the movements and dances of Christmas have ceased? Perhaps.
But the reality that strikes a chord in my spirit every year is the thought that this is the very time when “the work of Christmas begins.” That may be the ultimate hope of Christmas. That might be the call from God that we cannot ignore, but instead answer, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” No one ever spoke of the idea of the work of Christmas with more heart than Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
…To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
— Howard Thurman
May the work of Christmas begin in us. Amen.
Please take a few moments to hear this song by Dan Forest, “The Work of Christmas.” You will be inspired.
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing the the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.
— Ann Weems
The words of Ann Weems this morning seem to call us to Bethlehem. Perhaps the call intends for us to remember more clearly the birth of the Christ Child, the incarnation of God. Perhaps this call wants us to focus more fully on what this Child’s birth really means for us. Perhaps the call wants us to find our kneeling places, those places that enable us to open ourselves to God’s presence in us, God’s call to us.
When, in your own kneeling place, have you responded to a call from God? Was it a call that would change your life? Was it a call that you could only answer by saying, “Here am I. Send me.”
Among all the meanings of Advent is a call to watch, to wait, to worship, to be full of expectation, to rejoice in the birth of the Christ Child and to offer our lives to God. Advent is a call to find our kneeling places.
So I am thinking today about the many ways God has called me through the years. Some of those calls became divine appointments for me. Some were hard calls, risky and frightening. Some were calls that I answered with an immediate “Yes!” There were calls that summoned me to find my kneeling places. One specific call is the one that emerged from my most impassioned, fervent kneeling place. It was the call that asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
To respond “yes” to that call required extended time spent at my kneeling place. To respond “yes” to that call would alter the course of my life. Looking back, I can see that saying “yes” to that call call brought me life’s deepest sorrows and matchless joys. That call from God was to be transformative for me, transcending whatever I had imagined. I vividly remember that call, and from my kneeling place, I answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
“Here I am,Lord!” Those words from my heart would bring a plethora of emotions in the months that followed — through times of testing, disparagement, condemnation, criticism, disappointment, struggle, and eventually, peace. Thinking back to my ordination service brings a host of special memories: my friends and family gathered for the holy service; the church family that laid hands of blessing on me; my husband and my best friend singing words I remember to this day.
Here I am, Lord.
Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry,
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.
I have made the stars of night.
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
I, the lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame,
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them,
Whom shall I send?
— Songwriters: Anna Laura Page / Daniel L. Schutte; Based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3
If you like, take a few minutes to view the video of this song, reflecting on the words and their meaning for you.
And so it was, from my kneeling place, I answered God’s call: “Here I am, Lord!”
The season of Advent calls us in a voice just as compelling to find our kneeling places . . .
to focus on Advent’s promises of hope, peace, joy and love,
to wait in anticipation for the birth of our Savior,
to lift our eyes and sing with the angels, “Hallelujah!”
When I was younger, my primary life goal was to make people like me. It was something of an obsession, and it caused great harm to my spirit. For you see, I thought I had to be everyone else’s image of me. So “me” became changeable and malleable in the hands of a variety of other people. In my mind, they just had to like me.
The conundrum of life: how to accept that not everyone will like me. Maybe even most people won’t like me. So here’s the sad, but inevitable result: “me” became someone I didn’t even know. I lost myself in the impossible quest to be accepted and liked.
Then came the metamorphosis. It happened around age 47. I think what started it may have been reading the book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.
Well, when I read part of the book’s description — the “journey from the Christian tradition” part — it scared me to death! I had no intention at all to journey away from my Christian tradition.
I read the book anyway, and it changed my life and launched me into a journey I could never have envisioned. Sue Monk Kidd led me on an incredible, circuitous journey through fear, anger, healing, and eventually, awakening andtransformation. Of course, I could never see myself turning away from my deep connection to what Kidd described as “the deep song of Christianity,” But I did discard the voices that kept me in my place, and kept me quiet, for so many years of my life.
When those discouraging, disparaging voices were silenced, I heard my own voice, finally. With clarity, my voice declared “me,” exactly the woman I was meant to be, precisely the woman God was calling to ministry. By embracing my full humanity and my spirituality — that looked very different than my religiosity had looked — I found myself.
“Me” was awakened, out in the open, in the middle of God’s world and smack dab in the center of God’s will. Oh my! Now no one would like me! When my words spoke Gospel truth, people didn’t like me. When I tenaciously followed God’s call to ordination, people didn’t like me. When I dared to preach (from a real pulpit) lots of people didn’t like me. When I worked as an advocate for women and children harmed by violence … well, no one at all liked me then because I refused to back down.
I like this quote from Denzel Washington:
“Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”
There it is! The real, unadulterated truth! So as my spirit continued to irritate everyone’s demons, I was finally living my life as “me!” And that, my sisters, was a good place to be.
I hope you are in your own “good place.”
On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness at the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website, please visit this link:
A Go Fund Me page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please make a contribution at this link:
There is a very special call from God that lets you know that it is your call and that no one else can respond to it quite like you can. It brings with it a kind of holy, inexplicable energy.
Your call may be teaching or preaching, caring for others or working with children, tending the sick or lifting up those who live in poverty. Your call may take you down your street or halfway across the world. But when you hear your call and know it, you will also know the feeling of that holy energy. There’s really nothing quite like it. Its precisely the reason that no human has enough power to thwart your call for any reason — for being a woman, or being too old, too young, too inexperienced. No human can steal the holy energy of your call!
Preaching releases every kind of holy energy for me. Preaching creates in me a unique awareness of my body, mind and spirit. It is, above all, a soul exercise that brings me fresh new life. That’s the best way I can describe the event we call preaching, at least from my view. But it is so much more than just an event; it is a 20 minute pursuit of truth, inspiration and spirit movement. It is for the hearer and for the proclaimer, for both are in this place of spiritual replenishment in need of new awakening to the things of God.
Last fall, I preached at my church in Macon. It was a rare opportunity, a red-letter day really. It was the first time I had preached since my illness. It had been roughly five years since I stood in a pulpit to do what I have been called to do. Those who have a similar calling probably know the angst of not preaching when God has called you, for God’s call is a lifelong agreement. For me, there is something life-giving in the act of preaching a sermon. I experience a special connection to the congregation that feels as if it moves by the wind of the Spirit.
So it would not be an exaggeration to say that I miss preaching deeply. I miss being a pastor. I miss creating worship experiences for a congregation.
But back to the opportunity to preach at my church . . .
I was looking forward to the holy energy, hoping it would come back to me after so long a time. And this was such an important life event for me that I had several conversations with “my village.” Most importantly, I had a conversation with my former pastor and colleague in ministry from the previous church I served in Little Rock. I think I needed some encouragement that I could still preach after so many years of illness. The words — the right words — came just in time from a person I will always consider to be my pastor. He is a person I greatly admire, and a male minister who knows how to serve a congregation in mutuality and communion with a woman. He is a minister who embodies that holy energy I’m talking about, and he inspires others to find or reclaim their holy energy.
How rare it is to enjoy the interrelationship and kinship of male and female in mission and ministry! I miss the time we served New Millennium Church together. I miss Wendell Griffen’s support, encouragement and respect. So when we exchanged messages that day, his words were the right words, the words I really needed to hear, so transformative for me in that moment that I copied them to my journal. This is what I wrote:
From Wendell, September 30, 2018:
“Praying for and with you, Kathy!Preach like only you can!New Millennium is praying with you, Reverend!”
It occurs to me that all of us need encouragement at times. We need persons who will cheer us on, persons who will believe in us when we don’t believe so much in ourselves. For me it was an illness that interrupted my life. For others a life interruption can be any sort of change — the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, dealing with an empty nest, moving to another home, leaving a church and searching for another church. For whatever reason, life interruptions do hold some measure of power that can break us down and assault our confidence.
It is no big news to know that life interruptions can throw us face-down in the dirt, and it is extremely important for us to have the fortitude and the will to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. It’s not so easy to do that for so many reasons. With self confidence eroded, we can be motionless, bereft of spirit, with little energy left.
So then, we must do two things to make sure that we can reposition ourselves — upright and moving forward after a life interruption. The first is to recall the Divine promises of a God who always holds us up. These are three of the promises that give me hope:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .So we do not lose heart . . . For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
— 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 16,17 NRSV
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
— 1 Peter 5:10 NRSV
Thus says God, the Lord . . .
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
— Isaiah 42:5-7 NRSV
The second thing we must do is to surround ourselves with a community of care, love and grace — individuals who will listen, understand and always encourage. The book of Hebrews offers us good instruction to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24 RSV)
Each person has the opportunity to open up their hearts and spirits to the calling of God. Each person will hear the call to mission in their own way. Each person will decide whether or not to respond to God’s call on their life. But all of us — together in community — will be able to hear God’s call clearer and find in ourselves more courage to follow. Community, when it is genuine, is like that.
I hope that you will find your genuine community as you listen for God’s call to you, the call that no other person can fulfill. I hope that you will experience holy energy, that fire in your bones that no human can extinguish. There’s really nothing quite like it!