I was visiting a church a few weeks ago, sitting way in the back, when someone a few rows ahead of me came up after the service and asked if I sang. I mean I like to sing, but I wouldn’t consider myself a singer. Which she interrupted with praises.
Now, I share this not because of my vocal abilities. I share it because I don’t consider myself a singer because way back when I was in 6th and 7th grades, it was drilled into my head that I wasn’t a singer by two adults in my life - one at school and one in church. So now it is really hard for me to sing - or hear comments about my singing.
Vocationally, I’ve confronted part of that - as I’ve sang at funeral homes and at the bedsides of congregation members. But the praise part, well, that I’m still wrestling with.
All of us have stuff. Things that were said to us when we were small that have effected how we see ourselves, the world, and God. And that’s part of what we bring to spiritual direction. All of the stuff. Stuff that maybe we have let seep into our bones and others that we have wrestled with in our heads and hearts. Because spiritual direction is a scared space where we don’t check part of ourselves or part of our formation at the door, but instead come and explore all that stuff with someone who cares for us in the light and truth of the Spirit.
I have recently returned from the beach, where in addition to watching the waves hit the shore, I was also on crab patrol.
Sand crab patrol, to be specific.
Sand crabs blend into the beach around them, jumping in and out of small holes in the sand for protection, especially from birds. But in order to make the holes big enough for them, they dip in and out, scooping out sand as they go. Generally, they throw that sand right outside of there hole - peeking out and scurrying back in.
Except this one crab.
That crab scooped sand and moved in about eight inches from the hole.
And all I could think was that I’m that crab. Making things so much harder than they need to be.
And I’m that crab, who may have great reasoning about why the sand needs to be dragged that much further, but no one else understand.
But that’s the beauty of spiritual direction. It’s a place for me to unpack all of that and the stuff underneath it, stuff of the Spirit that I may not be aware of.
To uncover my inner crab and lay it bare before God.
It doesn’t take long being around me to know that I love Mr. Rogers. There are other saints who speak into my life as well, but this one has been with me from childhood. As a child of the 80’s, I have vivid memories of sitting down - at my house, at the babysitters, at my grandparents - to watch Mr. Rogers. It was as if he was speaking right through the television to me. As I grew up, my appreciation went even deeper, as I admired him as a fellow pastor who was commissioned to a ministry of presence.
I was recently sharing this with some folks in my congregation, only to have one recommend to me a podcast about Fred Rogers from iheart radio that I hadn’t heard yet - Finding Fred. The content is fantastic and I have recommended it to several people as well, but the commercials…
Oh, the commercials, friends. Now, I am an avid podcast listeners and I am used to having breaks in shows for advertisements. No problem. However, due to what I can only consider to be interesting editing choices, the commercials in Finding Fred, don’t come only at the commercial breaks, but in the middle of quotations, stories and even sentences.
For any of you who are used to the tone and pacing of Mr. Rogers, you know that it is slow and gentle, quiet even. The host of the podcast does this as well. So to have such a tenderness interrupted by Mario Lopez shouting (about cars maybe?) is jarring to say the least.
But isn’t that true of the contemplative life and posture as well? That we can be so deeply in that tender, gentle, quiet space that it seems jarring to step back into the flashes of light and sound in the world.
Who helps to invite you into contemplative spaces and protect them for you from the jarring noise and flashiness of the world?
I recently took part in a funeral service for a deceased life-member of the volunteer fire department. In fact, he was the first junior member and longest serving member in their history. Because he gave so much to his community, the family wanted to be intentional in the way they honored this - especially in the time traveling from the funeral home to the cemetery, about fifteen minutes away.
The oldest grandsons stood at attention atop the firetruck leading the processional. We slowly drove through the streets of a sleepy town, past the fire department where the man had served for sixty-three years. There were firefighters in their gear, standing at attention as a sign of respect for the family as well.
Then things went a bit sideways.
In order to get from the fire station to the cemetery, we had to enter onto a busier street. We had a processional of two fire trucks flanking about forty cars - headlights and four-way flashers on. And I saw something I had never witnessed before - cars cutting into the funeral procession.
Now, I have a bit of grace for this type of behavior when there is a processional on a major highway, especially because cars need to be able to enter and exit. But on a normal, busy street. No.
I think what set me off the most was the person who cut into the processional to hastily get to a staudium where a game wasn’t even being played that day.
I am someone who tries to rationalize the behavior of people in order to excuse it. I found myself thinking that maybe it was a stadium worker who was going to be late for their shift. But even that could not quell my feelings. Because the truth is, that we have lost respect for the funeral processional.
While we may teach people in drivers ed not to interrupt the funeral processional, we are characteristically, too impatient to live into this.
But the way that we cut into the funeral processional is also symptomatic of the greater degree that we treat grief in American society - wanting it to go faster so another persons grief is not an incovneice to us.
We need to honor the inconvience of the processional line because grief matters. The finitude of life matters. And death will come for us all. Therefore, as we bear witness to each other’s humanness, we need to be interrupted as a sign of respect for life and for death.
I was recently leading a discipleship group through Ruth Haley Barton's Sacred Rhythms when one of the participants stated that the chapter on discernment had changed her life. A bold remark!
She went on to explain how she never understood discernment before and it just seemed like a spiritual way to describe decision making, when really it is transforming who we are and how we depend upon God.
As we continued on in our discussion of discernment, I commented how I get a bit nervous whenever I hear someone attach the word "discernment" to something that benefits them and which they voice immediately.
You know what I'm talking about, right? The spiritualization of discernment for one's own personal gain, isn't really discernment.
That's one of the reasons that we need someone to walk with us through discernment. To help us sort our the ego from the Divine and to place ourselves in a posture of depending upon God.
Who are the people in your life who help you to discern?
I try hard to not have spiritual direction and supervision in the same week after having my personal spiritual direction session and two supervision sessions for Abide all in the same day. I was wrung out, even if it was in a good way, at the end of that day!
So I try really hard to space out my spiritual direction and supervision sessions, but this week they ended up being on back to back days. And it felt like a beautiful overload.
I certainly wouldn't advocate for folks to go about their scheduling in that particular way, but the result was the ability to give voice to something I had been noticing, but couldn't really put words to, with two very wise spiritual guides.
I wonder what leads to beautiful overload in your life? What helps you to give voice to your deep noticings and longings? And what is that experience like for you?
I had what I am calling the never-ending day recently.
Vacation Bible School had been intermixed with preparing for a funeral and a medical flare-up, but on the day in question, things seemed to actually be going smoothly. I had been able to catch up paperwork that had been pushed aside in the midst of my medical concerns, attended a prayer meeting, and held a spiritual direction session.
But as I was getting in my car to drive to a funeral visitation, one of the dreaded lights came on in my car. In particular, the orange ‘low tire pressure’ light that had just been on a week and a half earlier. I knew this meant that I had managed to drive over a nail or a screw, so instead of heading the funeral home, I headed to the garage.
After being told that it would be about an hour before the tire could be looked at, I settled into the waiting room with a book on worship, only to never get past the second page. I was sitting with an older gentleman who kept looking at me with concern before finally asking if the mechanics at the garage treat me well. Assuaging his fears, I tried to return to my book, still open to the same page, only for him to being to tell me his life story. He had no idea I was a clergy person, but he shared for the next thirty minutes his life story. Ups and downs. Twists and turns. When his named was called, it looked like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders as he smiled and thanked me for listening. All I could think was that I was on holy ground in the middle of waiting for a tire repair.
When I arrived at the funeral home, the family asked if I would be willing to return that evening for a service commenting my congregation members sixty-three years with the local fire department. Unhesitatingly, I said yes, even though it would mean switching around the VBS schedule a bit for that evening. When I arrived for the service, no less than twenty firefighters in their dress blues walked by the casket in a single file line. While the service itself was incredibly moving, what touched my spirit was what was said after the service was over - that this gentleman being honored had helped to train every single firefighter that evening. As someone who sometimes struggles wondering what impact I am making and what legacy I am leaving behind, I was blown away with the reach of this one man beyond his wildest imagination. All I could think was that I was on holy ground in the middle of a funeral home.
Heading to the funeral home, from VBS, I decided to stop by my house. I had a few extra minutes and I thought I could drop off my computer bag, only to find a congregation member wondering around the exterior of the parsonage. When I ran up to her, she started to tell the tale of how she had been kicked out of her home due to a misunderstanding and was in desperate need a washroom. I showed her into my house, quietly praying for the words to say in the midst of difficult family dynamics. All I could think was that I was standing on holy ground in the middle of my dining room.
If I’m honest, I don’t always relish the unperdictable nature of ministry, just like my colleague for the beginning of this article. I crave structure, of which there was already none on this particular week. Yet, in the unexpected the Spirit was moving and I got to bear witness in a way that impacted me as well.
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are standing on holy ground. Other times we get the blessing of catching glimpses. Predictable or unperidcable. Scheduled or unscheduled. The Spirit is on the move and we get to be a part of telling the story.
This past Monday I woke up grumpy. My natural groove of both work and sleep had been thrown off. I had to go to an early morning meeting that I didn't want to go to. That type of grumpy.
But when I arrived at this meeting I was greeted by the sight of a friend - someone who I hadn't seen in a while. It was so good just to see her smiling face, which shifted around my entire attitude and day.
More often then I would like to admit I get grumpy when my schedule gets out of wack. And when I'm grumpy I know that I am less attentive to noticing and responding to the movement of the Spirit. Monday was. good reminder for me that sometimes I just need to let the Spirit move freely - unconstrained by my timing, expectations or even attitude.
What can block you from noticing and responding to the Spirit moving in your life?
I was recently in an interview for a continuing education program that.... could have went better.
There is a large commitment of time required for this program, so I had been reaching out for months for a schedule, only to be told again and again that it wasn't available. Even up to two weeks before the interview, it still wasn't ready.
When I entered the interview and handed the schedule, of corse one of the two required dates happen to be when I'm unavailable, which I shared right away, only to be met with what I thought was judgment about why I didn't know that before the interview.
Judgment never feels good, yet, how many times a week do we feel like we face it? Where are the non-judgmental spaces in your life? And what types of spaces do you feel are most transformative for you on your spiritual journey?
This past week my coursework at Fordham ended. My final presentation was made. Final class was held. Capstone paper was turned in.
During our final class we were asked to check in with our bodies and take notice of what we were feeling - then to ask God about it. For me, I was feeling tired - which seemed normally. It has been a whirlwind of a summer. But when I invited God into that feeling, everything changed. All of a sudden I realized that I was tired because I had been saying goodbye all day - finishing up another course earlier in the day.
When we invite the Holy in, things can be revealed and transformed. I wonder what God may be waiting for you to invite the Holy into for your life
Michelle is a Spiritual Director and End of Life Doula. She is the founder of Abide in the Spirit.
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