I began a program called Renewing the Call yesterday. It is offered by the Tarrant Area Community of Churches in cooperation with Courage and Renewal North Texas. I’ve been looking forward to it as I need the renewal and Courage and Renewal bases their work on models created by educator Parker Palmer, such as Circles of Trust, and our congregation has used such models in our Wellspring program.
The day-long Renewing the Call retreat and five follow-up sessions of two-hour meetings will help participating clergy like me reconnect with who we are, deep down in our souls and in our selves, and see that in connection to, but necessarily the same as, the role we play in our respective ministries. Courage and Renewal puts it this way on their web site:
“At one time or another, each of us has needed to rediscover who we are in connection with the work we do in the world. “
Some people may think it rather obvious that a minister should be the same person out of the pulpit and out of the office as he or she is in it. Yet it becomes easy for that not to be the case. It came as a shock to me as I entered my own ministry (and it still does) that I am not always “myself” while at work in the ministry. I am a role, a figure, a target, an identified patient, a spokesperson, a teacher, an activist, a preacher, a pastor, a counselor (and more) and I come to all of these roles as who I am (I’m never acting or just putting on a show), but these roles are not necessarily the sum total of who I am as a person. They don’t define me in my totality. I am also a husband, a father, a brother, a friend, the guy at the gym, a mystic, a spiritual director, a reiki practitioner, a zen practitioner, a Universalist Christian, a walker, a writer, a reader, a chess player, a guitarist, a guy who has lived through and with depression and anxiety, and many other things that at times do or do not find their way into my roles in ministry.
My daily life of being is not the same thing as my daily life of being a pastor/minister/teacher/counselor/activist/spiritual director. They are deeply connected but they are not the same. In my life, the totality of my life, I am a mystic. I spend a lot of time in meditation and prayer, discerning the movement of the spirit in my life. I read a lot. I write a lot. The things of the spirit are deeply important to me. It came as quite a shock to me (and still does) to learn that often in church life there are people and systems that really aren’t interested in the life of the spirit, God, discernment, spiritual practices, and/or what is often their fruit – a commitment to work for peace and justice. I have had to learn to separate further who I am from what I do and the roles I play. Some people may find it strange that ministers need courage and renewal or the courage for renewal, but we do. I know I do. I am finding that my chief task isn’t to help people in the life of the spirit, but to find a way to convince folks that life is important in the first place. I am finding that the task of ministry is often the task of Courage and Renewal – to help others connect who they are with what they do.
A poem we received during the first day of our program, explains the learning I have been going through. It is the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim. Sometimes you can be a pilgrim without physically going anywhere.
Tourist or Pilgrim by Macrina Wiederkehr from Seasons of Your Heart
I stand on the edge of myself and wonder,
Where is home?
Oh, where is the place
where beauty will last?
When will I be safe?
My tourist heart is wearing me out
I am so tired of seeking
for treasures that tarnish.
How much longer, Lord?
Oh, which way is home?
My luggage is heavy
It is weighing me down.
I am hungry for the holy ground of home.
Then suddenly, overpowering me
with the truth, a voice within me
gentles me, and says:
There is a power in you, a truth in you
that has not yet been tapped.
You are blinded
with a blindness that is deep
for you’ve not loved the pilgrim in you yet.
There is a road
that runs straight through your heart.
Walk on it.
To be a pilgrim means
to be on the move, slowly
to notice your luggage becoming lighter
to be seeking for treasures that do not rust
to be comfortable with your heart’s questions
to be moving toward the holy ground of home
with empty hands and bare feet.
And yet, you cannot reach that home
until you’ve loved the pilgrim in you
One must be comfortable
before one’s feet can touch the homeland.
Do you want to go home?
There’s a road that runs
straight through your heart.
Walk on it.
Lately, I’ve been homesick. Missing not my hometown, but my family, Boston, New England, the ocean. Places that feel like home. Perhaps as I go through Renewing the Call journey this fall and renew the call to ministry I will hear the voice of God leading me more clearly down the road that runs through the middle of my heart…and soul. I pray that as I am better able to connect who I am with what I do that I will be better able to help others do the same.