I felt it a privilege to be present and to hear the introductory speeches by the candidates for bishop. Each of them did an awesome job in the four minutes they had to speak to the room. As I listened that day, I heard something that made me think about my call and the path I am on.
Those who have walked with me along this path since the beginning know that I once got rather upset when someone on my District Committee on Ministry suggested that perhaps I was called to be a church Office Manager. When I heard this from my leadership, I was incensed. I cried sexism (in my head). I felt betrayed, and ashamed. I was ashamed because I thought that he might be right.
I allowed that upset to color my experience of the process, and I quit.
I quit, but God called.
By which I mean, I yearned almost painfully to return to the path toward ordination. I asked to be accepted back into the process, and those who made those decisions at the time allowed me in, more’s the pity. I was not ready; I was still confused, and I quit.
The yearning continued, though, so I tried another denomination. It was a perfectly good, loving, caring, and open denomination, but it just wasn’t the same. It seems that in spite of my checkered spiritual past, my Wesleyan roots are deep.
So here I am, Lord, ready to try the United Methodist ordination process one more time. Two units of Clinical Pastoral Education later, at least I have some idea what I'm supposed to be doing. Now that I know my goal is to become a chaplain, I know that I’m on the deacon track. It’s too bad I didn’t know this earlier.
I just didn’t have the experience to provide context to my call. I just didn’t know.
So...back to what I heard in a four minute message by an Episcopal candidate. In fact, I took something personal away from two of these messages. The first thing I heard as that we are wherever we are "for now." The other was that sometimes we are too early. All good things will happen in God's time. It may not yet be time for what we are meant to do.
For now. Too early. Both of these ideas resonated with me as I considered the theme for this Western Jurisdictional Conference: "Crossing Thresholds." We, as churches - as a conference - are crossing thresholds in order to do God's work.
Thresholds are the entryways into new worlds. They are liminal spaces, quite literally. The word "liminal" comes from the late 19th century Latin limen, limin - ‘threshold,’ and means "of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process," or "occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold."
Thresholds are "thin spaces," where we are neither in nor out; neither here nor there.
They used to say that if you stand in the doorway, you are safe from earthquakes. Standing in the threshold can cause both joyous hope and devastating ennui.
Standing between two open spaces, not entering either, one is part of neither world.
I realize that I have been standing in thresholds most of my life. In life, always the new girl, standing in the doorway between the outside and the inside. Safe, perhaps, but never fully part of any group.
In my spirituality, I've never fully immersed myself in an identity, standing on the threshold between structures, between thoughts, between a pluralism of understandings of the universe and of God. I am safe for having taken little risk.
Stepping one foot into a room, I meet people, they smile and I smile back. We get to know one another, but only on the surface. There is no risk in putting one foot in, reaching one hand out.
I came back to the United Methodist Church as a Secretary, then an Office Manager, and I began to hear a more clarified call; the yearning of my soul that I had known for as long as I could remember became the song of God to my heart. I thought then that I knew what I was meant for, what I wanted, and I rushed in, but only partly.
It wasn't time yet. I needed to remain in the thin spaces for a time. In rushing in too soon, before gaining clarity, I was like the new girl all over again. Not quite in, not quite out, not quite knowing anyone, not quite known by anyone. In fear, I ran back to the safety of the threshold. I found out more than once that crossing was too dangerous.
Crossing was too dangerous not because I belong in the doorway under the lintel. It was too dangerous because I wanted to rush into the midst of a new world without first becoming familiar with the ground.
Perhaps I was called to be a church Office Manager. For a time. For now. It was too early. It was too early because I wasn't prepared for what it means to step through. You see, crossing the threshold means leaving something behind. It means risking the earthquake and leaving behind the past, claiming a new identity.
I realized that I had retreated to the liminality because that's where I felt safe. You see, I'm accustomed to ennui.
I'm not used to having two feet fully on the ground in one space, figuratively or literally.
I'm still amazed when I realize that I have lived in the same house for 11 years, that this neighborhood where my children attended school for 20-something years has become fertile ground for my physical roots that have shot into the caliche-hard ground and grown from a mustard seed into a bush.
I am no longer that new girl who lived all over the country, though I carry all of her experiences. I can now choose which of those experiences to hold on to and make part of my present, and which to leave in the past.
More importantly, no longer am I that lost seeker who walked various spiritual paths. Indeed, those paths eventually led me back to the church of my childhood. I am back, and it's time to choose which of my plurality of spiritual experience to keep, and which to leave behind.
There are many spiritual paths. I cannot walk them all, and I cannot stand in the doorway, waiting.
It may be too early, but it isn't too late. It's never too late, unless I never step through and stay in a new space long enough to grow roots.
|Photo courtesy http://www.tournorfolk.co.uk/cley|