28 May Let Us Continue to Gather
What I Do
Somewhere around the 7th chapter of Romans Paul writes a paragraph about sin and the law with so many linguistic twists that it can be dizzying to read. One sentence of that paragraph has always hit home for me, both within the context of Paul’s conversation, but also just as an overly familiar reality of my life.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Anyone else ever stumble into that conversation with yourself? You know what you would like to do, you know what would be good to do, you know what you could or should do, and yet you do not do it. Realizing this only makes you so disheartened, and you continue in the pattern. Just me?
I’ve been thinking of this cycle in light of our recent circumstances. As days have stretched into week and weeks into months, the “novelty” of our seclusion is wearing off. All those things I was so intentional to nurture in the beginning now take effort.
Connecting with others, nurturing relationships, valuing the day, being in prayer, watering my plants.
But the urgency has subsided and so I cut back, I get by, I find excuses, I make false promises.
I do not understand why I do this! Something has crept in and made me weary to do those very things I want to do and know that I need to do. Those things that I know would fill me, nourish me, and stretch me I am suddenly quick to diminish, reschedule, and pass by. Once the adrenaline was gone inertia set in. Dealing with my own humanness can be so maddening!
A Space for Grace
In the past months 2 things became clear to me.
One, I needed to figure out how to make zoom – the space where we now gather for everything from budget meetings to PTA meetings to family discussion– a space where we could gather in Spirit and in truth.
Two, I was having a lot of the same conversations with different people. Behind separate doors and screens there were many people dealing with the same issues, struggling with the same fears, and asking the same questions. If only they could talk together and offer each other advice, comfort, and grace.
Taking a chance on both of these perceived needs, Joanne helped me create “A Space for Grace” where groups of women came together on zoom to share their stories, listen to the stories of others, chew on scripture, hear some words of encouragement and pray.
Sure there were a couple zoom hiccups, but there was also laughter, tears, and an abundance of grace. People shared and were heard. There were two common phrases at these gatherings “It’s just SO good to see your faces” and “I almost didn’t come.”
The common refrain in all the follow up emails. “I’m so glad I came – I didn’t know how much I needed that.”
I applaud these women for somehow overcoming the apprehension, the exhaustion, the excuses, and the fear that could easily have ended in them taking a pass.
Being Present This Summer
This summer will look a bit different at Good Shepherd so that we can be good care takers of one another. Because we are human it is possible that the innovation of online worship will become ordinary. Online meeting spaces will be less cool and more common. Connecting to others may make us feel exhausted instead of excited. Community superfluous instead of sacred.
Novelty will show itself elsewhere and we will follow it with our time and attention – it happens. Look how much we took for granted the opportunity to gather in person to worship each week!
We certainly are not the first group of Christians to encounter this sort of struggle in our spiritual inertia. Early desert fathers wrote of a “noonday demon” they termed Acedia. In different times it has been labeled a vice, a sin, a diagnosis, and a stage of spiritual growth. Acedia is sometimes described as Spiritual sloth and has been written about extensively by Christian writer Kathleen Norris. She writes “When you tell people you’re writing about the spiritual aspect of sloth, they don’t know what you mean. But when you say ‘indifference,’ they do. They understand not being able to care, and being so not able to care that you don’t care that you don’t care. The not caring is the border of sin; it’s worth something to be present with others.”
As we begin this summer, let us continue to be present with each other gathered in the promises of God. Let us invite each another into those spaces we think we could do without, encourage each other to connect even when we think we are capable on our own, and to engage the opportunities even when the energy is lacking.
We as a church staff promise to continue to cultivate spaces for you to gather in small groups and in congregational worship (both Wednesday and Sunday). But let us all “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10
Sometimes I do not understand what I do. Why did I attempt to grow houseplants in the first place? My behaviors and choices perplex me, and so I count on all of you to be vessels of the Holy Spirit to guide, instruct, and renew me.