I’ve been away from ministry for awhile and the distance I’ve felt from the work has been unsettling, though during my travels I was blessed with opportunities to pastor and even lead a liturgy and prayers in one of the places I was visiting. Returning home and to the worship communities I have been assigned has been welcome, but I have felt out of sync. More than jet lag, I have felt no energy for jumping through the hoops that remain for me to serve God’s church as an ordained priest. I have been on this path for such a long time, and the time away gave me time to see how the call to ministry in this church might be lived out differently.
Yesterday during the Eucharist with Healing Prayers, I stepped forward for healing prayers – something I do regularly but almost always on behalf of others. I ask God to send strength or patience or wellness to those who are in sickness, trouble or any adversity, but only occasionally has it occurred to me to receive anointing and healing for my own troubles – physical, emotional or otherwise. But yesterday, even though the needs of others were on my heart, I sort of blurted out – “Energy – please join me in petitioning God for energy to serve God’s church.” My friends laid hands on me, my pastor anointed me with oil saying,
“I lay my hands upon you and anoint you. Receive Christ’s gift of healing especially for energy. May the power of the Savior who suffered for you wash over you that you may be raised up in peace and inward strength. Amen.”
I was grateful for the prayers, but truth be told – I was not at all sure I wanted to receive any new energy for serving that the Lord might send. I have begun to envision life differently following my travels. When I left for the day I took note of how burdened I was still feeling, my heart heavy, my countenance drawn downwards. Rather than being renewed and strengthened I felt flat out drained and whispered to myself, “nothing left in the tank” as I concurrently made a mental note of all the things I am required to do in the coming weeks to keep on track for ordination.
On that drive home I reviewed in my mind’s eye my recent travels and recollected how energized I had been throughout. In both island locations, I was able to revisit worshiping communities that I had at one time or another been a part of in recent years. In the tropical island location I witnessed a joyful spirit – the Holy Spirit – infusing the worship and God’s people with the gentleness and grace of swaying palm trees and Aloha hospitality. I was energized and delighted at the prospect of leading such a worship one day. And later in the month on the island across the pond, the natural beauty of England’s gardens and landscapes combined with the historic beauty of stone church buildings complemented by contemporary expressions of the Holy Spirit, and undergirded by a tradition dating back to the apostolic days, I was likewise energized as I considered with humility the possibility of being a priest in this little corner of God’s church.
Yet while gone I was very aware of how my faith practices fell to the wayside – the discipline of starting the day with the Daily Office and in God’s Word, of reflecting with others either here in this blog or in community at bible studies or worship or with a colleagues. Those practices I have found foundational to parish ministry preparing me to experience and encounter everything from traffic jams to news of the death of a parishioner to one national crisis or another through the lens of God’s will and word.
Though my practices fell away, God’s presence was never more near. All I had to do was look up from my phone, the newspaper, the meal, my computer, out the window, into the eyes of another.
A few years ago as I was driving cross country to summer chaplaincy program in Maine, I found myself looking up to the skies – to the clouds – through my windshield and sensing not only God’s presence hovering in front and above, but also God’s hand – gently pulling me forward along the path he ordained in order that I might live my story for his glory. Ever since, wherever I may be, I look to the skies to affirm and confirm God’s presence in a particular moment or place. A pause button of sorts – a tool, a way of being present to God’s presence. I’ve written before how the action of lifting my eyes from scripture as I read the passages of the Daily Office is the signal – to me – that the Spirit has something to teach me.
And so it was. This morning I was determined to begin my day as I have for years with the Daily Office – grounding the day in God’s will and word – as if I was in full-time ministry, as if I was enjoined to one worshipping community and not yet in a transient, temporary, state, as if I had the energy and enthusiasm for serving God’s church that prompted me to board the ship to Nineveh by way of Tarshish so many years ago, as if…
And there it happened, again. Not just God’s presence felt, but his hand pulling me up and out of myself – leading me back to the path he called me to. Prayer answered with one simple lift of my eyes – upward – at theses verses from the appointed psalm, Psalm 71:
12 O God, be not far from me; *
come quickly to help me, O my God.
This was my prayer yesterday! Albeit a more poetic and earnest petition than my utterance “Energy – I’m praying for energy….
be not far from me – let me sense you. Energize me, animate my movements, my thoughts, my breath. And quick – make it quick, please! Or not…in fact, maybe not. Maybe I don’t want the energy – maybe the lack of it is a good excuse to do this ministry thing differently.”
The psalm’s verses continued to speak to me – showing me the way back to that engaged spot I occupied before leaving the daily practice of ministry in God’s church. Start with the beginning, dear one, the psalm suggested – just begin to recount God’s story – his mighty acts and saving deeds and do this all day long – all year long, through all the years you have been blessed to live.
Each word of the psalm energizing me, showing me a way back to the path and a way forward at the same time.
15 My mouth shall recount your mighty acts
and saving deeds all day long; *
though I cannot know the number of them.
16 I will begin with the mighty works of the Lord God; *
I will recall your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, you have taught me since I was young, *
and to this day I tell of your wonderful works.
18 And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens; *
you have done great things;
who is like you, O God?
20 You have showed me great troubles and adversities, *
but you will restore my life
and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth.
21 You strengthen me more and more; *
you enfold and comfort me,
It has taken a big chunk of my time today to record these thoughts, but I sorta kinda had to just do it and get ‘er done.
My story, His glory. And His energy. Thanks be to God.