Thoughts on Wilderness.

For a doctoral assignment, I had to think through this as well, where am I these days?  I have been spending time in meditation in our church’s sanctuary.  There aren’t really others in the building, especially now during this time of Covid-19 pandemic.  Of course, the building wasn’t used much before Covid-19 either…but, hoping that changes as we continue to find ways to show hospitality to the neighborhood around us.  

As I wrestled with the question of who am I during this season and my relationship with our church structure in terms of community engagement, I find that my time in this space that the issue of community engagement is becoming secondary.  There is a reoccurring theme that has actually been present in my life for a few years now, but especially true in this season, that theme is “wilderness”..  

Our church, and the church universal are in a time of wilderness where we are being emptied so that new things can potentially grow.  I am as well.  It is dry at times, I’m a bit lost, my enneagram “3” persona is activated, but also evolving and I am becoming deeply aware that I am moving towards a new place within me and in life in general in the midst of so much uncertainty.

An image that comes to mind is Moses and the Israelites wandering the desert, the wilderness, on their way to the promised land.  It takes them 40 years, and then 40 more, and finally they get there.  But, even the promised land has its ups and downs and the Israelites forget what they learned in the wilderness.  They forget after a while of being in the promised land that God gave them abundance in food, manna from heaven, birds, water, and gave them an identity as a people as they formed new practices and ways of being.  

But, being here, I can see and sense a deeper trust from the congregation and from me emerging.  We are forming new patterns and in the wilderness of this pandemic, we are forming these new behaviors together.  

Staying in the wilderness, embracing being in the wilderness is important.  I will not be able to leave this wilderness until God opens up some new channels of growth and I evolve, along with God, towards this new place.  

My spiritual director is an 80 something “retired” Jesuit priest. We have talked about this wilderness in terms of death, dying and being lost to whatever is happening in and around us.  It is in this space where we can find growth and new direction or meaning in the midst of hardship.  He has told me to “not rush towards resurrection just yet, to embrace being lost in the wilderness”.  I have found meaning and joy and growth in this time.  It’s been hard and being in the sanctuary doing this practice did not give me clarity, but it is giving me a sense that I am in the right place with the right people for this season.  I do not want to “rush” out of the wilderness, I want to be planted in this season, even as I wander around.  I want to be able to grow, and knowing that the “promised land” is not really about a destination, but a process.  I am finding new ways of being and faith, and an identity built on suffering and struggle that leads to passion and growth…which is good for me and for others.  

This conversation with Fr. Bollman, along with so many others with him, continues to give me moments of deeper “shalom”, of presence and of an active peace that is growing within me.  Being able to recognize glimpses of where I am with others helps me to know that I’m not wandering alone. 

This church is in my neighborhood and they have been very gracious with me.  I love these folks and we are growing in this wilderness.  Some, like me and a handful of others, recognize our personal and corporate wilderness, others do not, but we are all still here.  I do not know where our structure as a church will continue to evolve, we have some “visioning together” happening, a process with outside voices beyond Covid-19 that are actually intentional in helping us to see who we are.  I have found myself this week not being pessimistic or optimistic, which is healthy as I allowing faith and trust grow.  I am trusting the relational fidelity in our church, and even within me, and with God.  Not sure if I have found “new” freedoms, but a continued sense of embracing and recognizing the freedom that I have in Christ that is universal and connects me to myself, others, and God’s flow.  

The verse that comes to mind as I contemplated in the sanctuary is:  “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV)

Finally, a phrase that my spouse has been contemplating on and that we have used before in our church is the African proverb of “ubuntu”, which means “I am because we are.”  I think that can sum up where I am with my church and our leadership and it’s structure.  Learning again to trust God and the people that I am with, and as we are, I am.  In this season, I am evolving and allowing others to evolve…as I let go and, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, letting my “wish dreams” for this church (and for me) to die and allowing God’s dreams to emerge and shape us together.  

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