Walking the labyrinth

I’m home again after traveling about 2800 miles: by air, rented car, boat on the 3rd deepest lake in the U.S. and finally a school bus up a winding mountain dirt road to Holden Village. Holden is a Lutheran camp on the edge of the Glacier Wilderness Area in the Cascade mountains of Washington. Just getting there is an adventure in itself. Remaining there with no cell phone service and no internet access was challenging…no way to check in with dear husband back in PA.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it necessary? Much more than I knew. You see, even pastors have doubts about the direction they are being called to go at times. (No, really?) Even pastors need to be taught, to sink back on the bench in evening worship, to listen instead of preach, to have conversations with people who have no expectations but who instead offer gracious hospitality. And at Holden there was room to walk and walk and walk…and as many of you know, that is how I hold my most honest conversations with God, both of praise and heartache.

Heartache is how I would describe what’s happening in my corner of Christ’s Church: people leaving the ELCA over issues arising from differences of scriptural interpretation. The distress and disagreement has been stirring in neighboring congregations, but it has finally seeped into our own congregation. I have tried hard to be an example of how in disagreement we can listen respectfully to each other and still worship together, still serve together in mission; yet, a few are walking out the door, and others are thinking about it. These are people who teach, pray and read their Bibles faithfully, who have been strong examples in our congregation. I arrived at Holden more weary and discouraged than I knew.

God is no soft cushion to lean upon. God’s tough. There were some restless nights, some hard truths about myself to face, an abundance of unbinding grace, and in the end God’s invitation to trust like Abraham: “hope against hope” in God’s promise. (See Romans 4.) After all, God has promised that the Church will remain until Jesus comes again. God has also promised in baptism that I am called by name. No struggles of the Church negate the invitation for me to carry out my calling with joy and life and courage, all God’s gifts. Even the ability to trust ruthlessly is a gift of God’s grace.

As I lingered over a last cup of coffee (always available in a Lutheran dining hall, remember) before boarding the bus to begin another 2800 miles home, a new friend sat down beside me. He has been working as a spiritual director at Holden. I told him I was about to get on the bus to go home, to face (hopefully with trust and hope against hope) the painful challenge our congregations are going through, and, once home again, of saying good-bye to friends in the congregation who were moving on. This is what he said to me, and I paraphrase:

“I often watch people walking out in the field in Holden’s prayer labyrinth. As they make their way to the center of the labyrinth and then back out again, the labyrinth has twists and turns. Sometimes people together in the labyrinth appear to be walking near each other; other times the part of the path they are on turns them away from each other; they may pass each other in the labyrinth going opposite directions. But they are all on the same path. All praying. All walking. All moving toward Christ the center, our home. All being sent out again in mission. It is that way for you.”

Thank you for those words, Holden friend.

So, to all my long-time friends who will be walking out the church door to follow, for the time being, Christ’s path in a different direction, I wish you God’s blessing. One day we will find ourselves in the same center…wondering what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile there is no need for me to doubt God’s promises when I see myself walking a different way. If I haven’t been able to hold everything and everyone together…well, that wasn’t my job in the first place. Only God can do that. I can only do what God has called and equipped me to do all along: sing and preach, write and pray with life, joy and courage about God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Yes, I’m back home.

Comments

  1. Welcome back! You were missed!

  2. Glad to have you writing again. What a blessing your new friend’s words are to those walking the same path but in different places. I often thank God for those who travel with me at any given time and also for those whose place on the path has drawn them away from me. I know we will all meet again on this journey. Peace and blessings to all who journey with us — welcome home.

  3. Thank you. I am grateful for your words, and still look forward to the journey (God’s journey). Peace and strength!