In September of 2013, the still, small voice called me out of parish ministry. The call out was clear—the next destination, not so much. Like the Israelites stumbling through the woods toward the Promised Land, I found myself in the wilderness learning to trust the providence of manna.
Why had God led me to seminary if the intention wasn’t ministry? Had my hearing been that off or that distorted by my own will and my desire to please others?
In the wilderness I discovered fellow sojourners. A ministry emerged with couples seeking a spiritual presence at their wedding. Many of the couples represented the beautiful diversity of the United States. In this space, the voice whispered a vision of church buildings being repurposed to be centers of hope and healing. Where healers and non-profit leaders could collaborate to bring healing to individuals, couples, families, and communities. This daring space would move beyond the either/or thinking and live into the both/and. My brain delighted and dreamed of a progressive Christian space that integrated body, mind, and spirit and where embodied experience and contemplative practices would not only be read about but lived out. A place that proclaimed that therapists at our best are midwives of the soul.
In 2019 I opened the doors of The Well where I had the privilege of working with individuals and couples as well as consulting with a local church. This is it! I thought. Finally, I can settle in. But none of us have the privilege of living in the Promised Land in 2020. As the COVID19 Pandemic ignited, the houses we once called home burned. I, along with all of you, found myself lost in the middle of the wilderness. For the last nine months, COVID has been the great clarifier and amplifier for me and for many. Turning to the wisdom of poetry, the words of Mary Oliver became my bible:
Every year / everything / I have ever learned / In my lifetime / Leads back tot this: the fires/ And the black river of loss / Whose other side / Is salvation / Whose meaning / None of us will ever know / To live in this world / You must be able / To do three things / To love what is mortal / To hold it / Against your bones knowing / Your own life depends on it; / And when the time comes to let it/ Go/ To let it go
Parts of me have railed against and resisted these verses. It’s not fair. I don’t want to do this. Anger and self-pity filled my inner world protecting me with the hurricane sized wavs of grief. Yet in this crucible I recognized that learning to listen to and live differently with these parts of me was the beginning of the work. I have been here before. And I’ve rushed ahead of grace before. And I’ve tried to force solutions before thinking my will was the Divine’s. As I allowed the waves of grief to rise and fall, I learned that even in tumult, I could rise and fall. And I recognized that the shoreline I was headed to would look very different than what I anticipated. Indeed, there was a need to let go of what I had once held against my bones.
Something I have held against my bones for years has been a deep desire to bring disciplines and communities together and to work within the system for change. Alas, one of the realities of COVID has been naming and living within my own human limitations of time and energy. No longer could I maintain the professional requirements for both marriage and family therapists and authorized ministers with the United Church of Christ. This reckoning meant writing to the judicatory to request being released from my standing. It also means that after my final contracted weddings, I will no longer be able to officially marry couples. Although offering sacred ceremony and ritual continues to be within my rights, I can no longer preside over Holy Communion or legally marry couples. Similar to the still, small voice calling me out of parish ministry in 2013, the call out is clear….the next destination—not so much.
What I do know is that the wilderness has always felt more like home to me than the Promised Land, and that I have never been without manna or angels to guide my journey.