Reflectionary

Reflectionary, UCC Daily Devotional

A Place for the Lord

“I won’t enter my house, won’t get into my bed. I won’t let my eyes close, won’t let my eyelids sleep, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the strong one of Jacob.” – Psalm 132:3-5 (Common English Bible)

Psalm 132 remembers David and his hope to build a temple. His journey to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem showed him both its awe-inspiring energy and the blessing of its presence. The ark represented the presence of the Lord, and David pictured a physical structure to honor and protect it. We read in the psalm the strength of his desire. He would not go home, or let himself rest, he said, until he could make that place.

We may tend to think of that “place for the Lord” as the church, a building set aside for particular activities of worship, and education, and perhaps care for the community. But in this chaotic and complicated pandemic season, when social distancing meant church was on a screen for many of us, we may have had to find some other dwelling place for God. Was it a corner of our minds? A room in our hearts? Did we find it in the work of our hands, or a fragment of song on our lips? Or did we search and remain unsatisfied?

David found himself distanced from his dream. To build the temple was not his work to do. He would pass the plans down to his son, Solomon. As we near the end of two years disrupted by the pandemic, we may identify with David’s longing. When will we connect with God? And how? And where?

Prayer

Holy One, send word of where you are that we might find you. Amen.


Written for the United Church of Christ Daily Devotional.

coaching, Discernment, Ministry

When it’s time to make a move

As coach, colleague, and friend, I’ve been in many conversations about when and whether to seek the next job, the next call, or the next appointment. While most of my experience around this has been with other pastors, anyone can find themselves wondering if it’s time to make a move.

How do you know when it’s time to make a move?

For me one of those moments felt like restlessness, with a metaphor that paralleled my personal life. I had served in a very hands-on role as pastor of a 100-member church. It’s possible my excitement about finally being out of seminary and serving in a local congregation exacerbated my natural tendency to do things for others whether they needed me to or not. In the years I served there, my children grew older and became more independent. When I listened to my internal monologue carefully and heard myself saying, “I’m tired of tying other peoples’ shoes for them,” I knew it was time. After a conversation with my denominational leader, I moved to an intentional interim ministry position with a congregation that expected me to facilitate leadership rather than performing all the tasks of ministry myself.

What can you learn from your inner monologue?

Sometimes the feeling is not restlessness, but rather inertia. We may have a sense there’s nothing more we can do in a particular place, or see in ourselves that we’re no longer inspired as we once were. I think a lot of pastors are feeling that way as we shift from phase 37 of the pandemic to whatever phase is coming next, contending with the latest iteration of congregational and community anxiety and complaints. I would suggest this is a time when all clergy should be examining whether they still feel called to the place where they serve now. It’s a question we cannot answer by looking back to the church we served two years ago; instead we have to look at what the needs are now and what they may be in the year that is to come. We may have the skills to serve in this place, under these circumstances, but do we have the desire to use them? If not, it might be time to consider what’s next.

How would you gauge your energy for the work you are doing?

I want to acknowledge that making a move is complicated for some of us by our circumstances or our identities. Our possibilities may be limited by family commitments and geography. For women, People of Color, and LGBTQIA+ people, there may be limitations due to the theological, social, or political stances of congregations or denominations. That may mean our discernment is less about how to move and more about how to stay put while still acknowledging the truth of our yearning to lead and minister in a different space.

Both kinds of discernment can mean saying no to one thing in order to make the space to say yes to what’s next. You’ve probably heard the story of a woman who wanted nothing more than to find a partner in life. She could not figure out why the connection she desired was just not happening. A friend pointed out that her closet was so full that there was no room for anyone else to take up residence in her space. She emptied half the closet, and soon after, she met the person who would become her significant other. I share this not as a “law of attraction” type of illustration! Instead I find the richness of this story in the work of looking through what we keep stored inside us. What can we take off the shelf or pull off the hangers and let go? How can we make more space for what matters to us? Or simply make more space so our spirits can breathe? What would it be like to stop maintaining everything we have assigned to ourselves?

What could you say no to and make space for something new?

Wherever you are on the continuum, reader, whether starting something new, or ready to make a move, or content where you are, I’m praying for you.

Reflectionary, UCC Daily Devotional

The Doorway

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. – John 13:1 (NRSV)

Jesus gathered the disciples for a dinner we have come to call the Last Supper, a story we tell every time we gather for Communion. We ritualize the different events in John’s Gospel on Maundy Thursday with the washing of feet (or hands for the more cautious among us). In one version Jesus serves his followers, and in the other he serves himself to us as the bread of life and the cup of blessing.

With my Cousin Jack

The way we tell those stories brings us to a threshold between what was and is to come, like a doorway between memory and possibility that is right now and yet not. We tell our own stories like that. I remember my father at an airport handing me a crisp $100 bill to take my son out to lunch. I remember his cousin, years later, making sure to sit with me at a family wedding to put me at ease. I remember eating a holiday meal with my godmother after she moved into a nursing home, an effort that cost her more than I knew. Every time I tell their stories we stand in the doorway together.

The Gospels tell us Jesus ate meals with his disciples again after the Resurrection, which makes it odd to call that Supper “Last.” It gives me hope for meals to be eaten somewhere beyond the doorway, farther than I can see now, with nothing of past love lost.

Prayer

Gracious God, we thank you for love that lasts until the end and beyond. Amen.


Written for the United Church of Christ Daily Devotional.