Monday, May 20, 2013

Where Did It All Begin?

Last week the staff with whom I work had a "retreat."  It was really just an ever-so-slightly longer than usual weekly staff meeting, but we did have a different agenda.  Well, again to be honest, we had our usual agenda but we whipped through it double-time so that we could do something different -- we wanted to intentionally work on deepening our relationships with one another. After all, we're all working for a church -- an intentional faith community -- and so it seems to make sense that we shouldn't just be to each other people who happen to work at the same place.  We, too, should be about cultivating connections among ourselves.

And, so, after our usual work was done I invited everyone to think of a time when they most fully felt their "calling."  I was purposefully vague by what I meant about that, and I offered alternatives to the question such as:  "Can you think of an early spiritual experience?"  "When did you first feel yourself stepping on to the path you're on now?"  "Would you talk about a time when you felt profoundly alive?"  (To be honest, I figured that folks would all have their own interpretations of the question anyway, no matter how specific I got, and after all the point really wasn't the particular answer as much as the sharing.)

When it was my turn I talked about a time when I was at either Camp Westminster or Denton Lake.  (Both were Presbyterian camps that I attended during elementary school.  I think it was around 5th or 6th grade that I switched over to the Methodists, so this event happened pretty early in life.)  I remember a conversation between a couple of counselors that had begun around the camp fire which eventually moved over to the picnic table near our cabins.  This conversation has a lot to do with who I am today, what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it.

One of the two was a guy we all called "Rev. Ev."  His name was Evan, and he was going to be going to seminary that next year.  He'd earlier that evening told us the story of his sense of "call."  He'd been in a terrible car accident a year or so before.  The entire car had been demolished, it was truly totaled, except for the driver's compartment.  His door opened easily, and he was able to walk out of his mangled car without a scratch.  And right then and there he dedicated himself to serving the God he believed had saved him.

The other participant in this late-night conversation somewhere around forty years ago was one of the female counselors.  I don't remember her name.  But I remember the way she challenged Rev. Ev, the way she pushed, and prodded, and refused to accept too-simple answers.  My memory is that she wasn't being mean, although I think she was certainly somewhat enjoying the discomfort she knew she was creating.  But at her core she was truly curious; she really wanted to understand; and she took all of this too seriously to be satisfied with pat answers.

Visually I remember the way the campfire highlighted only their eyes as they talked.  And if "eyes are the windows of the soul" then there was a true conversation, perhaps even a true communion of sorts, between those two souls.  I can close my eyes today and be vividly back there in an instant.

And one of the things I believe that evening did for me was to awaken a delight in such conversations that has only grown over the intervening years.  I find them thrilling.  Delicious.  ("Taste and see that the Lord is good," is one of my favorite of Biblical verses for describing the delight of the spiritual life.)  There are few things that bring me to life more than really engaging deeply and courageously with someone else's spiritual journey; seeing how it's been for them and sharing how it's been for me.  And as an ordained minister -- a professional spiritual person -- I get to have these kinds of conversations a lot.  Not as much as I'd like or as my non-clergy friends might imagine, but a lot.  And every so often I get to have one during which it seems that everything else fades away but our eyes, and I can almost smell the woodsmoke.

In Gassho,


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