God Enters the Circle

“To the Powers women!” My aunts and I had gathered in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, almost immediately upon their arrival, as was our custom. My two eldest aunts – their age separated by little more than the duration of a pregnancy – stood in a circle with my mother and I as we celebrated our solidarity as Powers women. At first glance, it does not make much sense. My name is Bonner. My mother’s Bonner and her sisters are Nagorney and Lapp; all three of them have the maiden name Lamb. There is not a Powers amongst us – but we are Powers women all the same. Just like my grandmother before us and hers before her.

Within this circle of women we honor all the women who have come before us and gone before us into eternity. Within our number we count Rebecca Nurse who lost her life in the Salem Witch Trials as a result of the courage that she possessed and her neighbors lacked. We count Hannah Powers who watched faithfully at the port in New London, Connecticut, for the sails of her husband Hazard Powers’ ship The Hope returning to port from patrolling the Caribbean. We count all the women who followed after Hannah, working hard on Pennsylvania farms after Hazard Powers moved the family away from the sea and the wandering life of a sailor. We count Louise Lamb, who gave birth to seven children, and watched six of them grow to adulthood and recapture the Powers wanderlust; finally taking the family story back out of the Pennsylvania mountains, hundreds of years after Hazard brought them there. We count, most recently, Amy K. Lamb, a pioneer for women in the film industry who changed the landscape of movie production in Pittsburgh, and as my youngest aunt by nearly twenty years was the first to pass on into the sacred sisterhood of those who have gone before.

The experience of being among the Powers women makes my heart beat faster and my chest swell with pride at being counted by my aunts in the same circle as all these women whose stories we tell. It is a comfort and encouragement to know that I am somehow connected to women who have lived boldly and loved boldly; taken risks and sacrificed for the good of others; used their minds and their hearts and their hands for good.

Now I find myself on the road to join my own sisters in the gathering of our circle – the Bonner women.  We have our own traditions and our own stories to tell as we celebrate what binds us together. While with a Willert, a Herrada, and a Sowder among us, I am the last to bear the Bonner name, its not the name that makes the circle. What makes the circle is the knowledge that we are on this adventure called life together, always have been and always will be.

For our circle, that is as much of a choice as it is a natural occurrence. My older sisters were already teenagers in my earliest memories, off to college before I was finished learning my multiplication tables. But every holiday – Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – there was a care package – not from me to them, but amazingly care packages from college sent back to me. I wore those Gettysburg College sweatshirts, several sizes too large for me, with a pride bordering on what Joseph must have felt in his coat of many colors.  I knew exactly how rare and precious my sisters’ choice to love me and to know me was.

There are so many interlinking circles of women that make up our lives, knit together like the overlapping sections of a quilt. Some of those circles you are born into and some circles you are called into. These days I think a lot of the circle of clergywomen that I entered when the circle was still shaken by the defrocking of one of our own who had entered the circle not long before me, Beth Stroud. There is something powerfully compelling about that group of women and the journey they have traveled together. No matter where I go, I don’t seem to ever feel very far away in spirit. One moves to South Carolina, while another becomes a District Superintendent, and I wander who knows where – and still the circle remains one of my greatest sources of strength.

Mavis Staples’ recording of the turn of the 20th century hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, always sends a thrill down my spine when it begins to play from my speakers. According to the song, the circle never need be broken; come distance, turmoil or even death, we will all be sitting together again someday.

Before leaving the circle of Powers women in Pennsylvania today to join the circle of Bonner women in North Carolina, I took a long walk in the snowy woods. I wondered to God where all this circle of sisterhood thinking was coming from and what was the purpose.

What do all these circles of women have to teach me about a God that became a man? Well, first of all, God is not a man. God is God.

Yes, God is certainly not a man in the “sitting on a white cloud with a big white beard” kind of way; and God in God’s internal and eternal identity is either no gender or all genders, and in the end simply beyond genders. But we are, at this time of year, celebrating the fact that God did take on flesh and came in the form of a man to dwell among us.

Which made the next realization even more surprising.  Whether you view God abstractly, spiritually, or physically as the Christ – God actually has everything to do with circles of women. God is the silent weaver behind the tapestry.

At the beginning of the life of Jesus, God led a woman named Mary out of her town, in order to give birth outside of her circle, her family her home. Mary did not have her circle, she was all alone. She had been called out and forced to rely upon God to be both her circle and her midwife. Elizabeth was not there, nor was her mother or sisters or friends. The poor woman was surrounded by a bunch of men, no offense, by Joseph, by shepherds, by sheep – not a woman in the bunch. At that birth, God started God’s circle from scratch.

Then throughout his ministry, Jesus added to his circle.  He was found by Anna in the Temple, and she became the first person to proclaim the good news of who he was.  He sat down at a well and made friends with a Samaritan woman who would go on to tell her whole village about the good news he brought. He hung out with Mary and Martha as they bickered; and came late to their brother’s deathbed only to have Martha proclaim her faith, quite ironically, with the accusation that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died. He shared an intimate moment in the midst of a crowd as another Mary came and honored him as she washed his feet with her hair.

When he hung on the cross, it would be his circle of women that would surround the cross – unwilling for the circle to be broken. When he was buried, it would be these women who prepared his body. That man, whose inception had first been announced to a woman, whose birth had brought him into the arms of a woman, and whose death had been witnessed by his circle of women, lived a life through which he formed a circle that refused to be broken.

When the time came, for that savior, now risen from the dead, to make his presence known to someone, he chose his circle of women. He appeared to Mary and told her to go and proclaim for the first time that he had risen from the dead.  Mary his mother had begun the circle when she proclaimed the good news of the meaning of his birth; and now another Mary would complete the circle as she proclaimed for the first his triumph over death.

We often point out the way that Jesus crossed social boundaries by allowing Mary, of Mary and Martha fame, to sit in the place of a student and enter into the male domain. Yet, perhaps another truth is that Jesus was always crossing boundaries with his own two feet as well. Walking right into the territory of women, entering right into the circle, even forming a circle of women who would go on to tell the story of Jesus and his love. Jesus was not simply honoring women by allowing them the privilege of entering male spaces; Jesus was honoring the spaces women inhabit by entering them himself.

The circle of women preachers began at the manger, developed at the well, went public at the tomb and continues in you and I. We women, we who are called to circle and encircle; we who are called to claim and to proclaim; to break bread and heal the broken; to serve and to preserve; to give birth and receive rebirth; we have got a good many stories to tell. Stories of the women who have come before us and of the God who called us together, into ever rippling, interlocking and overlapping circles of story, love and support.

We have got some stories to tell.  Thankfully, that is something we are pretty good at doing.

The Powers Women
The Powers Women
The Bonner Women
The Bonner Women
China belonging to Hannah Powers with her husband Hazard Powers ship, The Hope
China belonging to Hannah Powers with her husband Hazard Powers ship, The Hope
A new generation of Bonner women
A new generation of Bonner women
Circle of clergy sisters
Circle of clergy sisters

For Bruce: An Occupy Advent Mitzvah

I returned to States for Christmas to discover that my friend Bruce Fisher had passed away while I was out of the country these past couple months. I am sorry I was not able to be here to remember his legacy with you all. I am reposting this edited reflection from last year in his honor.

“You have performed a mitzvah.” At the time I had no idea what a mitzvah meant, but as I served a Christmas turkey in a tarp covered tent by the light of a menorah – no one needed to define the word for me to get a sense of the meaning.

It is now two years ago, that a group of young adults from Grace Church and I carried the turkey, and all its fixings, down to the Occupy Delaware campsite. I had been drawn there because something in me needed to understand how this movement was so effective in capturing the hearts and commitment of so many in my generation; and also because part of me sensed that there was something of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets that I loved being incarnated in that space. Yet, as we trudged down there that night, there was no way we could have known what a sacred moment we would witness as the devout Jewish couple, who lived on the site and taught at the local college, led the group in lighting the menorah candles. Now when I hear that phrase Occupy Advent, that we bandy about on social media, all I can think of is those flames lighting gentle faces at our own Occupy Advent celebration in the midst of its convergence with Occupy Chanukah.

I knew that there was something special about these people since the moment I met them. I had been drawn to the site my first week in Wilmington in the same manner that the Israelites had been drawn to the Jordan River to watch John the Baptist holler at the religious leaders that he called “a brood of vipers.” And I’ll admit the first young man who greeted me as I wandered into the campsite alone that first night responded to me in much the same manner when he discovered I was clergy, falling backwards over himself at the sight of “The Man.” Not sure why I always fess up to being clergy so quickly, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Jo Bailey Wells once told me that she was questioned by a priest in Sudan who was confused regarding our modesty about clerical identities in the United States. He did not understand why we were bashful about our identities when it caused us no danger, when for him the cross and the collar that he daily wore could easily mean death. After hearing that appeal for solidarity, I have not found a reason why I am willing to hide my vocation – not the fear of feeling awkward at a party; not the likelihood of creating a buzzkill on a date; and not even the certainty of raising the heretic alert and inducing pitying, condescending vocal tones from acquaintances who disapprove of female clergy. So I fessed up, as usual, and sent the young Occupier scurrying to mock-hide behind a friend.

Within a few minutes, however, I was deep in conversation with a kind Presbyterian man who reminded me of Forest Whitaker, in one of his more gentle roles, and was there to stay awake and sit watch all night for the safety of the vulnerable. “Welcome home,” was the first thing he said to me as he enveloped me in a big hug and made me a part of that family during my first week in a new city. Then he settled down to begin his long night of waiting and watching over his flock. “And lo, there were shepherds in the streets keeping watch over their flocks by night…”

I learned a lot about waiting and a lot about Advent from these gentle, loving people – even from the rough ones, the friends with an occasional foul mouth – “Sorry pastor!” – maybe not just occasional. I don’t think they’d appreciate it if i sanitized this description too much and made our life together look too quaint and Christmasized. Even while I did not always agree with all the methods or signs that each person took up, that was not the point, because they did not necessarily always agree with each other either. The point was that despite their different opinions and methods, they were united by a common faith that things could and would change and a willingness to sacrifice and suffer to await the advent of a new day. I found myself wishing the Christian movement contained as much determination, solidarity and willingness to live simply. There are many of us who long for that, which is what I think inspires movements like Occupy Advent, The Advent Conspiracy, and Rethink Christmas. We cannot help but long to see for ourselves the words of Mary as we celebrate the birth of her son, “God has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

What these Occupiers really taught me did not hit home until a year later, however, when I was watching a video from “The Work of the People” at a church where I preached. I was a little surprised to see good old Stanley Hauerwas from my Duke Divinity days pop up on the screen; but I was even more surprised when he explained, in his slow Texan drawl, why it was that my Advent at Occupy had been so powerful. It was because much like the many amazing Jewish leaders that populated the Occupy community, the movement contained hope that was powerfully and terribly determined. I watched them as people with graduate degrees and people with or without high school diplomas slept side by side as equals in the rain and sleet and snow – and all because they believed with fierce determination in hope and equality. All because they believed that no matter how hard things looked and no matter how heavily the deck was stacked against them – they could make a difference, things could change, and justice was possible.

Over the course of the year, as we celebrated shabbat and Passover together, Ash Wednesday and Easter, they became much more to me than “protesters” and I became much more to them than “clergy.” They even occupied my ordination, coming to Philadelphia from Delaware to stand in support of me as the Bishop laid her hands on my head and said, “take thou authority.” One of the most powerful parts of my ordination, the part that will always linger in my memory, is their presence, their support, their love and their belief in me. They were willing to come to a place where none of us imagined they would be when we first met, because of the power of community and solidarity and trust. Part of why I came down there that first night was to make sure they knew they were loved, but it was I who learned about love, about hope, about patience and about long-suffering from them.

They taught me what Advent means and how it should feel – in the end it was they who performed the mitzvah.

So when you think of Advent, when you see “Occupy Advent” stream by in your Twitter feed, do not take it lightly – reflect on the change it requires of us; think of my friends that slept out in the cold and rain and snow because they believed in a vision of justice where everyone had enough. Think of the Israelites waiting and waiting through persecution after persecution, many which Christians committed against them, because of their belief in the promised Messiah. That kind of waiting takes more faith, takes more trust, takes more endurance than I think I am capable of mustering on my best day. I don’t want to live with such a flimsy faith, I want to have a heart prepared to welcome my Messiah. I want to Occupy Advent – to live as if God’s promises are true – to live as if God was serious in all of those prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures – not just the prophecies that required something of God, but also the prophecies that required something of us… require something of us.

“Now this is the commandment that The Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and Occupy…
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, The Lord alone. You shall love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” -Deuteronomy 6:1-9

In other words, live like you mean it.

Bruce did, now may he rest in peace.

Thanks for everything Bruce
Thanks for everything Bruce
Occupy Advent meets Occupy Chanukah at the menorah
Occupy Advent meets Occupy Chanukah at the menorah
Cherished friends, Akiva & Hadassah
Cherished friends, Akiva & Hadassah
Occupy Passover, hosted at Grace Church
Occupy Passover, hosted at Grace Church
Coming together from all walks of life
Coming together from all walks of life
Barbara Lewis comes to visit Occupy on tent raising day
Barbara Lewis comes to visit Occupy on tent raising day
Getting swung around the dance floor
Getting swung around the dance floor
Occupy the Dream on Martin Luther King Day
Occupy the Dream on Martin Luther King Day
Occupy has dinner with Occupy the Hood on Ash Wednesday
Occupy has dinner with Occupy the Hood on Ash Wednesday

You Are a Gift

“Did you know that everyone in the whole world is a gift to the world?” I smiled as the four year old who had asked to help me gather shells spilled a little wisdom on me. “Well, that is beautiful,” I exclaimed, “who told you that?” “No one told me,” he answered, “no one had to tell me. I just knew. There are thousands of people in the world and every one of them is a gift to the world. Even you. You are a gift to the world.”

It was one of those – “Are you kidding me? Is this actually happening?” – kind of moments. He was a bit off in terms of the number of people that populate the world, but the rest was spot on. I dutifully obeyed the kid for the next couple hours, collecting shells and building an epic sand castle, unable to stop thinking about his endearing words. Regardless of what his reasons were for saying what he said, I was pretty sure that God had reasons for me hearing it, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I taught him what the word Eleuthera meant – freedom – and then I had to teach him what freedom meant. Meanwhile he taught me that it doesn’t take too much knowledge or age or experience to know the important facts in life. “You are a gift to the world. Each person is a gift to the world.”

As the sun set and we headed home in our respective directions, I thought about what it meant to be a gift. My mind returned to a conversation I had almost five years ago, not long after I graduated seminary, with the man our class called “The Bishop.” He was “The Bishop” not because he sought it, although many at Duke are known for doing so, but simply out of deference for the spiritual wisdom he exuded. He was the kind of person you would wish was your bishop. He had pulled me aside that summer as I tried to discern whether to take a job at a mega-church, or remain in the unpaid position I currently held and continue to build ministries with young urban leaders. “You are a gift,” he had told me, “but you have to be opened in the right place by the right people.” In the end, I stayed at the Isaiah House, remained in unpaid, urban ministry, and kept working the nightshift so I could minister during the day. That choice, in many ways, altered the direction of my life. Ever since then, whenever presented with two options, I almost invariably choose the harder one. It is one of the many things about me that both delights and annoys people.

That’s just me. I like a challenge. I accept that about myself.

I’ve been learning something new here on Eleuthera, however. Being willing to take on a challenge, doesn’t mean that you need to take on every challenge. Just as you are a gift and I am a gift, so also is life a gift and everything that comes our way. In order to live life to the fullest, we need to discern which challenges to open and which to decline. Sometimes “no” is the right answer. Sometimes “stop” is the right answer. Sometimes “not now” is the right answer. Especially when you are young, people are more than willing to use your time and youthful freedom and flexibility to try out the experiments they are too established to risk themselves. That time and freedom and hope and joy – those are your gifts, among many other things – but you don’t have to let just anybody open them and use them.

Knowing how and when to use your gifts, and saying no to being used by others, has an awful lot to do with knowing who you are.

If ever there was a place for me to be reminded of that, it was here in James Cistern. The wonderful thing about people here on Eleuthera is that they really do not care where I went to school, or what my resume says, or whether I am ordained or not. The aspects of me that people usually think make me a gift – my experience, my education, my credentials – mean nothing here. Here they care only care about who I am, how I treat, them, whether I show up, and what I contribute to the community. Here I am judged on who I am – my character, my sincerity, and my integrity. They care about the things that make me a human, a child of God, and a servant of God. They do not value me because of what I have accomplished, or who I can introduce them to through my connections.

Oh Lord, how incredibly healing it is to be judged on those kind of scales, and to be found to be valuable and worthy of love and respect. It actually makes a person believe that they are worthy of love and respect. If you can respect me when I have not showered for three days; and tell me that I look better without make up anyway; and expect me to “produce” nothing more than compassion and growth – then you are the type of person that I want for a friend. Then you are a gift.

A couple years ago, I was sitting in my ordination mentor’s office, and admired a framed quote on her wall. So she took it down and gave it to me. Howard Thurman, one of my favorite theologians. “Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Well, Mindy, it has taken me a while to stop loving that quote and start living that quote, but here we go. It is time to know me. To be me. To do me.

At the end of the day, I have learned, what you accomplish is not what is most important. If you are not living into your freedom and calling, then you are just proving what you are capable of doing, not revealing what makes you come alive. You can look pretty darn good, shiny paper and all, and still just be a gift that has not been unwrapped.

If ever there was someone who needed to know that, it was me. If ever there was someone who needed to be taught by these good people of James Cistern that I – in and of myself – am worthy of love, it was me. They unwrapped me. They took off all my shiny paper, and bows; took off all my certificates, diplomas, credentials, and cvs; and all that was left was me. Not Rev. Bonner. Not PB. Not this or that title. Just Hannah. That is what it means to have your gift opened; to meet people that are blind to all the wrapping paper and bows and just see what is inside.

Maxine and Pauline, you looked right through me, to my heart, and you loved me. I know your respect does not come cheap, please know I treasure it; it is as valuable a gift to me, as the gift you made me believe I am.  Thank you.

I found out recently that Pauline’s husband, Edmund, was one of the greatest pitchers the Bahamas has seen. It took me two months to find that out; and they didn’t even tell me when I finally did find out; I saw a picture and someone else explained it to me. Unbelievable. But it makes sense, because like I said, accomplishments are not what makes you valuable here. Who you are and what you contribute to the community is what matters. What a humble and gentle man Edmund is. If I had to tell you what I thought his greatest accomplishment was, I would say his marriage to Pauline and the way they support each other. Even after knowing he is a world class pitcher, I would still say that. I guess James Cistern has gotten into my head. They have taught me to see what is really valuable and what is really important here.

So I am going to do my very best to be me, to do me – and I encourage you to do the same. I have found out that being a gift that needs to be unwrapped in the right place did not mean what I thought it did, and it probably did not even mean what “The Bishop” thought it did. It does not mean finding the right challenge to take on and resolve. It meant finding the right people who could see past all my pretty distractions and show me who I really am. People who looked at me when I was stripped of all the things that I thought made me beautiful and valuble, and still told me that I was both. That is their gift to me.

We, my friends, are gifts to the world, according to my four year old sage. So, open up that gift this Christmas. Strip away everything you think makes you who you are – your clothes, your job, your history, your friends, your home – imagine yourself too without a job and without a home, on an isolated island that is rapidly depopulating for the holidays – what is left when all is stripped away? That is you, that is your gift. Be you, that will be enough.

My spiritual mama's, Maxine and Pauline, who have no idea how much I am going to miss them
My spiritual mama’s, Maxine and Pauline, who have no idea how much I am going to miss them
Building sandcastles with my four year old sage
Building sandcastles with my four year old sage
Last sunset on Eleuthera
Last sunset on Eleuthera
I love sunsets
I love sunsets
Did I mention I love sunsets?  Seeing the sun set just means that we get to rest and then start fresh again.  That is pretty great :)
Did I mention I love sunsets? Seeing the sun set just means that we get to rest and then start fresh again. That is pretty great 🙂

Honesty in a time of Trials

Shells of many hues, shapes, and sizes converge
Shells of many hues, shapes, and sizes converge

“Oh people are always making dramatic announcements at Christmas time,” my friend Abby said as we baked Christmas cookies together over Skype. “Did you remember to double all your ingredients?” I asked. “Yes, do you want to lick the spoon?” she teased, holding it up to the camera while I mimed accepting the invitation. Could not ask for a more pleasant way to pass an evening as my friend distracted and comforted me in such a typically millennial fashion.

I had received a couple messages that day that had left me a bit breathless. And finding the island rapidly depopulating for Christmas, I was grateful for Abby and technology to bring love close.

The breathless factor in one message was the accusation that I wanted to split the church. It was a bit out of left field, but troubling nonetheless. I know there is a lot of pain back home in Pennsylvania, and it is totally unfair for me to sit here at a distance and reflect on it without being in the traumatic midst of it. Yet, it is all I can do.

After receiving the messages, I had gone to Cocodimama, a deserted little resort near the airport, to watch the sun set and try to pray. I have found that God and I are like two buddies who get along best when they are tossing a football. In other words, I’ve realized that I’m better at talking to God when my hands are busy. As I tried to relax and reflect, I began to fidget in the sand. I noticed the amazingly tiny shells around me and began to collect them. A prayer for every shell, like the beads on a rosary, I decided.

Once again, I knew that God was trying to teach me something, but it was not coming easy. This habit that the two of us had gotten into, of drawing out my learning and listening over a process of days, was tolerable here on Eleuthera; but it made me wonder how we would fare when I returned to the States and the rush of distractions.

I put my shell collecting efforts to rest, and waded far out into the water as the sun began its rapid descent. The thing about Cocodimama that I both love and hate, depending on my mood, is that no matter how far I walk out, I have never been able to get to water deeper than my waist. I am sure it is out there, I just don’t have the patience to find it.

I felt confident that God was trying to teach me something, so I waited and waited until the last bit of sun glow had faded. Thinking the sunset was over, I turned around only to find the other side of the island behind me lit up in its own pink glory. Just when I think I’ve got God figured out and I know exactly where God is working, God is already busy somewhere else. God is always “already” somewhere.

Well, I decided, this was going to take me more than one sunset; and it was off to my room to bake cookies over the computer with Abby.

By day two, I was apologizing to God profusely for how distracted I had let myself become. Will you never get it, these are not distractions from talking to me, these are what you are supposed to be talking to me about. Well, then, we went at it, on down the beach as I picked up shells along the way. One shell for each prayer. Round one of conversations was full of conviction, and by round two I was ready to face that question – do you want to divide the church?

No, of course I don’t want to divide the church, I easily responded. I just want it to be the church. And maybe my idea of what that looks like doesn’t fit easily into anybody’s box.

So what did I think the church should look like? The answer, oddly enough was in the shells.

They were each so gorgeous, miniatures of the diversity that fills the ocean floor. Pink and white and yellow and black. Sharp and ridged and smooth and curved. They did not catch your eye scattered through the seaweed on the sand. But put them all together in a pile and their differences made the gathered mass of them breathtaking.

That is what the church should be, each person being fully themselves and able to be fully honest about who they are. I don’t want to split the church, I just want us all to be able to be honest with each other.

I want to be able to be honest. I need to be able to be honest.

That is probably one of the reasons why I am United Methodist, because – we claim at least – that holy conferencing is the way that we make our decisions. Holy conferencing, or Christian conferencing, means prayerfully, respectfully and lovingly seeking truth together. When we dialogue we ought to be seeking together the voice of God and the grace of God in order to grow together in holiness.

Unfortunately, holy conferencing has become instead a method of trying to be nice when we talk to one another. Yet, there is something much deeper – the responsibility to be honest about what God is revealing in order to offer one another grace and growth.

That first part – being honest – can be hard, but it is not the hardest part by far. The other side of things is that we have the responsibility to be honest, but we also have the responsibility to hear and receive the honesty of others. Unfortunately, we too often listen with ears ready to respond, refute and retort. That is not hearing, it is merely listening; it is not dialogue, it is debate.

Our church history teaches us that we find what we believe through listening to one another. Through a series of Councils (Council of Nicaea, Council of Chalcedon, etc.) where scholars gathered together and listened to what one another thought and saw in Scriptures, they worked out the doctrine of the church. Now unfortunately for them then and for us now, there are consequences for honesty which is a bit intriguing. We all want one another to be honest, and we trust that God can speak through the minority as well as the majority, but in the end, the majority rules. Consequences for honesty that contradicts the majority has over the centuries ranged from death, as in the case of Jesus and other religious heretics, to a stern reprimand, to losses of the professional kind.

So laying aside all the questions of how we do what we do – the polity of it all – let’s get back to the why we do what we do. In whatever variations of councils and conferences we have carried out our discernment over the years, the reasons behind it remain the same. We believe that God is a living and engaged God who cares about how we live our faith and guides us in both subtle and quite active ways. We do not believe God is distant, silent, or bound to a certain time or place. We believe that one of the ways that God speaks is through human beings; thus, our belief that Scriptures, although written by human hands, had a healthy dose of divine involvement. Because we believe that God speaks through people, we believe that one of the best ways to hear God clearly is to get together and listen to one another.

So that is the why we conference with one another. The purpose is not to punish, shame or silence others, but to try to hear God through hearing others.

The key there, however, is hearing. For so many years now the caucuses on both ends of the church have been locked into listening in order to change the ideas of others, rather than listening in order to possibly change one’s own ideas.

‘They are simply wrong’ – we think of the other – ‘they are deceitful, conniving, and harmful.’ Both sides sometimes think that of people on the other. And maybe some people are deceitful, conniving and harmful – what of it? That does not mean that everyone who voices an opinion that is different is therefore deceitful, conniving and harmful.

If we do not think that someone could voice a different opinion than ours and actually be hearing from God, then we have lost the “why” of why we talk to one another.

As I gathered shells at the beach, I gasped with delight each time I found one I had not seen before. After a while, you got to recognize the more common shells, and so it was like finding a pearl when I happened upon a new one.

That is how I felt at the Mere Christianity Forum in college; that is how I felt in my studies and conversations in seminary; that is how I have felt when I have entered into ministry spaces that were wholly unfamiliar. What joy at hearing my faith spoken in a different voice, with a different perspective!

We live in such an exciting time. A time when all kinds of voices are speaking up, coming from backgrounds and perspectives whose theology has not before been given its due credence and respect. Women are speaking. Hallelujah! Theologians in Peru are creating their own theology rather than regurgitating our Western perspective. Praise The Lord! Queer theologians are bringing insights so fresh that they feel like a splash of cold water in the face. What a time to be alive! We are so fortunate.

Why would we stop listening in the 1200’s or the 1700’s or the 1950’s – before things got really interesting – before they let all the women and the poor and the powerless into the conversation.

I want to hear every voice, go to every corner of the world – not just to share my experience and theology but in order to hear how God is speaking to others. I want to gasp in delight again and again each time God uses someone else’s perspective to show me scripture in a deeper light. If we believe God speaks through one another, then we have got a lot of listening – and hearing – to do.

In order to live in such a world, I have to do my part by being as honest as I can muster the courage to be, in as loving and gentle a way as possible.

When we say “I am listening,” we should truly try to hear with open hearts not clenched fists. When we say, “I am praying for you,” we should mean that we love one another, not that we judge or pity one another.

This is how God speaks – sometimes through the majority, and sometimes through the minority, and sometimes through a still small voice – sometimes from the lips of babes – sometimes from the mouth of an ass – sometimes in the wind and fire – sometimes from the mouth of a heretic like Jesus – sometimes over the mighty waters – sometimes through the trees of the field – sometimes from the hands of the deaf – sometimes from the last person you want to hear.

God said to test the spirits, but God never selected any object or person that God was unwilling to speak through. Today, for me, it was the shells.

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Sunset at Cocodimama - day 2
Sunset at Cocodimama – day 2
Shells do not catch your eye until you look closely
Shells do not catch your eye until you look closely

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Courage in a time of Trials

Silence. No one here but me. It has been like this all day. Preacher’s Cave, Tay Bay Beach, and the Devil’s Backbone – mine alone. I had come here because it was the only way I knew how to stand in solidarity with my fellow preachers back home in Pennsylvania; burdened today with the task of deciding whether to remove the credentials of the Rev. Frank Schaefer. It had not taken long. I actually knew what the answer had been before I could even make it up to the northernmost point of the island; before I even entered the cave. Rev. Frank Schaefer had been defrocked. Cast out of the Order of Elders. The Order whose members I had only a couple years ago, taken vows to support. Somehow I felt I still owed Rev. Shaefer my vow of support. But there was little left to do but pray.

When I arrived I walked first out to Tay Bay Beach, where the shipwrecked Eleutherian Adventurers had come ashore before finding refuge in the cave. I climbed up on the rocks and ate my lunch in the shadow of a deserted dingy, a shipwreck itself in miniature. Conch shells lay scattered over the volcanic rock, vulnerable as they revealed their pink interior which, along with the coral reefs, were responsible for the pink hue of the sand on this island. Some more beaten up than beautiful, their scars revealed that they had given up more of themselves than others to contribute to the beauty of this beach.

‘Careful’, I said to myself, knowing that the razor sharp rocks that I walked on cautiously would cut me to the bone if I had a single misstep. And then I did – oooooh wheeee – a little something to remember this place by.

As I looked out at the Devil’s Backbone, the dangerous reef that had taken so many ships over the years – and the Eleutherian Adventurers first of all – I marveled at the courage that kind of journey demanded. Courage.

Courage became the theme of my thoughts as I pondered and prayed, and I knew that courage was what would be demanded of us now.

Walking back up the path and into Preacher’s Cave, I did not have the words yet. So I took out my guitar and simply pleaded for God’s grace as I wandered the cave, strumming the chords of Amazing Grace to the rocks and the shadows and the shafts of light.

Finally, I put the guitar away, and climbing up into the naturally formed pulpit of Preacher’s Cave, I found a smooth place to sit.

And, here I sit, and I wonder – Where do we go from here?

A single solitary leaf floats down from the largest opening in the roof of Preacher’s Cave. The sand fleas surround me, but for the first time – almost eerily – not a single one bites me. Nearby I hear the waves crashing and the wind blowing through the large leaves of the sea grape trees. A bird calls out to another and then quietly awaits a reply. Apart from that, all is silence. All is darkness. All is light. That is the irony of Preacher’s Cave. It protects this space with an armor perforated by nature’s power to flood that which should be dark with light.

This is why the early settlers chose to keep returning to this place to worship. It is mysterious and ethereal. A place of darkness where the light rules. A place where shipwrecked freedom seekers came with sadness and left filled with hope. It is a place you come to, but not a place where you stay.

This is my tomb. My place of hope. Where death and despair and discouragement are overturned even at the moment when it seems least possible.

I believe something is changing, I believe it must. I believe the Spirit is moving and I am trying to figure out how to move and shift and sway and dance with her mysterious way.

I believe that I am changing, I believe I must. Courage is the path forward.

No one ever found freedom without courage. The Eleutherian Adventurers put their lives and futures at stake – and those of their children – to search for freedom. Mother Theresa, although she did not want it known, boldly pestered and pleaded with every church authority she could find until she was, after many years, given the church’s blessing to be released from the vows of her Order to begin her own Order. Harriet Tubman, whose feet traced the path North and South that I have traveled more times than I could count, had the kind of courage few of us can even imagine. She had the courage to risk her life not for her own freedom, but for the freedom of others. She understood that all of our freedom is bound up together, and no one is free if anyone is still in chains.

Today my Order lost another person of courage. Simple courage, not dramatic courage – the very simple act of saying and living who he really was. An act that, though simple, is rare. There are few of us who do not have a trial we avoid. Most of us know, if we are being honest, that we can no more agree with and keep every letter of the church law than we can agree with and keep every letter of the law that Jesus speaks of – the law he came not to abolish but to fulfill. The law that has been fulfilled, so that Christ might give us a new way of living.

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Where will we find the freedom to be, say, live who we truly and fully are? We will only find it through courage. The kind that makes your knees shake and your eyes water and your voice crack – the kind of courage, in other words, that emerges not from the lack of fear. As Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Our current trial culture will either bring courage out in some, or drive it back into the shadows.

My skin has grown cold as the sun dips low. Cold like the water of Tay Bay Beach. Cold like the rocks that surround me in this nature made and human improved chancel of Preacher’s Cave. I reach up and touch the rock around my neck – my tomb, my cave in miniature – and say, as I always do, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is shifting sand.”

Where will we go from here? I am not sure, but the only way forward is on the solid rock and not the shifting sand. Speaking only for myself, the shifting sand has been the politics of the church; the desperate search for the survival of the institution; and the corruption of our youthful optimism as we identify those with leadership potential not in order to follow them in new directions, but in order to tell them how to lead us where we have already been. I have been an accomplice in all these things.

The solid rock, I have found in unexpected places. The comraderie and loyalty of my friend’s who occupied Delaware. The accurate spiritual wisdom of the prophets of James Cistern, Pauline and Maxine. The faithful perseverance of my friends at the Isaiah House, David and Rebekah. Like I child crossing a stream, I have used my discernment to spot the solid rocks and hopped from one to another to find my way. But as we grow up, courage demands that we find the ability to stand steady on our own rock and be a haven for others.

Where does courage come from? It comes from the confidence that we have honestly searched and struggled to know who we are and what we believe. True courage can only ever come from the confidence of convictions.

So we must summon up every ounce of courage we can find, from every dark space we have hidden it in. Bring it all forward to the center of the cave, and find out how much we have when we all come together. Then we will see where God will take this ship we call the church.

One man shipwrecked on an island is Robinson Crusoe; 50 shipwrecked are the Eleutherian Adventurers. One man shipwrecked on an island seeks only to survive; 50 shipwrecked are the first settlers of a new nation.

Courage that makes your knees shake; compassion that makes your heart ache; and a community that sees the walls break. That will be our way forward.

Preacher's Cave as seen from the pulpit
Preacher’s Cave as seen from the pulpit
The approach to Preacher's Cave
The approach to Preacher’s Cave
Spreading some Amazing Grace around the cave
Spreading some Amazing Grace around the cave
Conch shells on Tay Bay Beach, some more battered than others
Conch shells on Tay Bay Beach, some more battered than others
The guardian of Tay Bay Beach
The guardian of Tay Bay Beach
Shafts of light pierce the darkness in Preacher's Cave
Shafts of light pierce the darkness in Preacher’s Cave
A life preserver is one of many objects washed ashore at Tay Bay Beach
A life preserver is one of many objects washed ashore at Tay Bay Beach

Freedom in a time of Trials

“Watcha doin’ tomorrow?” Leroy asked as we postponed my stick-shift driving lessons after his niece Courtney demanded my attention. The child had jumped out of the bathtub and come running straight out the house yelling “Hannah! Hannah!” when I drove by on my way to work that morning, and by the afternoon she was tired of waiting for her promised adventure. It would have been impossible to escape; she had an ear attuned after much practice to recognize the sounds of Brenda’s car and intercept her on her way from Rainbow to Camp Symonette. And now, driving Brenda’s car, I was to reap the benefits of all that practice.

“I’m going to Preacher’s Cave tomorrow,” I answered. Preacher’s Cave had captured my fascination from the first time I heard the words about eleven months ago. On a trip with some amazing clergywomen from my home Conference, Eastern Pennsylvania, I had come across a tea named after Preacher’s Cave. A tea which I, of course, had to purchase and spend the next few months drinking. I have to admit that I did not even realize that Preacher’s Cave was a real place when I bought the tea. I simply thought it was an elegant Bahamian metaphor for the secluded state that is necessary for many when giving birth to a sermon. Don’t ask me why I thought that the marketers believed that might appeal to the general populace.

Imagine my shock and delight then when during my first week on the island, somebody told me that I needed to go to Preacher’s Cave. Whip lash – “Wait, Preacher’s Cave is a real place?? And I am close to it right now?”

Apparently Preacher’s Cave was a real place, but not many people came across it because it was on a secluded island. Yet, wonder of wonders, I too was on that secluded island.

God had already blown my mind with this spiritually tantalizing serendipity, but there was more!

First, Preacher’s Cave was amazingly beautiful and the aesthetics – light filtering in through holes in the roof of the cave – were equally delightful to my eye and to my heart. For someone who chose to name their blog after the Cohen lyrics “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” it felt that this place was the visible representation of the contours of my heart. It revealed the reality that holes and cracks and imperfections are not the things that destroys us, but rather the things that make us beautiful. And yeah, the rain pours in the holes when it is storming, but on most days the sun streams through those same holes; I accept that you have to take a bit of rain on your head, in order to experience the sunlight on your face.

Second, Preacher’s Cave had a powerful story to go along with it’s imposing form. In 1647 a group of adventurers set out from Bermuda on a journey seeking a space to worship and practice their religion in the way they felt led. They called themselves the Eleutherian Adventurers (for those rusty on their Greek, eleuthera means “freedom”). As they passed by a long strip of land, 100 miles long by 2 miles wide, they found themselves face to face with the Devil’s Backbone – a tremendous reef that winds along the Atlantic side of the island. The survivors of the shipwreck made it to shore and found shelter in a large cathedral-like cave. It was there in that perfectly contoured space, that they gave thanks to God for their lives and celebrated their first worship service.

They found the beautiful island to be uninhabited; not because it had gone undiscovered, but because it had been discovered. This island was one of many whose population had been drained and decimated by Spanish explorers.  The original Arawak inhabitants, the Lucayans, had been taken from the island to work the mines in Cuba and Hispaniola, in an era before the attention of the “explorers” had turned away from native populations and towards the continent of Africa to satiate their thirst for slaves.

The shipwrecked adventurers decided that God had brought them to this perilous and beautiful snake of an island, and so they decided to stay. They spread out and became the first to settle the Bahamas, still returning for over 100 years to worship at the cave. They carved a rough pulpit into the rock, seats for the ministers, and even a choir loft. They named it Preacher’s Cave, and they named the island Eleuthera – the place where freedom is found.

In those days, that was indeed how one found freedom. There was plenty of “empty” places in the world to go and set up shop; and if they were not empty you could simply convert, enslave or decimate the populace – usually a combination of all three was employed. Ironically, the way that the European world found freedom, was the same way that the rest of the world lost it.

Thankfully that is not the accepted method to find freedom anymore. Yet, there is still a draw towards freedom, a hunger for freedom. People are still wrestling today about worship; but these days the struggle has shifted from not only how you worship, but also with whom do you worship.

Back home in Eastern Pennsylvania, where my Preacher’s Cave Tea sipping friends are laboring through the final week of Advent, it feels like everything is in question. The United Methodist Church wants to affirm the dignity and sacred worth of people of all genders and orientations; while simultaneously withholding certain positions and ceremonies from those who diverge from the traditional norm. We simply cannot have it both ways. The longing for freedom that has run its course through every phase of the church bears the fruit of its ancient DNA right in front of us today. The pot of discontent boils over, and the voices heavy with the guilt of many years of silence hold their tongue no more.

My Bishop stands in the center, and God be with her, is finding the words and the courage to lead us through it. My friends stand upon ground they would never choose – judge, jury and credential-executioner for one of their own. Today the Rev. Frank Schaefer goes before the Board of Ordained Ministry, having refused to voluntarily surrender his credentials after performing a marriage ceremony for his son and his partner. He stands today firm in his integrity, having satisfied the demands of his convictions. He confronts the church with the question, is there not another way?

I cannot be with them on this painful day, a day that cannot be easy for anyone regardless of their stance, and so I will travel up this snake of an island and stand in Preacher’s Cave and I too will ask God, is there not another way? I will plant my feet on solid Eleutherian soil, and ask what freedom means and how we are to find it.

While, thankfully, exploration, conquest and colonization are no longer the methods employed to find religious freedom, it does leave us all with a little less air to breathe. We cannot escape one another, we have to fight it out living side by side.

Unfortunately, we still do find it necessary to employ the other ancient tool of struggle within the church – the trial. The trial is a method that reached its low point during the Inquisition, while throughout the ages never seeming to bring out the best in us regardless of the time or space. In the United States, we usually consider the Salem witch trials to be the low point of church trials, and looking back it is hard to believe that really happened; hard to believe we really did that to one another. The recent genealogy craze revealed the loss of an ancestor on my mother’s side to the Salem witch trials, and it is certainly not difficult these days to feel a sense of sardonic affinity with that virtuous woman.

The funny thing is, the man in whose name we carry out these trials, fell victim to a very similar trial himself. The witnesses were brought in, the rigged questions were asked, and Jesus Christ was declared a religious heretic. His sentence was not the loss of his credentials, but the loss of his life. There was no appeal, and no mercy. And at the will of the jury, we put God made flesh to death. It is just so hard to imagine that same man wanting trials to be carried out in his name.

So today, I will stand in Preacher’s Cave, and I will pray – for a miracle if the Board can find one; and for a new way forward if they cannot. We do not need more trials, we do not need more executions of calling. That is why I wear an Eleutherian rock around my neck rather than a cross these days. It represents for me the cave of refuge, the solid rock on which I stand, and the tomb that gave birth to resurrection. Because it was not a trial, an execution and a cross that changed my life; it was the tomb in which death was defeated, a verdict was overruled, and life burst forth with freedom.

Trial, execution, death – that is only half the story. Shipwrecks have survivors. Tombs have escapees. Trials have pardons. Death has resurrection.

The pulpit at Preacher's Cave
The pulpit at Preacher’s Cave
Holes add to the beauty in Preacher's Cave
Holes add to the beauty in Preacher’s Cave
The entry to Preacher's Cave
The entry to Preacher’s Cave
Plaque at the entry of Preacher's Cave
Plaque at the entry of Preacher’s Cave
Watching the sunset with Leroy's niece
Watching the sunset with Leroy’s niece

Journey to Deliver

“Children, you are not too young. Pray for me as I go on my journey, and as I go I will cover you in prayer.” Vonnia stood at the front of the church, more than eight months pregnant, and addressed the youth of the congregation as she led praise songs. It would be her last Sunday leading worship for some time.

At the beginning of the service, the worship leader had reminded the congregation that “Mrs. Pierce is going to Nassau to deliver. We trust you will bring back a healthy bouncing baby.” It was a curious custom here on the island of Eleuthera, but one that made sense after a little thought. Once a mother is a month away from her due date, the doctor sends her off the island to Nassau. The clinics on Eleuthera cannot handle delivery complications, and so all expectant mothers are sent to deliver at the hospital in Nassau. As the story goes, if you drag your feet and don’t get off the island, the doctor will send his nurses to your house to strongly remind you.

As Vonnia stood in front of the church, encouraging the young people that God had a plan for their generation and they were a part of that plan, the scene was thrillingly fraught with Advent imagery. Vonnia, praising God and giving her speech of thanks, almost the image of Mary mid-Canticle. A woman preparing to leave her home and family, to go on a journey, during which she would deliver a son. Just over a week until Christmas and here it was playing out in front of us.

Giving space for an expectant mother to prophesy seemed to bring the past forward with dramatic reenactment, while simultaneously revealing how far we had come from that past as a woman’s voice addressed the congregation. Vonnia was bringing the word, humbling me with her energy and her vision for my generation. And she was bringing the truth home in song as well, “If it had not been… for The Lord on my side… tell me where would I be, where would I be.” Where would I be indeed. I had been plucked up once again from miry clay and had my feet planted on solid ground. And there were a lot of people that I was grateful to for that. Abe and Brenda for inviting me to stay on Eleuthera. Pauline and Maxine for simply loving me. Manex and Leroy and TJ for befriending me. But as Vonnia led the congregation in song, and I stood, arms reaching heavenward, not fighting the tears, I realized that my gratitude, although warranted, had been misplaced. Psalm 56 once again came to mind, “This I know, that God is for me.”

God, as usual, was intent on me understanding that though there were many who might love me and support me, it was God’s hand that was on me to protect and to lead. The moment, pardon the phrase, was pregnant with meaning and spiritual intensity.

I was looking forward to reflecting on all this powerful Advent imagery when I got home, but was somewhat shocked to find words and meaning eluded me. Yes, it was remarkable and beautiful to see Mary’s story reflected by Vonnia’s leadership. But I felt like there was something deeper, below the surface of the beauty, that I needed to grasp.

Sunday passed into Monday, and still I wrestled; which could mean only one thing, it was time to return to the garden. After a week’s absence due to illness, my body was grateful to feel full of strength and life again and my mind was grateful for the solitude in which to wrestle.

I was plagued throughout the morning with painful thoughts and memories, this had happened before, but for the first time, I thought to ask God, why? Why is all this pain and regret and hurt coming to mind? ‘Because I am trying to show you something. These are walls and distractions.’ Knowing that they were distractions to my attention, and not meant to be the focus of my attention, they began to lose their power and dissipate as I continued to open myself up to hear.

About halfway through the day, up to my elbows in tomato plants, it came to me; or it seemed to at least. The canticle was what my mind latched onto, the similarity between Vonnia’s song and Mary’s. But the delivery of the song was what intrigued me. Whereas Mary delivered her song more privately; Vonnia delivered hers publicly as a woman given a voice in front of the congregation. Whereas Mary delivered hers while an object of suspicion in the community; Vonnia delivered hers while being honored by the community.

It made me ponder how we send people off; how we transition in the church. I wondered what it would have been like if Mary had lived during a time when she could have been honored, when she could have told her story, when she could have been sent forth on her journey lifted up by the people around her. Maybe it struck a chord because it was something I longed for in every transition – support and connection from my community.

I was making progress, but I knew I was not there yet. There was something powerful about the way Vonnia spoke, especially to the children, and the way her community supported her as she departed for her journey. It was something I felt sure I would appreciate and ponder for years to come. But whatever God was trying to reveal, I knew I was not there quite yet.

That night, despite the day of hard labor, I did not find sleep to come as easily as it usually did. It finally did arrive in the midst of a four word conversation with God; my two words, “I’m scared.” God’s two words, “Trust me.” Back and forth until I fell into peaceful sleep on my tear dampened pillow.

The next morning the pain in my quads and biceps told the story of the price my body had paid to give my heart the space to wrestle there in the garden. The up – down, pull – push, reach – lift, rhythm of a full day’s work had left its mark. But I was only half-way through clearing the garden and, the irony not lost on me, only half-way through clearing my head. So on we must go.

I tore through the weeds with vigor, determined that my physical task would be accomplished that day even if my soul searching had not found its goal.

My mind wrestled as my hands fought with the weeds that seemed to become increasingly strong as I approached the edge of the beds where the advance of the deeply entrenched field weeds was the strongest.

I pondered the pain of leaving. How difficult it must have been for Mary to leave her home, her friends, her family to go and deliver in another city where she did not know anyone and there was not even any room in the inn. At least in Vonnia’s case, we knew she had a place to stay in Nassau until the birth. Yet in both cases, it still could not be easy to leave family and friends and deliver in a strange place. I knew I was getting closer.

Then, I received a hint, gratefully. ‘Don’t let gender distract you. Who else beside Mary and Vonnia had to leave family and friends and their own town in order to be faithful?’

Well, then it was suddenly easy, Abraham! And not the Eleutheran one, the Hebrew one.

When God is about to do something new, God often calls people into a journey. This clashes with our culture, and perhaps even our church culture, that tells us that long tenure is the sign of steadfast faithfulness and looks with suspicion upon the wanderer. But when God calls us apart, when God wants us for Godself, when God wants to calm the buzz and hum of chatter and rumor and pressure and conversation – then we go. There is no other choice.

I realized that I had been feeling a bit resentful towards God on Mary’s behalf. Sending her off to give birth alone rather than in the company of her women. But it was not an act of cruelty on God’s part to rip her out of her world; it was an act of faith on her part, and on Joseph’s, to journey first to Bethlehem and then to Egypt. They journeyed as they gestated, delivered, and protected new life.

“Mary pondered these things in her heart.” During her time of delivery, God took Mary on a journey away from the whispers and questions about where this baby came from, away from the daily concerns and gave her a space of greater intimacy with God. A space where she could ponder these things in her heart. Without the midwives of her town, God was her midwife. As the Psalms say more than once, “you took me from my mother’s womb.” Without the support of her family and friends around her, God encircled Mary and her Joseph; God was their mother, father, sister, midwife, friend.

God, who loves to draw us apart, and teach us that life is not always found in the midst of the crowd, must have a special affection for the introvert.

Sometimes a gestation of new life is physical, as in the case of Mary and Vonnia, and sometimes it is spiritual as in the case of Abraham. What a strange thing that God calls us to journey just at the moment when we want to stay, to be comfortable, to nest.  But God does not lead us out because God wants us to be alone; God leads us out because we need this to understand that we are not alone.

The last bit of clarity I felt was just how early I still was in my spiritual gestation. Whatever God was building inside of me, we were just at the beginning. And now, just when I want to stay, just when I want to nest, I know that the journey continues. I know that in a week I will leave this island and I will find my way into whatever the next part of the journey is. This is not where I will deliver. But I was not ripped from my world when I chose to come here, and I am not being ripped from my world now. I am not ripped from my world any more than Mary was, any more than Abraham was. I am choosing to follow; I am choosing to leave just as I chose to come. ‘Take courage, I am forming something new. You are not alone.’ In that there is deep peace for this wandering soul.

“And Mary pondered these things in her heart.” May we all find the space in these remaining days of Advent to ponder deeply what God is gestating in each of us.

Brenda, Maxine and Pauline celebrate with Vonnia before she leaves for Nassau.
Brenda, Maxine and Pauline celebrate with Vonnia before she leaves for Nassau.
Congregation at Wesley Methodist, James Cistern, worships as Vonnia leads
Congregation at Wesley Methodist, James Cistern, worships as Vonnia leads
Garden before the weeding frenzy.
Garden before the weeding frenzy.
Garden after the weeding frenzy.
Garden after the weeding frenzy.
A hard day's work
A hard day’s work
So fresh and so clean
So fresh and so clean