I n the year since returning from my stint with Friends World Committee, connecting with Friends and commuting to Philadelphia, I've been challenged in a number of ways. I seem to always learn lessons, and then need to relearn and relearn them again and again. That circling process has become part of the weft in the fabric of my life. Some of those lessons -- that God's time is not my time, that there is a pattern whether or not I see it, that at the center of the paradox of discipline and free gifts of grace I am closest to the Divine -- may be obvious but they humble me. I require patience, that's for sure. There have been times I've felt as though I were composting and times when I was impatient. There have been times I've been absolutely clear and times when whatever clarity I felt became cloudy and opaque. Perhaps most importantly this year, I've been constantly reminded that being faithful is never a completed task. Faithfulness is not a noun at all but a verb. It's a lifestyle, a threshold to be stepped through daily. Or not.
But don't misunderstand. Being back hasn't been all dreary machinations and somber contemplation. There is much gladness. One of the unadulterated joys, always present, but which I am aware of in new ways since I'm back, has been celebrations. Formal, unpretentious, joyous, somber, all the possible permutations of sharing life with others have punctuated the year. Funerals and memorial services, cups of coffee and discussion groups, after worship and over dinner laughter and chitchat. There are people here I love beyond place and time. This month Diane and I went to Burlington to help celebrate the marriage of some of those people.
There was a Mass -- full of ritual and symbolism and group responses. It's disparate from some Friends' ways, though Catholics and Friends unite in welcoming the miracle of God's real presence in worship. One of the things a couple often does when being married in the Catholic Church is to select scripture to share. Heidi and Hollis, these friends, not only invited us close into their relationship, but declared their relationship with God. The first was a reading from the Hebrew testaments:
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal what is God: and what does the Love require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah, 6: 6-8 NRSV)
It was wonderful, a refreshing surprise, a window into their relationship with each other and the paradigm of their life together. Pretty impressive stuff.
It was another opportunity to ponder faithfulness. Micha, a rural people's prophet from Moresheth in 500 BCE spoke to me through these people I hold in deep affection. During the next week Micha's message tarried. In a doctor's office holding an unopened issue of last month's TIME magazine, at a staff meeting with some state bureaucrats when I should have been paying attention to more worldly things, on top of Camel's Hump and at Peacham Bog it meandered through my cogitating. When early each morning I offered the day to God, the verse came. It slipped into my worship on Sunday, ricocheting with the vocal ministry offered.
What does Micha have to offer? We are much too sophisticated for burnt offerings and fatted calves but the message is clear. God isn't honored with my diplomas and certificates. My pay-stubs and titles are of little use in paying homage. Even my life's blood is, by itself, of no interest.
How do I pay homage? Offering things would be the easy way out. Things are just things after all. First, seek what is right. Then live a life of tolerance -- not just practice kindness, but nurture and embrace it in my whole being, my thoughts, prayers, activities. And, lastly, journey with the Sacred presence plainly. I work at traveling God's path of service in simple unpretentious ways offered me. If I approach the work I am offered humbly with a clear understanding that it is not from me but from God, I will remain faithful. Sure, submitting to God's plan is a challenge. It is always worth the struggle.
I stand in awe of the certainty that there's pattern even when I can't quite make it out, that God's purpose unfolds in God's time, that gifts of grace are freely given. It's the way I can "walk humbly with my God." That is the faith that comforts and challenges. It's worth relearning.
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