Thursday, September 23, 2004

Drawing Closer and Pushing Away

Last Sunday we held our final community meeting as part of the interim process in the parish where I'm currently serving. We discussed the leadership structures required to effectively move from being a "Pastoral Church" (50-150 members) to a "Program Church" (150-350 members). Then we did a bit of dreaming about the future.

I anticipate the parish will call a rector in late November, and she or he will be in place by the first of the year. This is one of the more difficult times for an interim priest. The five interim tasks are just about completed, and it's time to make plans for moving on. One of the early tasks is to facilitate the grieving process that often occurs when a parish loses a beloved rector. To avoid a secondary period of grieving, which would be detrimental to the beginning of the new chapter of their corporate life, the interim attempts to slowly just fade away.

It is inevitable that over the course of a year you will develop some friendships, and begin to grow quite fond of some of the folks. This particular congregation has a number of exceptionally wonderful people within their community. I'm really going to miss this place.

This sadness is tempered by an emerging feeling of excitement regarding where I'll land next. I've got a couple of irons in the fire. There's a few interesting interim position opening up. It would be nice if I didn't have to commute three hours a day, although if the position presented some unique challenges, I'd probably do it again. A more permanent position does sound inviting right now, and that possibility is out there as well. At the same time, there is something quite attractive about being an interim. It's something like being a mixture of both a pinch-hitter and a diocesan consultant.

I suppose I'm really writing this for myself, to acknowledge the emotional mixture of loss and anticipation that I'm cycling through right now. Sometimes it's helpful to identify those internal dynamics, as they are often the filter through which I view other events happening around me. Yes, there are real reasons to be sad when terrible things are happening in deserts far away. And there are valid reasons to be excited about the future, especially on the threshold of an election. But my experience is that the additional energy from internal states can cause an intensity of emotion that is not always in proportion to the external realities.

Taking it one level deeper, I'm not even sure that this cycle is about simultaneous feelings of loss and hope. The pattern is too familiar. Drawing closer, and then pushing away. The endless search for the elusive something more. To convince myself that I've finally discovered "it," only to realize that I can't hold on to "it;" that a moment of pure glory; a peek at what lies beyond the torn fabric, is all I can handle. Then its time to move on, before the circuits are fried. A cycle of hope, joy, sadness, leading to a new hope as the search continues.

I refer to "It" as God. Others might call "it" love, or success, or happiness. And maybe they're right. But those terms don't quite express what I'm talking about. The term "God" is not quite "it" either, but about as close as a word can get, I suppose.

Twenty-five years ago, I discovered that glimpses of "it" happened more frequently within the Church than anywhere else. Sometimes through corporate prayer, sometimes through music, but most often through those who have gathered with me; each drawn by their own cycle of searching; conscious or unconscious. It's through the people of God that I draw closer, and sometimes I am allowed to be a window through which others might also be drawn into a fuller awareness of the living God who "rolls through all things." I might wander a bit in the search, but the Church is "home base." She is not perfect, and can certainly be a frustrating place, and I often push away from her, but always come back. I'm convinced that the Church, the sacrament, the outward and visible sign of Jesus Christ, who is the sacrament of God, is the way, the path that my search must take, even while she draws me close only to push me away.

The Dean of a cathedral once muttered to me, "The Church would be a wonderful place, if it wasn't for all these damn people!" He said that with a twinkle in his eye, of course. But there is some truth to that, isn't there? It's as if we are so far removed from "it" that all we can perceive are these very weak emanations, almost a tease, of something so much more. These emanations might be called the Holy Spirit, I suppose. But often they become so diluted by the time they are expressed outwardly that the whole experience is almost anti-climatic; a disappointment, a falling short of the mark, as if the vessel is flawed, and all the glory has leaked out through tiny cracks hidden by layers of pretty paint before it can be manifested. And, so often, I am that cracked vessel. It is sad. I push away, move on, and the search continues, a search for the source, for the glory, for the illusive "it" that can fuse those cracks and restore this vessel, so that it might once again be a bearer of that same glory, generously pouring out overflowing offerings of divine grace.

Ok, time to come back to the here and now. I don't know what the next stop in the search will be. I'm not sure I want to know right now. What I do know is that in the midst of drawing closer, and pushing away, God will be there, moving from one moment of glory to the next moment of glory, if I realize it or not. I am called to try as best I can, in spite of the constant cycle of emotions, to join in God's movement; moving from faith, to faith.


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