I’d heard a call that I didn’t know if I wanted to follow – a call to leave my beloved kindred, place and home – and go to where God was showing me. And so I checked it out with some trusted friends.
Sometimes I talked about it as a longing, something I was called to discover.
Sometimes I talked about it as wanting to continue to grow and use the gifts I have in new ways.
Sometimes it felt like some new work was calling me that I needed to do in the world.
Sometimes I talked about what I discovered in learning how to sail – stepping into my fear and off the dock, being in a new environment which required new language, ways of navigating. Something about the deep conversations that happened there when we were out of our “Sunday clothes” and in our sailing clothes – I wanted more of that. There was something about being outside. Something about inviting people to sail, and encouraging them that they could in fact take the tiller and sail the boat themselves. I wanted more of all that I was finding there.
Sometimes I said more practical things – like I’m 56 and if I am going to step out I need to do that now.
Sometimes I talked about work that was coming to completion here and my conviction that it was ready for new imagination.
But at the heart of it was something that was beyond rational or practical explanation and that I didn’t know how to explain. I felt called to go. Something was stirring in me, opening me to step into my fear, into my resistance to change, and risk changing my life to have a new life that I was called to embody.
So I checked it out with well over thirty trusted souls waiting for someone to please tell me what a terrible idea this was and that I most certainly should stay home! Instead, each beloved listener reflected that they heard an authentic call and encouraged me to go. Darn!
My listeners knew that stepping out from the beloved familiarity of my work, ministry and community was a huge thing, a terrifying thing for me to consider. And they heard in this stirring in my heart and imagination that it was in fact it a good thing, a necessary thing even for my own growth in life and faith. And besides, they reminded me, God was calling. Who knew where this might lead?
And so, after years of wondering, and a year of deep conversations, with others and my own discernment I decided in fear and trembling to actually say out loud that I am going and my last Sunday is December 30.
In the stepping out and naming that I was following a call and stepping out into the unknown, I became someone different. It’s really felt like that. No, perhaps not a whole new person, but so much more of me.
I became the pastor who cries. The pastor who found his place in the simplicity of conversations that have not been about doing, solving, fixing anything but the simple profundity of being together, giving thanks, remembering, wishing God-speed. It’s been a time of heart-opening connection to a community I have loved that I’ve never experienced in just this way.
Members of this community here have reminded me of stories of their own experiences in leaving the lives they had for the new lives they discovered.
Reminded me that in order to continue to grow you need to have times of disequilibrium.
Called me to remember that the best way for me to spend this fall is not in fact to worry about what happens in January but to be present here and now with this community – to say goodbye, release, let go, grieve – and that this will be the best preparation for what lies in the new year ahead.
In the past weeks, my faith has deepened. I have come to believe that the healing of our world and ourselves depends on our listening more deeply to call. That is, the stirrings of the still-speaking, still-creating God who is calling us all out of our familiar patterns and places. A God in who is calling us to return to ancient and neglected ways of being community with and for each other. A God who knows that our survival depends not on our keeping things all the same but in becoming radically new.
So yes, for you, for me, in fear and trembling we are called again and again to Go – to leave what frames we have made of our lives for the way the God who is creating still calls us to step into and through our fear and become God’s new creation. For some it means leaving a familiar place, for others being there in new ways. For all, a journey.
On the day this congregation was to vote on calling me and Dave as associate pastors, we ended our sermon by quoting St. John of the Cross.
I said to the man who stood at the gate, “Give me a light that I may see my way into the darkness!”
“Put your hand out into the darkness”, he said, “that is safer and better than a known way.”
On that Sunday the congregation put out their hand.
Now, decades later, recalled to the faith and trust I have had instilled in me here, I put out my own….