Rediscovering a Desire for God
Like a gentle diagnostician/professor, Frank Griswold, former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, spoke to clergy on Maundy Thursday morning. His words caught my heart.
Beginning with the passage from the Revelation of John, chapter two, Griswold quoted the words of praise for those who work so hard in the church: “I know what you are doing, how you toil and endure…you have borne up in my cause and have never become weary.”
One could almost hear the gratitude in the room as 100 clergy received these words: finally some appreciation for the endless hours of meetings, preparing budgets, conversations, teaching, visits, preparing sermons, leading worship, good works, responding to calls in the middle of the night and caring for the flock. Interrupting these good feelings, Griswold was quick to point out that the passage from Revelation continues with a serious indictment: “However, I have this against you: the love you felt at first, you have now lost.”
What could possibly lead to such a loss?
Speaking as one who knew that territory intimately himself, Griswold talked about how clergy can become lost in the technicalities and mechanics of church leadership. Clergy are so busy preaching God’s love for everyone else, he went on, they forget their own belovedness in God. They become workhorses for God.
Perhaps it is truer to say that this Love is never really lost. Meister Eckhart, a 14th century mystic, said it this way: “God is at home. We are the ones out to lunch.” In other words, we become lost in our daily activities, lost in our ego-drivenness and fears, lost in distractions and attachments. The Great Love is always there, waiting, abiding, present. We are the ones not present to that gracious Presence.
As the passage suggests, clergy, as well as others, need to rediscover their truest, most authentic selves in God. They need to know again and again, “the love they felt at first,” the One Love in which they “live and move and have their very being.” This is not easy given our broken human condition and the culture we live in, the daily demands of life and pressures of ministry. However, our desire for God’s spirit to live at the center of our lives is the prayer that leads toward home.
Tilden Edwards, in a talk to Korean clergy, said that he believes that “God respects our desire not to get lost.” Even if we do get lost, we can desire not to. Applicants to Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership: Going Deeper Program express this desire.
Senior pastors write of their need for support in order to live and minister from their spiritual heart throughout the day. In the all-consuming life of a congregation, they say, finding space for one’s own spiritual life and nurture is difficult. It’s too easy to let go of the spiritual practices and prayer times that sustain and empower the creativity, integrity and vitality of authentic ministry. Yet not to attend to this essential dimension is perilous.
Pastoral associates, and those young in ordained ministry, write of their desire to set patterns/disciplines early in their ministry that will sustain them throughout the years ahead. Still others, admitting their own loneliness in ministry, write of their longing for a network of colleagues who are involved with contemplatively-inspired congregational leadership.
The Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership: Going Deeper Program is designed to address these yearnings. It offers clergy time and support for deepening in the life of the Spirit. It invites living from Love in all aspects of ordained ministry and congregational leadership. It provides an atmosphere for honest spiritual community as well as the fellowship and stimulus of other contemplatively-minded clergy. It is grounded in open, immediate presence to the Spirit, which is the steady spiritual foundation for authentic living, vision and action.
As one applicant this year wrote, “In this very confusing and secular world in which we live, having a place to focus on what is truly central for our lives is invaluable. Thank you!”