Growing Through Crossing the Threshold

When I began Crossing the Threshold two years ago, two things were apparent: I lacked a vital spiritual life and was overwhelmed by work. The two are interrelated of course and of serious concern for a pastor. My relatively new ministry at a Los Angeles protestant cathedral posed challenges as unique as that string of words. This vibrant community is what I term “high achievement and performance,” and one that values excellence. There is nothing wrong with these qualities as they make for an exciting place to serve and energize staff and community for marvelous ministry together. However, always doing more, and doing it extremely well, has its limits and costs. Wanting to better sustain myself for the long haul with a community I profoundly love, and imagining that its possibilities for deep transformation would, in part, be rooted in my own, I entered this program.

It proved to be one of the most important decisions for my life and ministry. Our opening retreat weekend introduced me to people from all over the world whose yearnings for a deeper life with the Holy resonated in the deep chambers of my being. Wise leaders who had traveled this path for many years masterfully created a contemplative space (on Zoom!) that spoke as strongly as the words and practices they would later share. Here I met two people who would become friends, and with whom I would share a monthly time of group spiritual direction with an amazing spiritual director over the next two years. I would meet another amazing spiritual director with whom I would share a one-on-one session each month, as well.

As a percussionist, I appreciate rhythm, which is discernable not only in the sounding of notes but also in the rests, or silences, between them. These monthly touchstones with new mentors and friends helped me find my groove again, giving me new ways of sounding my ministry as well as finding the spaces of rest from which new ways of sounding might be discerned. For my final project, I implemented a complete restructuring of my online calendar, illustrated by comparing a week before the program and a week near the program’s end. Punctuating the latter are color-coded “blue times” that, contrary to what their name suggests, include intentionally scheduled times for rest and joy. These include space before and after meetings to prepare and process; times spent in quiet sitting and contemplative prayer — a once-vital practice I had lost and have now recovered; regular time in nature for being, sauntering and hiking, photography and prayer; and times with my partner, friends, and music. Sometimes, a blue time has only a question mark, leaving room for spontaneity. Seeing all these laid out on a full work calendar has done marvels for how I feel about and approach each day.  

I am better at listening to understand rather than to react, better at listening with the “ears of the heart,” including discerning subtext. Remembering that all ministry comes from the heart, I closely tend mine and treat it with greater compassion. My relationship with the Divine has never felt more intimate. My awareness of that Presence is so important now that, when I forget it at times during the day, it is as if I missed a needed glass of water.

These personal changes have led to communal changes, too: our services and staff meetings include longer periods of silence and meditation. We’ve incorporated a Labyrinth into our shared life. We recently hired a director of Community Gardens and Urban Farms to transform our green space into land for growing food for our surrounding communities and serving as spaces for rest and prayer. I lead meditation hikes and prayer sits over Zoom and last Spring, took a group to Iona in Scotland for a weeklong retreat. Our community, for myriad reasons, feels kinder and warmer, more gentle with itself and its mistakes, and therefore more open to love, to Spirit.

I am filled with gratitude for the journey of the past two years, but, more than that, for how the journey from here has been forever changed.

March 03, 2024 by Michael Lehman
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