Several years back, heart-break gently forced me to take responsibility for my own joys and sorrows. Until then, I was living as I had been raised. This was my understanding: smart, white men are doing the significant, important work. They were the big-time stewards. Cathleen, your tasks are small in comparison. Just take care of your family, work in the nursery, co-lead the pioneer girls, be a good neighbor. The scope of my stewardship was tiny in comparison.
But, I had hit bottom and my old assumptions came to an end. I was at an impasse.
I remember one night, when I felt like I was in free fall having no idea when or where I would land nor how hard that landing would be.
On other nights, before I lay down in bed, I would step onto the deck, and look up for the brightest light in the sky. That spring Saturn had drawn closer to the earth than usual. It was beautiful and gazing upon it brought me some peace.
I needed symbols that could function as signs of eternal significance.
As the days passed, I was okay. I hadn’t lost everything. Day after day I found my footing.
Of course, my experience is not unique. I can see that in James Fowler’s chart of the stages of faith. I had simply moved from an inherited faith to one that I was beginning to own for myself.
It was as if my image of God had been held in a small, tight 9 X 11inch frame that had broken and was giving way to an image of God larger than I could measure.
On the recent ECW diocesan retreat Bishop Audrey Scanlon talked about transitions. She referenced the work of William Bridges who sees three distinct steps to a transition: ending, neutral zone and new beginning.
When I was in the neutral zone I looked around at what was sturdy, what was holding me. It was the people in the Spiritual formation school with whom I had been spending one weekend a month. It was some friends, but not all, it was the consistency of days, and of the spiritual life here at St. Luke’s that I was just beginning to enjoy.
And I did something I could have never imagined doing: I applied to the Holistic Spirituality graduate program at Chestnut Hill College, in Philadelphia. I was accepted and drove back and forth a hundred times in the course of 4 years. That wasn’t the old me. I was being made new. I learned to read academic texts, write fairly well and to speak up in class. It was new and amazing.
Now the scope of my stewardship, what I am protecting and being responsible for, has enlarged as a member of my immediate and extended family, in my vocation as spiritual director, in relationship with friends and neighbors, and all of you here at St. Luke’s.
Constance Fitzgerald describes the inner resources that can open for us in the impasse or neutral zone this way: “the left side of the brain, with its usual application of linear, analytical, conventional thinking is ground to a halt. The ending or impasse forces us to start all over again, driving us to contemplation. On the other hand, the impasse provides a challenge and a concrete focus for contemplation . . . It forces the right side of the brain into gear, seeking intuitive, symbolic unconventional answers, so that action can be renewed eventually with greater purpose.”
So when the end comes, it’s not the end. That truth is built into the pattern of life that God has made. When we feel we have lost more than we can endure, God, who is generous by nature, gives us more.
Once when I was talking with my mother, out of the blue she said, “The lord is rich.” That kind of observation was unusual for her. So, I paused and asked if she would like to say more about the Lord’s riches. Without any hesitation, she replied, “He has so much and we take so little.”
Perhaps our ability to be generous like God in what we steward, influence, judge, give and serve is connected to taking more, and more of the gifts of the Spirit.
We have certainly all experienced endings, impasse, hitting the wall and falling down. In the neutral zone that follows such an experience, we can hunker down and try our best to resist growing in faith or we can have faith and relax in God’s care, stand up, dust ourselves off, and begin again with an enlarged understanding of what and how we are to steward.
Psalm 65 breaks open our awareness of having being richly cared for—even assuring us that our strongest sins, those sins stronger than we are ourselves (see verse 3) will be generously blotted out by God.
This puts us in a new place. Starting over, we are given new opportunities to follow Jesus with greater confidence. We, too, can do this most important work. We grow in faith, our connections deepen, and we are inclined to become more generous in every way.
A couple of years ago my friend Lynn told me about a young family who are recent immigrants from northern Sudan. Their daughter, Sara, had met Mona, the Sudanese woman at Mechanicsburg’s public library one day when they had each come with their children. The young mothers began talking and Mona invited Sara to her apartment. Sara noticed how near to the bone they were living. So Sara told her folks about Mona’s family. My friend Lynn and her husband quickly befriended them.
I don’t recall the first time I met Mona, but I can tell you that as I spend time with her, my respect grows. Last year Mona gave birth to another baby whom she named Lynn, after my friend.
It is not hard to be generous out of my abundance. Along with Lynn, Sara and a few other folks, including some of you, we can think of places Mona might like to visit, of a class she and her children might like to take, of resources she may be able to receive for herself and her family at New Hope
Mona and her family are our neighbors here in this borough. They need to know in these early years of their transition, that they are welcomed, respected, and even loved as they grow into this new beginning among us.
I wonder how God has been generous to you? Can you identify endings in your life that opened you up to deeper faith in God and a richer life? How do your experiences of God’s generosity influence the scope and stewardship of your resources?