There are lots of things that take my breath away each day as I fathom the fact that I am an ordained pastor. I wonder at times how it can be that I, of all people, get to lead God's people in worship. That I, of all people, proclaim God's words of grace and mercy, forgiveness and love. That I, of all people, am given the task of reminding us of why God matters and how God matters, and how some things we think matter really aren't as important to God as we think.
But there are other places that take my breath away because I get to proclaim God as the light in the wilderness, in the darkness and in the storm. In visits and phone calls, in the hospital, at funerals, and in so many wilderness places. And each time I do so I remember my own places of wilderness and darkness and storm. And a light I can scarcely hold.
One of the experiences that I had way back in CPE was that people always wanted to show me their scars. I would come back and speak of this and be met with bewilderment from my team. You're not all seeing this? No- just you, they'd say somewhat gratefully. In the rest of my time as a chaplain and now in parish ministry this continues. Let me show you my scars, my wounds, my true self. I am never sure why I am trusted in this way, except that it feels beyond me. Like the way some people tell me my eyes are beautiful in these moments. Or that they are bright or piercing. And I know it is not me they see. It really is not me they see.
Last week I led a Blue Christmas service which was a new experience for our parish and though I have been to one before, a new experience for me. There was a time where people could come forward and light candles in the shadow of a less than perfect cross, or say or leave a paper with the name of a loved one. And then be anointed for healing, and wrapped in the embrace of a prayer shawl. Tears, hugs, words of grace and light.
I made an odd decision, for me. I decided after all of the thoughtful planning of the worship space and the worship itself, that I would not write a homily ahead of time. I would see who was there and speak by the Spirit from that moment. As people came, and more than I expected, I looked and saw those who had lost loved ones to cancer, perinatal loss, chronic conditions, and a family who recently began the scorched earth journey that accompanies a suicide. And I realized that hard as those experiences are, I had also been in each of those places. Places where we wonder what to pray for- comfort or release, places of no answers, only questions. Places where others' discomfort and questions leave us even more unsettled. Places where we want to pray but our words end up in piles on the floor. Places where we look for the light but in truth can't see it.
I remember part of what I said, but most of it was too ethereal an experience for me. I sat with all of my losses and all of the others. In the meditative spaces I felt in awe of the colossal task of naming losses and claiming the light of Christ.
But afterwards, in our fellowship time, I again heard about the beauty of the light of the space and about the piercing light in my eyes. It takes my breath away.
How it is that God uses me for this purpose is a mystery of faith that I feel too clumsy to hold.
Lately as one who wears a collar, the needs where I am are so profound. Too profound some days for me. But as I have dared to ask others for things they likely would not do or give, as I look people in the eyes, for the sake of the overburdened, the answers have been "yes." This too seems too precious a consequence for me to be handling and I can be afraid of it.
In the gospel of Luke all of the opening messages delivered from God begin with an angel saying- "Don't be afraid" or "fear not" depending upon your reading. Until the incarnation.
And then everywhere Jesus goes where people are unsettled, in the wildernesses and darkness, and storm- the words "fear not" can also be translated- "Stop fearing." And we can- because Jesus is here. This is the message I have the privilege of bearing. "You can stop fearing- Look! Jesus is here with us."
As we prepare to hear again a story that's thousands of years old and that we're sure we know by heart, maybe our heart needs to begin to grasp again just how profound this message is- in all those places that seem ready to overwhelm us. To see that the tears, the embraces, the anointing, the prayers, the words, the meal all bring this grace of "God with us" in a way perhaps we feel too clumsy to receive and to share, but where we're given the light to hold anyway. By the grace of God , we get the light to hold and to share.
Christ, be our light.