One thing you’ll learn working as a hospital chaplain (as I have been for the last six weeks or so), is that the way you cope with life, is generally the same why you’ll cope in a crisis. If you are a nervous person, you will be extra nervous in a crisis. And if you’re a mean person, you’ll be extra mean in a crisis. The skills we develop to cope with everyday life are the same skills we have to work with when things go terribly wrong.
A few weeks ago, I stood at the bedside of a rather extraordinary family as they removed life support so the matriarch or their family could die in peace. I have never seen such a calm, trusting, fearless group of people, in the midst of such a terrible time.
One of the family member’s explained the situation to me in simple terms:
She’s had a full, rich life.
She wanted to die gracefully.
She misses her husband and she wants to go and be with God.
We gathered around the bedside and read Psalm 139:
You trace my journeys and my resting places,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
If I climb up to heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in the grave, you are there also.
The psalmist writes of a God who knows us so completely:
knows our every word before it is on our lips,
knows the very substance our our being from before we were born.
The psalmist writes of a God who is so present in our lives
that she is, in some way, inescapable:
a divine love that we cannot shake off,
no matter how far away we run,
or how dark the corners we hide in.
Every part of us is known to God,
even the bits we secret away in corners of our hearts.
Even the bits we would rather not show, even to ourselves.
The idea of that at first makes me want to rebel,
makes me want to secret myself away even further.
But when I allow myself to give into it,
it’s incredibly comforting.
Because it means that every part of me,
even before I speak it,
is known to God.
And if God knows me so completely,
created my innermost parts,
knit me together in my mother’s womb,
I must not have that much to hide after all.
This is a wonderful and terrifying time in the life of St. Lydia’s.
Wonderful because so much is happening to us.
And terrifying because so much is happening to us!
We are in the midst of building all these new relationships:
relationships with denominational bodies,
and with bishops and canons and pastors and priests,
relationships with a whole new congregation
who is graciously opening their arms to us,
relationships with a whole new neighborhood full of need.
Our community is like a shoot coming up from the earth.
There is new growth and new life --
because of that, the ground is giving way
beneath our feet,
cracking and breaking open to allow this shoot
to push through.
This week, I’ve been anxious about all this change, and my response to those anxious feelings has been to try and control things. I want to make sure that our relationship with Redeeemer is really good! And I want to make sure that we’re set up for a successful relationship with the Synod as we affiliate.
I have questions:
like what if we run into conflict with the Synod?
Or with the Episcopal Diocese?
What if things are difficult when we get to Redeemer?
What if things are really really difficult?
And then I remember
that they will be.
Things will be new and difficult when we get to Redeemer.
We will have to wrestle things out with the Synod, with the Diocese.
That’s the whole point.
We’re trying to figure out how to follow Jesus’ call to be one body.
Trying to figure out how to be in relationship while sitting right in the tension of our difference.
Being in relationship is hard.
But, as a friend reminded me this week,
conflict can be incredibly creative.
We’ve already seen these last two years at St. Lydia’s,
that it’s the moments of conflict, of tension, of difficulty,
that teach us who we are,
and push us a little further into figuring out
how to be a church together.
Our job is to keep reminding each other of this.
Reminding each other that this is the work that’s been set before us to do.
And that the work has more to do with putting down
than taking up.
I’ll tell you what I mean by that:
The Psalmist writes,
Your eyes beheld my limbs,
yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
my days were fashioned
before they came to be.
God knows each of us, intimately,
knit us together in our mothers’ womb.
And God knows St. Lydia’s, intimately.
Our future is already written in God’s book,
our days already fashioned
even before tomorrow comes.
The wrestling we’ll do together,
the building up and the tearing down,
the struggle and the conflict,
the confusion and joy and beauty,
God knows it all,
knows it intimately.
A few weeks ago, I watched a family
gather around a matriarch
that her life belongs to God.
Today I sit with all of you
around these tables,
and invite you to do the same thing.
Invite you to acknowledge
that St. Lydia’s belongs to God.
And all that we might try to grasp or cling to,
control or manage,
was never ours in the first place.
Let’s see if we can trust
that what we need is here.
That all of our days are written in God’s book,
fashioned, before they even came to be.