Sometimes clergy fall into a trap of thinking that renewal, refreshment, Sabbath, and support are not necessary. I think Clergy can be guilty of retreating into the notion that we would be weak to admit that we need others to give us pastoral care, support and advice. After all, people look to us for answers, for support, and for encouragement. But where do we go to be encouraged and challenged? Where can we go to seek guidance and counsel? Is there a safe place for us as clergy to be nurtured and given succour? We all need to find that place. The Celts talk of the thin place where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and the experience of the glory of God is found.
Poet Sharlande Sledge writes this about the ‘thin places;’
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between this world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy
Let me tell you about my ‘thin place’
In mid October I was back to my favourite American city, Chicago for the second to last course of my doctoral programme. I LOVE Chicago! There is just something about the place that makes my heart sing. I love downtown, Hyde Park, the Water Tower, the restaurants, the Exchequer Pub in the Chicago Loop, Jimmy’s Tap on Woodlawn, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Oriental Art Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, the Original Pancake house, The University of Chicago Co-Op Student Bookstore, the lakefront walk – this list could go on forever. You get the idea. But what I really love about the last two plus years in Chicago is not so much the spatial stuff (although as you can tell I love that too). What really makes the week away a ‘thin place’ is the experience called McCormick Theological Seminary. The time I have had with my colleagues and with the faculty in the DMin. Programme at McCormick is always a gift and always brings me back renewed. While I am excited about coming near the end of my studies at McCormick, I am at the same time a little saddened that my opportunity to retreat to a place which challenges me and renews me will soon end.
Last month I was privileged to study the Psalms with Professor Melody Knowles who is a gift to our programme at McCormick. To be in communion with five others, for five days in intimate and intentional conversation centered on the weighty words of the Psalms, was a great gift to me.
Being in group with ministers and teachers who seek to live in the fullness of questions and who are not paralysed by a need for answers, is a liberating experience. It is a space wherein I find myself free to plumb the depths of my own life experience and search for the touchstones of God’s abiding presence. Studying at McCormick is engaging in an environment where there is a multiplicity of experience and a diversity belief. We were able to speak of our lives experiences and how the words of the Psalms speak to those experiences. This was made possible because of the tender guidance of a learned scholar who understands that the words of scripture have meaning only inasmuch as they impact the lives of the readers/hearers. Professor Melody Knowles made a space safe enough for our group to articulate how the words of the Psalms have landed on our ears. Her guidance is a testament to the kind of learning environment that I have been fortunate to enjoy for the last 28 months. Theological discourse is heightened when people are granted the security of not needing to be certain about all things at all times. That sense of uncertainty, or better put, a sense of being comfortable in the question, is very much ‘thin space’ for me. In studying Judaism last night with our book group at the Church (as a part of my thesis work) we were reminded that for Jews, theological discourse is not so much about agreement as it is about engagement. A Hasidic saying – “If you are proved right, you accomplish little; but if you are proved wrong, you gain much: you learn the truth.” In mid October I was gifted with time in a ‘thin place’ where God felt so very real and present. That presence of the Divine was so real for me because of the engagement and the diversity of the experience of God’s love as shown in the lives of those present in a place that encourages practitioners of ministry to strive to make congregations vital and alive with the love of the Creator.
A couple of weeks ago we prayed this Collect:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In many ways what we did during the course with Professor Melody Knowles was Bible study. We brought that prayer to life. We were hearing the scriptures, we were reading them, marking them, and hopefully learning from them as we inwardly digested them. My course concluded with a request for me to plan something for my community. To that end I have planned ESTABLISHED FOREVER: an Advent Bible Pstudy of the Psalms. Each week, beginning on the Feast of the Reign of Christ, we will study the Psalms that will be sung on Sunday mornings. I hope that some of you who are in the Windsor-Essex area will join us for one hour between our church services on Sunday morning. We will start each week at 9 am. The preaching throughout Advent will also focus on the Psalms. I want to take the glory that has enlivened me in my ‘thin place’ and engage a group over scripture. I invite you to join us as we hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Psalms of Advent.
To register, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our church office at 519 735 4921.