I’ve never spent a much time learning about the Desert Mothers and Fathers – ammas and abbas – who lived in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria of the 4th – 5thcenturies. I’ve heard about the collections of their sayings, but have never read any of them. Many people supposedly traveled to sit at the feet of these respected spiritual teachers and directors. Those pilgrims sought their wisdom and guidance, often asking for a word. It is written that this word or phrase would be something to ponder for days, months, years. The disciples wanted a word to guide their spiritual formation so they asked their spiritual directors.
I find myself in these final days before the start of our 2016 United Methodist General Conference trying to make space for God. In the midst of reading, trying to keep details for the delegation in check, planning for travel and being away from home for two weeks, trying to coordinate a Samaritan Offering emphasis that begins at the same time as the Conference…I find myself struggling to stop and be still, to listen for God’s voice. I recognize that I have become fixated on tangible items that will help me focus. I laughed Wednesday morning as I thought about having to ship a box of “things” to Portland. In that box would be the new set of prayer beads I made for myself; a plaque from the Cana Barn project that my amazing friend, Kristin Holbrook, made for me with the closing words of the 14th verse of the 4th chapter of Esther (“…for just such a time as this.”); and a special cross, among other things which I consider sacred. It dawned on me that without really thinking about it, I was creating my personal altar space for Portland.
Just a short time later, the “word” became clear. The clearness came by way of the Spiritual Director that has been walking with me since January. It is the same word that has repeated itself over and over since last summer through prayer and community. Actually, it hasn’t just been since last summer. I began to realize its importance when a young adult who has taught me much said a while ago, “Do you realize you sent me the same card twice?” On the front of that card is the final sentence of this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” (You Learn by Living, 1960)
The word emerged in the spiritual direction conversation. It’s repeated several times in the message that I’ve been working on for Sunday’s Older Adult Recognition worship service at Lower UMC. It is in this week’s readings on leadership in my John Maxwell Daily Reader. The word is appearing everywhere. That word is “courage” – for just such a time as this. The question that is beginning to start each of my days: “How is God calling me to courageously respond to the circumstances of this day?”
For an introvert like me who would prefer to be asking for a word of guidance at the feet of the amma in the desert rather than sitting in committee work and plenary sessions at General Conference trying to listen for God’s word for The UMC in the midst of many, many voices, I need all the courage I can muster.
Why I feel the need to have something I can hold in my hands or see before me as a symbol of that courage is a different question. One for counseling, not spiritual direction, I believe, but I’m still planning to pack my box.
“Courage is found in unlikely places.” – J.R.R. Tolkien