“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

WordsMatter, a reflection on comfort

Here is the reflection I will offer on Friday night at the WordsMatter train the trainer in Seattle. Or at least it is my reflection as it stands now, written in response to this question:

"Share with us an experience when you noticed the power and/or importance of language (words, symbols, or images) and the impact of that language on your life, your faith community, or your relationship with God. This experience may have helped you embrace the Divine more fully or it may have been destructive, harmful, or painful to you in your personal and/or faith journey."

I should have asked her, “What do you mean by comfortable?”

I think I know what she meant when she said, “With so much change in the world the Church should be the one place that never changes. It should be comfortable.”

I am conflicted when “church” and “comfortable” are used in the same sentence.

On the one hand I work hard to help visitors and newcomers feel comfortable when they worship. I believe in hospitality, that people should easily navigate our complicated service, know when to stand, kneel, sit, sing, cross oneself, come up for communion, what to say when, whether or not its ok to not do any of these and still fit in, how to find coffee hour, and will anyone speak to me or help me - or will I stand alone with my stale cookie and bad coffee?

There is a fine line between what is comfortable, what comforts one person and what is uncomfortable to another.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40.1)

The woman said this to me because the church was going through changes....

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.... (Isaiah 66.13)

And so I’ve been thinking about comfort and comfortable. Could I have given them what they wanted and restored “things” back? Could I have done that? Would that actually have been comfort-able?

Comfort: “to give strength and hope, to ease grief or trouble.”

The church may be a place of comfort. We all may find strength and hope in our worship and our faith-life, church may be a place where our grief can be eased and our troubles cared for.

So, here lies my conflict. The church may be a place of comfort but does that mean it "should be comfortable;" the church should be my personal place of “contentment and security?”

Comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work.... (2 Thessalonians 2.17)

If we live into these words from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, then our comfort, our strength and hope, is found in the work we do. Jesus reminds us in Mathew 22 that the work we are to do is love. We are to love God, love self, and love others.

I don’t know about you, but I have found my efforts to love as God asks takes me right out of my “comfortableness” even as I try to “comfort” those I love.

Words




Tomorrow I leave for Seattle where I will spend the weekend co-leading the first WordsMatter "Train the Trainer" event for the Episcopal Church. We have 9 people from different dioceses coming. In preparation for this event we all have to write a brief narrative on this question:

Share with us an experience when you noticed the power and/or
importance of language (words, symbols, or images) and the impact
of that language on your life, your faith community, or your relationship
with God. This experience may have helped you embrace the
Divine more fully or it may have been destructive, harmful, or painful
to you in your personal and/or faith journey.


When I co-led the NCC ecumenical version of this event last August I wrote a reflection about bread. I reflected on bread as a symbol for the body of Christ, many diverse ingredients, each different, blending into a whole. It was as much a reflection on the process of making bread as a symbol for the body of Christ as it was on loaves of bread as the body. I reflected on bread because I made five different kinds of bread for our final worship experience.

But for this event I am not making bread, someone local is making it. So I'm pondering what I want to reflect on. I keep having this song -

"Someone and someone
were down by the pond
Looking for something
to plant in the lawn.
Out in the fields they
were turning the soil
I'm sitting here hoping
this water will boil
When I look through the windows
and out on the road
They're bringing me presents
and saying hello.

Singing words, words
between the lines of age.
Words, words
between the lines of age.

If I was a junkman
selling you cars,
Washing your windows
and shining your stars,
Thinking your mind
was my own in a dream
What would you wonder
and how would it seem?
Living in castles
a bit at a time
The King started laughing
and talking in rhyme.

Singing words, words
between the lines of age.
Words, words
between the lines of age."

(Neil Young, Harvest, Words, Between the lines of age..)


- tumble through my thoughts, even though it isn't what I want to reflect on. At least not exactly....

But I am thinking about words. Words like Covenant and this brilliant article from Walter Brueggermann, first published in 1980! Still so appropriate.

And I'm thinking about the words I said and agreed to abide by in my ordination vows, my 11th anniversary will be Dec. 28.

Mostly I'm thinking about "Incarnation" and "Priesthood" and male pronouns and female. What does the incarnation mean for a woman priest?

I'm not sure where my reflection is going to go, but I have to have it written today.

It's only words.

But sometimes words are everything.