Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Labyrinth in the Desert

Well, I have known for some time now that I am in a season of transition in my vocational life. I am now in the final weeks of my ministry as the fifth rector of St. Francis Church, where I've served for more than fifteen years. The goodbyes have begun and they have not been easy. Hellos have also begun as I begin to look toward a new ministry as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

It is, however, not only vocational transition: this year Hathy and I became "empty nesters" and I have turned fifty. (She is not very far behind!) We just signed a purchase and sale agreement on our first home, having lived for all these years of our adult lives in church-owned housing. So there is lots of change...

In preparation for my new job, I am in Scottsdale, Arizona this week at a Franciscan Renewal Center (how providential is that - my old friend "Frank" - he is everywhere!) for "Fresh Start" Training with my new colleague, the Rev. Pam Mott. Fresh Start is a ministry of the Episcopal Church Foundation that takes as a core value the idea that transitions, while challenging, also hold within them the possibility for spiritual growth and transformation. 

For many years I have found walking a labyrinth to be a helpful spiritual practice for me and an apt metaphor for the spiritual life. I can and do meditate but a "walking meditation" - whether in a labyrinth or along the beach or through the woods just works better for me than sitting still. A labyrinth is pretty amazing, but it's NOT a maze. There is one way in and one way out. So you "go with the flow." You don't think; you just put one foot in front of the other. You trust that the path you are on is the path you are meant to be on.

For many more years even than I have been walking labyrinths I have have been attracted to the solace of the fierce landscape of the desert. I know little about deserts in fact other than what I've read in the Bible but whenever I am in a desert the Scriptures come to life for me. I think of the gifts of manna and water from the flinty rock; the desert holds for me the key to understanding twelve-step spirituality: that we can only live one day at a time and it is illusion to think otherwise.

My biological clock is still on east coast time and Arizona apparently doesn't do "daylight savings time." So there is a three-hour difference this week between what my body says and the clock says. Waking very early, however, has been such a gift: to walk the labyrinth as the desert wakes up. I returned this morning after saying my prayers for all who are on my heart and I said to another early riser, "this is what heaven looks like." And she replied, "yes, and sounds like." Indeed...I'd noticed that too, even if I do tend to be a more visual person. 

We walk by faith. And in so doing we learn to trust that all shall be well and all manner of things will be well. In the midst of all my doubts (how much of of my "skill set" of being a parish priest will be remotely relevant to a diocesan ministry?) these walks in the desert reinforce the core message of "Fresh Start" - to simply try to pay attention to the Spirit more, and seek to control less. (With God's help!)

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