Some months back, I agreed to give some presentations, or take on other projects, and it seemed to be a good idea. I have the qualifications, and they fall within the scope of my ministry.
As each of these projects comes up on my calendar, I prepare for them. I reflect on the topic at hand and do some extra reading and research. This part of the project I enjoy the most, reflecting on challenges that religious life is facing these days, and offering my insights, and the fruit of the many conversations I’ve had, and experience of the communities I’ve worked with, etc.
And then when the actual moment comes up to lead the workshop or retreat, or to give the presentation, I realize that immensity of the challenge to offer something new on the topic of religious life. People are looking for insights, for hope, for inspiration. And so at this point, I realize that each person and each community is also on an individual journey. Each person has particular questions, particular concerns and particular insights. All I can do is offer what I have prepared, and pray with and for the group that they will hear whatever it is they need to hear. I also have the gift of hearing from them the new insights that they bring and the new insights that come up for them as our time unfolds.
I feel so privileged to walk with individuals and groups in the challenging times of their lives. In response, I want to do the best I can to accompany them and help them along the way.
I thought I would share some reflections from my first few days on retreat. The series is incomplete, but, should be plenty for a start…
“Zechariah and I have given our whole lives in service of God. We were raised by faithful parents who themselves where raised by faithful parents. Why we haven’t been able to conceive, I don’t know. I’m sure they townspeople murmur–wonder what sins we’ve committed in some hidden life. But I know that’s not it. Maybe there is something wrong with my body or Zechariah’s, maybe God has different plans for us, I don’t know. But I do know I am called to trust. Most days, that trust is easy. And yet, some days, doubt creeps in. Maybe there is something I have done with which God is not pleased, some way I am unworthy or offensive. But, God always offers consolation, clears the cloud from my heart and mind and restores peace to its home. I am God’s and God knows that, and so I wait.”
“I don’t know if it’s harder for me or harder for her. The talk of women is different than men, yet we all talk, we all speculate, we all get pulled into hearsay and hurt. I know who I am, who Elizabeth is, who we are together. Our lives have not been without blemish, but certainly no offense large enough to keep us barren. I would love a child, not to squelch the chatter, but to watch Elizabeth grow in the light and life for which her body is made. To hold our child, to play, to soothe, to teach, to grow old watching, to know the love we know in God will live on. I pray to be patient and content and grateful for what is, to be about my priestly duties with grace and dignity. And yet sometimes I wonder at this plan of God’s for us. What more can I do?”
“That day in the temple was so unreal, yet so very real. I was focused on my duties and suddenly surprised by the presence of another. I obviously wanted Gabriel’s message to be true–but how? Why? Why me? Why now? My muteness was not punishment but another sign to help my disbelief. I wanted to believe, but only time would tell.”
“Zechariah came home to me mute. ‘Great, just what we needed, I thought.’ But his message was so strange and wonderful. I could tell he was bursting at the seams and yet trying to hold it all together in case, in case maybe… He was so gentle with me those next days, as if we might break me or the gift upon us. And when the time for my monthly cycle came and passed, we held each other, weeping silent teacher–grateful and hoping and grateful.”
“My stomach is fluttering. I like to think it is the miracle-child growing within me, but I know it’s just the nervous, excited energy of what I’ve just been told. It’s unbelievable and wonderful and overwhelming and joyous and so, so scary. Like I told the angel, ‘I am God’s servant.’ That is what I know my life is for, and I am happy to have it be so. But this is going to cause such scandal and hurt. Maybe Joseph and my parents will understand and maybe they won’t. Maybe no one else will take notice. Who am I kidding?! God, I could use a little help here, someone who will believe this for what it is. Ha! I am so sorry, God. In your compassionate love, you have provided everything. I will go to Elizabeth! She will understand. We can celebrate together this amazing work you are doing in us. How quickly can I go?”
“I’m too excited for this journey to seem arduous. I wish I were already there, knocking on the door, being greeted with a welcoming embrace. Will we tell our news right away, blurt it out eagerly and with joy? Or will we wait, awkwardly holding onto the news, unsure if the other will believe? Elizabeth should be far enough along, though, that there will be no doubt. What if I show up and she is not with child? What will I do then? But she will be. I know she will.”
“My back was to the door when Mary arrived. Though we haven’t seen each other in ages and I didn’t expect her arrival, as soon as she said my name, I knew. I knew it was Mary and I knew, too, she had a blessing to share. When we hugged, I could feel the energy and life in her womb fill all the God spaces in me. John jumped as if ready to begin his own mission. Mary put out her hands, her eyes asking permission to touch my swelling belly. I took her hands and held them to the roundness, feeling again John’s movement in response. Confirming my suspicion, she then took my hands and put them on her own still-flat stomach. There was much to share and celebrate. I was so glad she had come.”
“As we approached the village my nervous energy made me giddy. I separated myself from the group and walked the short distance to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house. The gift of calm and peace and stillness washed over me as I stood at the door, washed away any anxiety of doubt. Slowly, I pushed open the door and there was Elizabeth with her back to me. I don’t remember if I said her name first or if she called mine, but no words were necessary. When she turned and I saw her rounded belly my whole being ached with love and gratitude. My trust was not childish. Everything was real. As we held one anothers hands to the life growing inside each of us, consolation swept my soul. The pain of need and isolation melted, a puddle around my feet. Safe and sure with someone who understood, I was suddenly exhausted. Elizabeth led me to her bed where, immediately, I slept.”