This lent I added a daily practice of writing. This is my Lenten journal. A practice toward resurrection.
I have alluded to it a few times before, but it was a little over six months ago when I first sat across from Walter Brueggemann for an afternoon of spiritual direction. It’s clear today how unaware I was in the moment for the ways my life was about to change. But then, perhaps that’s the whole point of the practice of spiritual direction; a Spirit-attuned word from elsewhere speaking a new future into existence.
A little back story…I had just finished 7 years of pastoral assignment and was headed into a summer sabbatical. Call it luck or unforeseen providence, the month prior to beginning sabbatical I was attending a conference in which WB was presenting and a conversation ensued about my upcoming sabbatical. Someplace in the conversation I hesitantly asked if he would consider meeting for a spiritual-direction conversation. Strangely, he agreed.
To reach back even a little further, by the time I sat down at the table I was becoming consciously aware that this sabbatical was more than just a recognition of seven years of full time pastoring, more than extended time off to rest. I intuited sabbatical as a fulcrum moment in life. A time to find clarity and courage. And to act with both. I long desired a jubilee-kind-of-life, a life resembling Gospel freedom, but I was experiencing and witnessing something-other-than-jubilee. A form of ongoing slavery; to debt, doubt, fear, anxiety, complacency, status quo, meaningless consumption, prisons of want, wandering desire, and a disintegrated kind of life. I know it is not what could be…but it is so normal. Expected. Assumed as ok.
As I prepared for a summer of sabbatical, I wrote my confession regarding my state of wholeness (or lack thereof) and wrote before about my need of a priest. But what I didn’t know was that I also needed a prophet; someone to provide a healing ear and a word of future. Someone to disrupt my dissonance and reorientate my routines.
We sat down with a cup of tea on his side of the table and a coffee on mine. Our conversation began with his question, “So, Shane, what’s your story?”
My lengthy and story-full response came to an end with the words,”If that’s my psalm, how would you interpret it?”
There was a pensive pause. And then he replied, “I hear your psalm as pained and faithful.”
Pained and faithful. In just two words he offered understanding, encouragement, and gentle words of affirmation. But then he offered some direction. Spiritual care-frontation.
I could tell the conversation had changed because he set down his cup of tea, and his hands matched the rhythm of his words as he became suddenly serious toned. “Shane, I know you mean well…but I heard you describe ministry as being a ‘conduit of grace’…and well, I just can’t let you stay there. Hear me carefully, you are not a conduit of grace. You are the target of grace. At best, you can be a testimony of the grace God gives. I sense that in order for you to find wholeness again, you must learn to see yourself as a target of grace.”
I’m still learning how to posture myself to receive such a gift. I am beginning to identify what must change in me in order to see myself as one whom God desires to give grace. I am still seeking to shift from a narrative of performance to a narrative of target. I confess today that more often than not I have sought to earn grace. Sought to please with sacrifice. I am learning my need of grace.
I am a target of God’s grace.