Just finished the second meeting of a new book/scripture study I’m lucky enough to be hosting in my home this fall. I had been praying about what I might do to offer something in ministry and connection when I came across this book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear by Scott Bader-Saye. It seemed the perfect book to use for a group study, considering all that is going on in the world today. So, I sent an email out to some people and the response was more than I had even hoped for. I’m guessing the topic of how to live faithfully in the midst of our fears resonates with a lot of us.
It’s a great group. Ages range from mid thirties to… us “older” gals. All phases of life. Some old friends. Some new friends. Different faith traditions. Some seasoned Bible study goers and for some it is their first venture into any kind of study of this sort. It is s not really a Bible study in the familiar sense. No fill in the blank questions. No lectures. No right or wrong answers. I gave up trying to get the right answers a long time ago. The deeper I get into scripture the more I realize it is all about the engagement and the questioning. And the gift of studying scripture together is in the wrestling with it learning to see it from different perspectives. We might come out with a limp, but we’ll be blessed because of it! I saw this video clip of two orthodox Jews at the wailing wall in Israel. They were facing each other and pouring over a passage. It was almost as if they were dancing with it, back and forth they shifted, both of them talking at once. They weren’t trying to convince each other of the correct understanding, but rather together immersing themselves in the process of coming closer to God and to one another. Each of them bringing into the conversation a unique perspective and life experience, and an open mind and heart. Now that’s a Bible study I can get behind!
In our new group’s time together we read a chapter a week in the book and then we consider a passage from the Bible that relates or speaks to what we’ve discussed in the book. We’re “hearing” the passage through Lectio Divina, a fancy way of saying that I read the passage through three times and the group listens to it instead of reading along. Somehow this opens the possibility of encountering the passage on a deeper level. Then we journal for a few minutes about what we heard and what it may have stirred up within us. And, we are all invited to do this journaling with our non-dominant hand. This is probably the biggest challenge of the whole thing. It’s such a foreign concept for most people to write with the opposite hand. There have been much smarter people than me who have researched this and found that writing with the non dominant hand can unlock parts of the brain that don’t get used enough. It is sometimes considered a gateway to greater creativity. I don’t know about all that but, sure enough, it is really amazing to see what comes out of this process. Even the discomfort and feelings toward the process are teaching us something worth noting.
For me, the time together with these wonderful souls is such a gift. I’m inspired by each and every one of them. It’s only been two weeks but I can already say that I am in awe of the wisdom, faith, and courage of these women. Some are going through the stresses of raising children in a world gone crazy. Others transitioning from parenting a child to being the parent of an adult. Some are navigating that road of having to “parent” their parents and negotiate caring for them. Some are facing the challenges of life after working in a long career, trying to figure out what life is now supposed to look like. Some of us are facing the realities and challenges of aging and how to remain young in the midst of growing old. Some are facing a major health crisis, either for them or their spouse, a time when rubber meets the road in the journey of faith. Some are walking a path of grief. The path of grief is a strange one because it never really ends. The challenge therefore is learning to embrace this truth and to allow time and faith to build a bridge between the grief and possibility of deepened joy. Our phases and challenges may be different, even while uniquely universal, but we all share an authentic intention to grow… stronger against fear, closer to the Love which created and sustains us, and in connection to one another through our time together.
My journey in ministry has always been out of order, long and winding, unorthodox and unpredictable. My official “career” in ordained ministry was not at all what I thought it would be and was much shorter than the time it took to get “there”. I may never again have an official or paid pastoral position. And in some ways maybe I have failed at my calling. And, just maybe, that was a huge piece of the calling; to learn that failure to succeed doesn’t mean failure to proceed. I couldn’t be more thankful than I am at this moment. To be able to journey with and learn from these amazing women. To be able to wrestle and dance with scripture, to be able to learn that standing strong amidst life’s challenges takes a willingness to be vulnerable with others. To be able to grow closer to Love and to this community. Well, who could honestly ask or hope for more. My cup definitely runs over.
In a world where the temptation to fear comes at us from all directions, be it world events, our own life circumstances, the manipulation for profit by the media, or our own internal fear mongering, it is good to know that something as simple, yet significant, as an hour of coffee, conversation, and prayer can do much to both neutralize the effects of fear and empower the possibilities for faith. Life. Faith. Hope. Love. Never meant to be a solitary venture. Rather, meant to be an amazing and unpredictable adventure in community.
Something to chew on….