Having spent most of my years as a communicator of some kind, words are important to me. If you combine that life experience with a good ten years spent in a worship community in which the song that lead into prayer during worship went like this,
Our thoughts our prayers
And we are always praying
Our thoughts our prayers
Take charge of what you are saying
Seek a higher consciousness
A state of peacefulness
And know that God is always there.
And every thought becomes a prayer.
and you have, well me — someone who over and over again examines the use of words that many people assume have a well accepted and agreed upon common meaning. For example, I understand that the word “family,” which we use so freely in our worship gatherings as a synonym for the kind of Christian community we hope to creation, does not mean the same thing to all people — it does not, to everyone mean that safe, desirable warm place that you either have and want to share or that, if you don’t have already, you desire more than anything else on earth. For some it is a social unit that excludes, that hurts. Family is a word with two very different meanings.
Another such word is the word calling. You would think that, given my nature and my passions, I would find this word wonderful. I have heard it used with the best of intentions and the greatest of faith, but haven’t we all heard it used in other ways? And, I ask myself, even if your intention is good and clear when you use it, does the word not imply that you have something that the person sitting next to you does not — that you are somehow special and maybe even a little “better-than”? Has this word and its professionalization not led us to some of the deep problems in our gatherings, where those with “the degree” and “the calling” are seen as better, more spiritual, even more holy than those without? I don’t have answers for these questions but they are things that I continue to ponder. And they are questions that have made it impossible for me to use the word “calling” without trepidation.
Yesterday, however, my friend Adrienne gave me new language that seems to fit the journey that I am beginning today. Generally, I would not mention a person by name without their permission, but she did use this language on Facebook and she deserves credit. Even if it is not original, she is the one who placed it in front of me as I’m about to step off on another part of my journey. Adrienne referred to her own path as following “that ministry which God has laid upon my heart.” I follow Adrienne carefully because, she, like me, is following a path that is way outside the box of church life in 2015. Her journey gives me strength and now, for a while, language that I can live with along the way.
You see, today I am flying off to San Francisco to begin a certification process in the ministry of listening. Listening is the critical piece needed to help our understanding of the way in which words impact people’s lives — their words and ours. It is, to me, the path to greater peace and faith. And it is part of the infrastructure that I need to, like Adrienne, follow the path of ministry that God has placed on my heart. Maybe I will make it and maybe I won’t, but this is the next step on the this path.
During this last year of recovery and struggle and finding my way, I asked for one simple thing — that a feeling of possibility and movement might return to my life, that the ability to create and dream return. A year ago, I would not have found comfort in a phrase that used the words “laid upon my heart,” but now I can. You see, words can be rehabilitated in a life, too.
I am here to tell you that prayers are sometimes answered. Who knows where this step will take me or what new language I will be asked to confront and dissect, but I do believe that my ability to hear many meanings to well accepted words will be of some help over these next weeks.