Dear Members and Friends,
What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent with the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quite giving our best selves.
-Christian Wiman, “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer”, 21st century
I shut my eyes in order to see.
-Paul Gauguin, 19th century
There is a lot facing you in the coming weeks and months. Saying good-by to a pastor who has been with you for 24 years (an entire generation); organizing yourselves, individually and as a community, to maintain the community and property and ministry of this church; organizing yourselves, individually and as a community, to seek and find new pastoral leadership, first for the immediate, interim period and then for the longer, settled time. It is a lot and it can be overwhelming.
It can also lead to a very task-oriented attitude. There is so much to do, so many people to consult and discuss matters with. And it feels like there is so little time. After all this is now on top of regular life! And so it is very easy for time together, in community, at church, is time for dealing with the tasks at hand. It is easy for worship time to be pushed aside, or overwhelmed, and be lost.
Especially now that Easter is over. But Easter is not over. In truth, the Church acknowledges that Easter is an on-going, long term reality with the liturgical season of Easter. For the next seven weeks we are in the Season of (not after)Easter. This Sunday the Gospel reading is the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples and Thomas, who has trouble believing without seeing. Next Sunday the reading is another story about Jesus appearing to his followers after the resurrection of Easter.
As Christian Wiman identifies for us, doubt is not really an absence of faith but a dullness that comes from lack of commitment and attentiveness that we are not quite giving to God. And attention to tasks is not the same as commitment to God, or attentiveness to God’s Spirit and the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, present within and among us.
That is why it is so important to always make time for attentiveness to matters of the spirit. As Paul Gauguin says, “I shut my eyes in order to see.” For me, that shutting of the eyes is time in prayer and meditation.
“Attentiveness without an aim is the supreme form of prayer,” writes Simone Weil. But we need time to attend. Not the frenetic, multi-present “convenience” of digital time, but slow time to wait and wonder, to believe in the unseen, and a kind of time that cannot be measured.
“Prayer is not asking for what you think you want,” writes Kathleen Norris, “but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” So it is important to choose to wait and to listen. But for how long do we wait? Is it for five minutes, or a week? And to what are we listening? Mystery is the answer, and sometimes only silence. Sometimes it is the presence of absence and sometimes a slow, tentative, vague sense of belonging that slowly rises up within all the hectic demands of life and its confronting tasks.
As pastor I have always tried to model the importance of Sabbath time for attending to the inner life and journey. I have always made sure to take a Sabbath day each week (which of course is not really Sunday for a pastor, the climax day of a busy work week). I have always made sure to take vacation time and get out of town to attend to personal needs for renewal, for nurturing family relationships, and for immersing deeply in God’s amazing world. And I have always been sure to remember to find moments of worship in a service of worship that I had primary responsibility for leading, contributing to, and a myriad host of details to attend to, so that worship might happen for the community. So, if you were to watch me you would notice I am truly singing the songs of praise and worship, I do immerse myself in the quiet of our prayer time, and I do listen attentively, reflectively to the Special Music Offering and the Scripture reading.
I encourage you in the days and weeks ahead to not allow the tasks and demands of this new time in the life of your church to overwhelm you and take your worship time away from you. More than ever this time will be important for you, personally and as a community. Even if the tasks continually creep into your awareness and, like insistent children, ask and demand your attention, be sure to find those moments in worship to “shut your eyes in order to see.” Be sure to choose time to wait, to listen, and to be attentive to your own spirit, to the presence of God, and to the presence of the Risen Jesus.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida