In the post preceding this one, I outlined the elements of my spiritual experience and my regular spiritual practices. In this post, I want to examine my spiritual life during the past year as it was manifested in the five areas of music, physicality/health, personal life, ministry to my current congregation, and ministry in the larger community.
1. Music and spiritual experience: when I sing with others, I am transported by the sound of voices blending in harmonic patterns, the way it fills me with a sensation beyond pleasure, a sense of connectedness with my fellow musicians; the words of certain songs are thrilling and meaningful. Presenting the Pete Seeger concert last May was an experience of connectedness and outreach to the larger community; hampered as I was by vision problems, I had an even more enhanced sense of mission, that, through no effort of my own I was enabled to be there and sing in that event, in a way I had never expected. In that larger setting, I was meshing my voice and energy with others to produce harmonies with people I didn't know well or like much; it didn't matter---the harmonies were the message.
2. Physicality and health: I face an ongoing, intensifying need to accept my aging and to recognize my own transition (over 15 years) from a one-time party girl to a person without a public sexual persona. The responsibilities of ministry and of being a spiritual leader within a community required a separation from that former persona and have changed my perspective and self-image. Consequently, saying goodbye to old ways has become a part of my spiritual experience. As I age, I have come to understand the importance of self-care and of letting others take care of me, as well as the dangers of self-sacrifice. I've experienced great gratitude for those who have held me up when I've been helpless. I've come to trust that aging will be okay, however it goes, though I still feel some frustration with the limits imposed by age. I also experience joy in seeing my body's ability to heal itself.
3. Personal Life: There is great joy in reconnecting with friends once gone from my life and in the freshness of those resurrected relationships; finding common religious ground with conservative family members despite our differences has increased my sense of connection with them and intensified the love I feel for them. I feel gratitude for my son and his family and their love for me; I am awed by the ability my son has shown as he's matured and gone through life stages. The time I am able to spend with friends with whom I can freely talk about deeper things, the regret of fading friendships, the pleasure of growing friendships---joy and gratitude are the fruits of these experiences. The freedom of being almost completely debt-free is almost euphoric. And I experience the joy of loving someone who doesn't even know it---and being satisfied with that.
4. Ministry to my congregation: Because of our practice of "theming" the church year, I have dug deeply into my own theology and ethical standards and understandings to find what may be most meaningful to the congregation; this has been the source of a great deal of insight. Shaping worship with weekly worship leaders and teaching them about finding the coherent thread that makes worship more than just a show has offered me the opportunity to be generative, to aid another in finding deeper understanding. Taking a stand with the congregation in support of others' worth and dignity has fed my need for active social justice and connectedness with a beleaguered group. Recounting the lives of beloved members who have died has caused me to reflect on how these persons were my teachers; I am better able then to shape services which are loving and honest and satisfying. Being with a dying person and reassuring him that I will be present when his life ends has opened a doorway into a new spiritual realm. Facing my fears about a person I thought was scary and a potential danger based on gossip and rumors, I had the illuminating experience of seeing that person as a real human being and found my fear dropping away. And then, capping the year, the holy moment of Christmas Eve, shared with a fellow celebrant, offering its silence, its music, its lights, and its symbolism.
5. Ministry in the larger community: The awareness of bringing a message to another congregation without a strong sense of connection to that community stretched me to find a way to connect OR to let go of that responsibility. I found in myself a strong sense of compassion and empathy for our returning vets and their families and realized that, despite my strong anti-war opinions, we have a ministry, a responsibility, to care for those who go to war and those who are left behind to fend for themselves. Enjoying meeting engaged couples and working with them on their weddings brings a sense of temporary connectedness, followed by the harsh realization that I am really only a hired hand in this process and coming to terms with that. I've felt sorrow about my lackluster chaplaincy performance, feeling as though I'm letting down those I've made a commitment to and determining to change that in the new year. Always the joy and stimulation of being with trusted colleagues and friends, both local and farflung, delights me, whether we are on retreat together or in a weekly ecumenical lectionary study group.
As I've reflected and compiled my reflections, I've also noticed that these posts have a certain flavor of 12 step "moral inventory" and "admitting to God, to myself and to another person" the places I've grown and the places I need to address. Though I haven't attended an AlAnon meeting for several years, I find myself still living by those precepts: relying on a Higher Power for assistance; an ongoing moral inventory; taking responsibility for my actions and making amends for the wrongs I've done; seeking through prayer to strengthen my connection with the power beyond human power and asking for guidance.
As a minister, I've learned that people expect me to be an example of a life lived responsibly and with honesty. I've been astounded to learn that some people learn from my example, take my actions seriously, and even are encouraged to try to emulate some of my actions.
I've also learned that ministry is work that is hard on one's ego, partly because we are in the spotlight so much, can be placed on pedestals, receive many compliments and expressions of gratitude. This, in turn, sets us up for disappointment and self-recrimination when we are criticized, because we have come to depend on the ego-strokes to keep us going. When the ego-blows come, we have a hard time deflecting them.
I've gradually learned to let go of both the praise and the criticism and find satisfaction more in the connectedness than in the momentary pleasure or sorrow that ego receives. Doing this inventory of the past year and putting it out there is part of that. I hope it has been meaningful to somebody besides me, but I did it for my own growth.
Thank you for taking time to read this.