Saturday morning in deacon's meeting, we shared a moment of lectio divina with the Mary Oliver poem, "The Journey." I was shocked that this poem was a new find for most in the room-- for it has been one of my favorites for a while now. It's a poem that has always spoken to me about the need to stay true to myself and to listen to my own intuition.
And, of course I begin thinking about the ministerial life. . . .
Especially in a people centered profession where everyone seems to have an opinion about something around the church, it is easy for ministry types to be swept away quicker than we know it. For example, often people want to tell me what to wear, how to speak, what to say, what not to say, and how to lead. It is not that wise advice from time to time isn't and can't be helpful. But the temptation is to be consumed in what others think and to make decisions based on these judgments, not what is best for the group as a whole that I've been asked to lead. It is easy to live our lives as pastors in such a way that all we are doing is pleasing everyone and have no idea what makes us happy anymore or doing a good job of serving anyone either.
For me, this poem claims the fact that there are times when as a leader you simply know what to do and you must do it no matter what. One of the most powerful tools God has given all of us, I believe is our own voice. I see so many around me struggling to recognize their own voice and to see its power, but it is there nonetheless. We all have a voice. And I believe we rob the world of some its greatest gifts when we live out our journey led by the voices of others, not our own. Creativity has a voice and must be heard, otherwise it dies. What's your journey in recognizing your own? How have you come to understand like Oliver talks about that the only life you can ultimately save is your own?
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.
When you are a child, it is ordinary to say, "I want to be like ____ when I grow up."
We watch, we imitate, and we learn by being around folks who inspire us the most. It's the tools of how we figure out who we most want to be. Though usually our first ideas have something to do with being a fireman or a police officer or wonder woman. I always wanted to be a woman who delivers the mail, though you see how that turned out.
On the first day of our sessions with Richard Lischer, he said the first steps to becoming a good writer are admiration and imitation. And for this reason, we were asked to bring to class a selection of a poem or story that was particularly moving to us and our writing style. Words like "all I wanted was to be born with a good set of lungs" or "it is like touching a dented cup" flowed around the room and we all considered the ways in which our writing could be as the prose of those we liked the best. The morning of these reading brewed over with delights of ear all around.
In our everyday lives, we've all read a book or seen a performance or heard a speech when the person who is speaking sounds exactly like someone else we know. It's familiar, but maybe too familiar. So in the end, while useful as a learning tool, imitation, it doesn't provide our world with anything new. We don't see God in any fresh wind of the Spirit sort of ways.
There comes a time when art must come from within and rest upon individual voice. Who am I? Who are you? And how through what I say, can you tell us a part?
One of the themes that has run throughout several of my conversations, especially with the other female pastors at the Insitute this week has been of how much women struggle with voice.
In a culture when so much is expected of us: wife, mother, professional, writer, friend, you name it, we are much more likely among our male colleagues to shrink back when it comes to letting our voice shine through. We take associate positions when we really want to preach. We say "ok" to youth trips for back to back weeks, even if this means neglecting our children. We don't dare voice our ambition or dreams for fruitful work because we fear it might hurt someone's feelings. I could be oversimplifying, I realize, but there's something to this voice thing that we should pay attention to.
I speculate this problem occurs because we don't want to come across as the "over powering" or "bitchy" females. We are so thankful to be where we are, that we dare not ask for more. Or, simply we just don't know what our voice is because we're afraid of what we might have to do with it, if it was finally heard. And, as the church, we are left without voices, lots of voices that we need to hear the most.
But this week, I've been learning that my writing (and my preaching for that matter) will not soar to the heavens as it could, if I don't continually keep finding and hanging onto what makes me uniquely me. If I don't recognize my voice and use it, God doesn't have even a first draft to work with.
So, what's holding you back? Speak! Write! Be!
When I grow up, I want to be a writer. How about you?