“Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and
rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:18-19, NRSV
At a recent Zoom gathering of Iowa United Methodist pastors, Bishop Laurie Haller acknowledged that many clergy are weary and worn from this 2020 COVID season. She then asked this simple question: “Which Spiritual Disciplines are you practicing in order to care for your own soul, even as you care for the souls of others?” There was a long, awkward silence in that Zoom Room full of pastors. I caught myself thinking, “That is a great question. What AM I doing?” It occurred to me that I was, indeed, doing something that was so integral to my soul-keeping that I had not even thought about it until then. So I looked up and responded, “Bishop, the way I have kept my head above the chaos is through the Spiritual Discipline of ‘What’s Up’.” Her eyebrows raised slightly even as she grinned at my off-the-wall answer. While it’s true I just made up the name in that moment, my almost daily practice of the discipline was very real.
I learned early in ministry that nothing stops God’s work, not even pandemics. In the midst of suffering or chaos, God has not forgotten us. God does not need to quarantine or sequester Godself. God is always up to something good in this world, and most especially in the midst of chaos (remember Genesis 1?). In fact, it is in our own discombobulation that we are the most open to seeing what we could not see when we thought we had everything under control! So rather than tread water in a storm, I have made it my practice to pray: “What’s up, God? What is it You are doing that I can’t see?” And while God may not respond right away, I know that I need to be watching for something to begin to unfold. It always does. With each hope-filled step I take towards what may be God’s work, a little more unfolds. It is like following a bread-crumb trail of new life!
While Mary and her soon-to-be-born Child take front and center this time of year, I most identify with Joseph. Mary got an angelic visit; Joseph only had a dream. Mary was affirmed and supported through her cousin Elizabeth, who was also in the midst of experiencing her own pregnancy miracle. Joseph had to take steps of faith against a culture and society that advised him to dump a pregnant Mary and wash his hands of her. I think Joseph’s faith was astounding, and I would like to believe that one of the Spiritual Disciplines he practiced was “What’s up.” How else could he continue to walk through the disruptions and chaos of the next 15 years without ever seeing the rest of the story? Mary witnessed both the death and resurrection of the child she carried; Joseph died sometime before Jesus even started his ministry in Galilee.
The impact of all the chaos of 2020 is taking a toll physically, financially, and culturally on institutions, families, and individuals. Ames First UMC is not exempt from these things. But lumped in with all the disruptive change, God is still at work for good in our midst. Advent is a season of waiting and watching for God’s gift to be born. As we look forward to a Christmas like no other, watch for ways in which God may be birthing something new. What a pandemic might have started, God will surely complete for God’s purposes!
What’s up, God?
Yours for the Journey,