Last night I gave
the sermon at MCC Church in San Francisco. The topic was “The
Stranger Among You Is the Stranger Inside You." I even posted excerpts from it on this blog.
Mostly I felt it
went well. The feedback I got from the people who were there that know me best was that I
held myself back. I did not feel held back while I was doing it, but I trust
their perspective and they know of my struggles to take up space for all of who
I am and to claim my voice in the world.
Last night I lay in
bed, mildly ruminating on their comments and wondering how I might have stepped
forward a little more boldly. I sifted through the memory of the evening. I
tried out some new ideas about how I hold the many philosophical strands that
form the tapestry of my work and my life; it was a new risk for me to put
something out there that is still in the process of being refined. My old
impulse would have been to hold back until everything was completely whittled down,
refined, well packaged, rather than risk exposure of something that is still
tender and in formation.
I am using that
word formation very deliberately here, both in reference to the process of
formulating a concept or model and borrowing from my Christian friends who talk
frequently about spiritual formation.
Gerald May (of blessed memory) defined spiritual formation as follows:
means, instruction, and disciplines intended towards deepening of faith and
furtherance of spiritual growth. It includes educational endeavors as well as
the more intimate and in-depth process of spiritual direction.”
(in Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist
Explores Spiritual Direction, p. 6)
And then I
remembered a question posed to me by a friend a few months back,
“When do you feel entitled to your passion?”
It pierced me like
an arrow directly to the heart. Where is the truth of my offering if it does
not include the passion that lives in my own story?
My sermon was
funny, entertaining, perhaps even inspiring; my tone was gentle, loving and
hospitable. I made reference to some important political and theological ideas.
But without even realizing it, I restrained the fullness of my passion by
neglecting to tell my own story. Sure, I made a few carefully veiled references
to myself, but ultimately protected my vulnerability from being seen or heard.
I didn’t mean to do it; it is a very well-practiced strategy, so familiar and
skillful that I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
As I write these
words it is hard to sit with the feeling of having rendered my own story
invisible, of having dampened the fire of my passion. I feel it in my body, right in the pit of my stomach.
What is the
invitation in this moment?
I am tempted to
jump immediately to action steps—what do I do with this experience while it is
still fresh and alive? Stay mindfully present with the feeling; connect the
feeling in my body with the cognitive and emotional awareness. Don’t pull back
prematurely from this or I will miss out on the gifts it has to offer.
I am grateful to
have people in my life who will lovingly tell me the truth of what they see,
not only what they see in me but also in themselves. When I witness the brave
unfolding of someone’s life story, I am invited to risk revealing my own story
with all of its beautiful imperfections. This is the jewel in the divine
encounter with the stranger I talked about in the sermon last night. If I make
myself into the Stranger, even unwittingly, I am cutting off the transformation
that is possible in every moment.
The Talmud says, “Every
blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.' ”
is flowing through all of us, like a seed breaking open, moving toward the
light, ready to flower.