Everyone has a story
Way back when, as I announced to my boss that I was leaving the ad agency to enroll in seminary, a number of co-workers were surprised. I had been private about my church involvement, not to mention my desire to go deeper in theological study. It was not the kind of thing we talked about around the water cooler or at happy hour. When I broke the news to my boss, who had had a few martinis at lunch that day, I said I was leaving to study theology. He heard geology and said: “I had no idea you were interested in rocks.”
There were a couple weeks where I continued at work. Much to my surprise, almost to a person, folks in the agency came by to talk, closing the office door to share their own experiences (good and bad) with church or religion or the spiritual life. We had worked together for years and never talked about it. In amazing variety, the stories were there in each person.
Years later, a parishioner asked for help in sorting out a question. She was a successful lawyer, in a firm filled with other hard-working folks. They were honorable, moral folks. For the most part, they had no connection with church. She puzzled about that. So she decided to invite a few of them to dinner. There were a few churchgoers added to the mix, but mostly not. With her dinner invite, she offered this heads up: We’re going to have a conversation over dinner. You will be asked to fill in the blank. God in my life:___________________. No one declined the invite. The group met and you couldn’t shut them up. Everyone had a story. The group continued to meet, on a monthly basis, to explore the question. It became a community, in its own way, a kind of church.
These recollections were triggered by an article sent to me last week, entitled: “When you’re called to your life’s work.” It builds on the 2006 Gallup Poll which said that 33% of respondents found that the following statement completely applied to them: “I have had a profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of my life.”
The article tells about an Anglican priest in Australia, Dr. Hugh Kempster, who recognized how hard it was for people to talk about those experiences. He started a group called Mystics Anonymous, offering a chance to talk about the life of the Spirit, because as Dr. Kempster said: “Everyone has a story.’
The article tells about a medical student, raised in the Catholic Church, working in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia. One day she heard a commotion at the entrance. An elderly man, dirty, disheveled, drunk, stumbled in, bottle in hand. The staff tried to redirect him to another shelter. The man found the face of this intern and said “Can’t you tell them I have to stay?” That was a turning point. She said: “Where I come from we were always encouraged to look for a Christ in our midst, coming down from the cross and asking for help.” She saw Christ in the elderly man’s face. It led her to a new direction, to dedicate her medical career to work with the neediest, most difficult populations.That was her story.
Augustine said each of us has a God-shaped space inside. Our hearts are restless until that space is filled. This Monday morning, are you aware of that space? Before you tell anyone else, tell yourself the story of that space. How it is being filled? Recall a moment of religious experience or awakening. Then, is there anyone in your life you can talk to about that experience? Is there a way to open the door for that kind of conversation, in ways that are kind and inviting and grace-filled?
Everyone has a story. They are so worth telling.
Musician friends:I was thinking about my passion for music this morning. To be truthful, I don’t share it very overtly (unfortunately). I’m very passionate, but keep it somewhat close-to-the-vest publicly.But I’d be curious what some of you earliest memories of getting “hooked” are.For me – it was being a 10 yr-old trumpeter, playing “Russian Sailor’s Dance” and thinking to myself: “how does this guy (Gliere) basically pull off one long accelerando and crescendo throughout the entire piece!?” For me, the ending was way better than rock music. (remember, I was TEN).Also – a year later, playing Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and LOVING the harmonies in his little brass fanfares.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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