Over and over


Okay, okay.  So I am a little OCD.  I once was told by someone administering the “put the blocks together” portion of an IQ test, “You probably lost 15 points on the test because once you put them together, you had to squish them together just right and you lose 2 seconds on every one you did.” But for the record, I don’t eat Skittles like this.  I DO rotate through the colors, but not quite as organized as this.  ‘Nuff said.

But the truth is, I am a person who generally has to do something over and over in order to even begin to feel comfortable doing it.  I tend to do things over and over anyway in the course of my normal habits.  I tend to eat the same thing for breakfast over and over till I tire of it, then I pick a different thing to eat over and over.  I tend to order the same thing in a restaurant over and over till I have a new favorite thing.  (This is a running source of hilarity to some folks in my home parish.)  I will be the first to admit that one of the reasons I love our liturgy in the Episcopal Church is we do the same thing over and over!  Variations on the theme occur, yes, but I feel a great deal of comfort that I can walk in to one of churches anywhere and feel like I know what I’m doing.

This translates out to one of the continuing things I struggle with in CPE is that nagging thought when I leave an encounter that I wished I’d said or done something a little differently.  I am clearly much harder on myself in my verbatims than my peers and my supervisor.  Yet at the same time another part of me says, “Well, Maria, you simply haven’t done it enough times for this to flow more naturally…and no two situations are exactly alike.”

Something dawned on me in the car on the way to my weekly CPE stint.  I am coming from a world where the choices are more narrowly defined and mistakes are quickly fatal. What I’m learning about the pastoral ministry encounter is that it’s a superhighway in terms of choices, and far fewer choices result in fatalities.  Now, that is not to make light of it. I take very seriously the care of the human soul. I mean this more in a “the perfect is the enemy of the good” sort of way.  This is where I have to remember I am a work in progress with this stuff, and I was reminded of that in our Adult Formation group today after church.

We are reading the book Holy Nomad in Adult Formation, and our discussion today brought up the whole business that if we live long enough, we are going to all have places in our life where we realize we were more rigid in what we thought the right thing to do was.  We all have things we used to believe and no longer see the world that way. We didn’t always know then what we know now.  We don’t know what we might find out tomorrow that might change how we see the situation.

I am starting to see the tensions in life differently, and oddly, it’s the tension between Western and Eastern culture that is helping me see it.  Take for instance, something I’ve heard a gazillion times from Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I’ve historically rolled my eyes at this passage.  Mostly because the reality is that my proclivity for compulsions is a doubter’s disease.  I might have said I trust God, but I couldn’t let go of “doing it my way.”  I historically couldn’t see how it will happen unless I do XYZ or how it will happen unless so-and-so gets his/her stuff together and does it the way I think it ought to go.

However, the urge to deal with conflict by doing something is a more Western way of seeing it.  I am learning to think of all my “woulda shoulda coulda’s” more like how conflict is handled in judo–to take the energy from the tension or conflict and redirect it.  It’s how people my size can flip a 200 lb. person.  I’m new at this, but I’m starting to learn I can take tensions in the pastoral encounter and flip them to a higher purpose–to redirect back at the person and hope it opens a window for them.

I used to think those words in Matthew implied I was just supposed to sit around and sing and chirp and that felt so non-productive.  But I believe what Jesus was saying was more like, “Those birds know how to be birds, and they need to be out there being birds, and those lilies know quite a bit about being lilies, so they need to be lilies.  And you, Maria, have spent your whole life learning how to be Maria.  God knows how to work with all of us in the place where we are, and at some point you have to let go and let God be God!”

But I’m still going to rotate eating the colors on my Skittles…


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