Why am I becoming a diaconal minister?
I’ve delayed writing this post and I’ve struggled in the writing of it. To answer the question of why I am becoming a diaconal minister I’ll start with what I told my own parents. This past July I was able to visit them for the first time since I began preparing to be a diaconal minister and, frankly, I was worried. I was worried because the path is both less understandable (What is it? And people make a living at that?) and also less known (But what will it look like? What will your job be?). I was worried because my parents continue to want for me a ‘good life’ which is meaningful and rewarding, but is also secure, sustainable, safe, etc., etc., etc. But, to be completely honest, I do my fair share of projecting my own fears onto my parents, so maybe talking to my parents was as much about my facing my own fears as it was about facing theirs for me.
What I do know is that in talking with them about becoming a diaconal minister, I spoke from a place of hope and not fear: “This has been at work in me my whole life. My gifts of empathy and mercy and my interest in healing; my seeing, caring for and listening to the ‘outsider’; my interest in people’s stories and ability to create safe places, to bring with me a safe space where people can share their stories; my creativity and ability to translate from one way of knowing to another; the way in which I see how connected we are to one another—these have always been with me!”
In many ways, becoming a diaconal minister is simply a natural progression of basically my whole life previous to now. But I have certainly had some epiphanies along the way, too. I experienced one of those big wake up calls three and a half years ago when I had an allergic-type reaction to naproxen. This was the catalyst for what was later diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic as a ‘prolonged serum-like sickness’ which was accompanied with autoimmune-like symptoms. I’ve told this story many times before but the reason I’m telling it here is because this experience—from which I continue to heal—has been the most challenging of my life. I have a whole new appreciation for the lament psalms in which psalmists write/sing of being in Sheol, being in the ‘pit’. During these last years I’ve had times of being completely hopeless and of being frequently desperate, looking and longing for ‘cures’ and ‘fixes’. I’ve also often felt completely isolated in spite of being supported by loving family and friends. Pain, anxiety, depression, illness and trauma are quite adept at isolating, aren’t they? Yet somehow, in the midst of this ‘dark night’, I have experienced the presence of God. Somehow, in this middle-of-the-night experience I’ve also experienced incredible joy, peace and what I’m going to call ‘grace’.
I’m feeling vulnerable because, ironically, talking about my faith life is often difficult, awkward, embarrassing and even scary. For one thing, I don’t want to be misunderstood. For example, I sure can’t say that life is now easy-peasy and carefree. That’s just not the case. But what is the case is that in the midst of living through some hell, God was there. My ‘God moments’ were too many and too perfectly timed and just too ‘other’ to simply be the sheer coincidentally-timed goodness of others, for example. It meant the world to me that I was not alone in the midst of suffering and that experience has awakened in me a realization of my own calling to journey with others as one of many ‘wounded healers’.
So…yep, I really am a Christian and a Lutheran, at that. I’m talking theologically, though I may even be a cultural Lutheran of the Minnesota Scandinavian-descent variety, too. It would explain why the ‘public’ part of ‘public witness’ often leaves me so…quiet.
But since I’m in the vein of disclosure, I want to share with you a dream that I had which has a lot to do with my becoming a diaconal minister of the ELCA. I had this dream just about the time when I was feeling better after the worst of the drug reaction—we’re talking maybe a year in. I dreamt that I was surrounded by a group of veiled Muslim women. There was nothing mysterious or ominous even though they stood in shadow—rather, I felt completely welcomed as they shared with me a greeting of ‘salaam’, in unison and yet without their voices. (It was a dream and it all made perfect sense.)
As I woke from the dream my dormant creativity kicked in for the first time in many months and I imagined a sort of community centre where people could come with their hungers for food, for community and a sense of belonging and safety, for beauty and creativity. I imagined community gardens and an inviting and safe place to gather, to make and share art, to meditate and pray, to do some yoga or read a book, to be. I imagined it to be called ‘Hagar’s Bread’ after biblical Hagar who was sent into the desert with only some bread, some water, her son and a promise from God that he would grow to be a great nation.
This vision didn’t come from nowhere. For starters, I can hear in ‘Hagar’s Bread’ echoes of Sara Miles’ book Take This Bread (about Miles’ journey, service, community and The Food Pantry in San Francisco), in the Fremont Abbey Arts Center (an awesome-sounding organization dedicated to arts access which also ‘shacks up’ with a faith community), in the story of yoga teacher and paraplegic Matthew Sanford’s healing story (as told to Krista Tippett on ‘On Being’ and in his lovely memoir, Waking), etc.
So this is why I’m becoming a diaconal minister. I don’t know what it will look like. It may or may not look something like ‘Hagar’s Bread’ but the Spirit of the thing will be the same, whatever the work looks like from the outside.
This is the last post in this series. Thanks for coming along for the ride. I know it’s been helpful to me to ‘struggle to articulate’—one of my favorite phrases from one of my personal artistic heroes, Anne Bogart. I hope that it’s been helpful in some way to you as you go about living your life. Many thanks. And peace.