Intentionality is our Soul Matters theme for January. As we move into the second phase of our interim work together, I am struggling with the reality of our situation. It feels slower than usual because I came to you in the middle of an unprecedented lockdown due to COVID that made it much more difficult for me to foster relationships and build trust with you, but the truth is that we are right on schedule. The second phase of this interim time involves education and preparation as we move into the process for selecting a search team. The next few months will be exciting and very busy.
As I was sharing my thoughts with Les, he reminded me that we are all exhausted from the last two years and said, “Cathy, now is not the time for overachieving.” Wow, I thanked him because he is so right. We cannot accomplish our tasks by overachieving. We can, however, do what we need to do with intentionality. Soul Matters Director of Religious Education Katie Covey writes, “To set intentions, we must listen to our inner voice which tells us who we truly are.” It is essential for a congregation to determine who they are before choosing their new minister.
I know a little bit about the futility of overachieving. When I was in my twenties, a young single mother struggling to survive financially, emotionally, and physically, it seemed I couldn’t manage to be a wonderful mother, a good housekeeper, a great worker, and a good provider all at the same time. I felt like a failure which made me want to overachieve so people wouldn’t judge me harshly. One day, I looked around at my messy lived-in house and thought, “When I’m dead, I don’t want the only thing people can say about me is, ‘she kept a clean house.’” I knew then that “good housekeeper” would not be my highest goal.
My children are long grown, and those responsibilities are behind me, but it seems I developed a liking for chaos because I continue to overload my schedule. My father used to accuse me of being addicted to the adrenalin that accompanies stress. Could that be it?
When I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree while serving a congregation full time, I was living in Michigan but had to travel to Meadville Lombard in Chicago twice a year for intensive classes. I remember one January when it was time for me to travel to Chicago for my DMin class on Evil, Trauma, and Ambiguity. I was completely overwhelmed and hopelessly behind in my preparation for the class. I knew that it was too much, but I desperately wanted to take this class and ignored my inner wisdom to pare down my schedule. Sure, my life was crammed full of wonderfully interesting events, but I literally couldn’t breathe. My counselor explained it this way, “Cathy, music is made up of notes and spaces. Without the spaces, the notes are simply noise.”
NOISE? My interesting, full, rich life is noise? I thought I was composing a work of art, a symphony. I thought that I was building a repertoire that would inform the rest of my life and give me the tools to be a better person, a better minister, and have a successful future. It was disheartening to think that my efforts, as sincere and dedicated as they were, would in the end be just noise.
Space. Between. The. Notes.
I had a good friend at the time and as I relaxed in his comfortable, minimalist home it occurred to me that a collection of colorful Fiestaware would look great on the space above his cabinets in the kitchen. When I suggested it to him, he sighed and said, “Cathy, you need to learn to appreciate the peace in open spaces.”
Space. I Googled, “space as peace.” The founder of a concept called “open space technology,” wrote, “Destructive conflict occurs when you run out of room — physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. And the answer would seem to be — open more space.” Obviously, this wasn’t a new concept to me because it instantly reminded me of a poem that I once used in a sermon to teach what I’d learned about the need for space. It has been said that ministers preach what we need to learn the most. Here’s that poem, and I hope it speaks to you in whatever you need to learn most.
FIRE by Judy Brown
What makes a fire burn
is the space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs packed in too tight
can squelch a fire,
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pan of water can.
So building a fire
requires tending in a special way,
attention to the wood
as well as to the spaces in between,
so the fire can catch, can grow, can breathe,
can build energy and warmth
which we need in order
to survive the cold.
We need to practice building open spaces
just as clearly as we learn
to pile on the logs.
It’s fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that makes fire possible,
let it develop in a way that’s possible
when we lay the logs in just the way
the fire wants to go.
Then we can watch as it leaps and plays.
burns down and then flames up in unexpected ways.
Then we need only lay a log on it from time to time.
then it has a life all of its own,
a beauty that emerges
not where the logs are but where spaces invite the flames
to burn, to form exquisite
patterns of their own,
their beauty possible
simply because the space is there,
an opening in which flame
that knows just how it wants
to burn can find its way.
Dear ones, now is not the time for overachieving, it is the time to practice self-care and be gentle with ourselves and one another. We cannot creatively face the future if we are exhausted. I hope you will join me in building the space that will sustain and create a path forward.
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister