On Saturday I attended my first Charge Conference. I’m still not really sure exactly what that means but it apparently is an annual event for United Methodist Churches where the individual churches meet, make decisions for the upcoming year, and then file an annual report with their larger Conference.
I was in my car, driving across town, and in that “place” where random thoughts just seem to appear. I first thought about how I described finding a “home” at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church (UMC) – who would have ever thought there could be a Christian Church where a pagan who loves Jesus could be welcomed and feel at home?
And then another question just popped into my head – isn’t that what St. Francis of Assissi was – a pagan who loved Jesus? Didn’t he commune with nature, with the birds, with the animals? Didn’t he worship nature?
Then I arrived at St. Paul’s UMC. This is where many of the churches in the Conference (geographical area I guess) would join together for the day for the Charge Conference. The day’s plans included registration, with an opportunity for fellowship, coffee and food, a shared worship service, a workshop on “Creating Worship with Deep Soul,” lunch, and individual church meetings.
It was a beautiful day. It felt like the first real day of Fall and what a glorious day it was. During the night the wind had howled and whirled and blown all the warm air away, leaving behind a gift of rain, bright blue skies with just a few puffy white clouds, some snow on the Catalina’s, and fresh cool crisp air. The critters were rejoicing too – lizard, butterfly, hummingbird, hawk . . .
I arrived quite early and was still in a bit of a contemplative mood, so I skipped the fellowship and went into the mostly empty sanctuary. Several people were practicing and preparing for the worship service and it was delightful to be able to peek behind the scenes in a way, and so inspiring to hear and see some of their plans. I settled into a pew near the front, left room for others from St. Francis to join me, and felt open to whatever might transpire.
It turned out to be a lovely opportunity for conversation first with someone from St. Francis, and then with a woman from Christ Church. Those small gifts of “connection” are so special and wonder full.
I could write a book about the worship service. It was stunning, wonderful, awesome, amazing, and “just right” for me. The sanctuary itself was beautiful, especially the glorious stained glass window you only saw when you turned and faced the back of the sanctuary. It was so colorful and full of symbols and images I could imagine staring at it for many many days and finding something new every time I looked. How could it possibly get any better than this?!! That’s how it felt – an answer to prayer and So Much More.
You see I had been up in the very early morning hours writing about Jesus. Owning up to my feelings about him. Reconciling, I guess you could say, with my Christian “roots.” You see, even though I see the divine in nature, in all people — in all creation — I still have a very personal relationship with Jesus. Even though I am very open in this Blog, there are some things I don’t want to write about here. Some things I tell very few people, if anyone. Some things that are “personal,” “private.” Suffice it to say, this relationship is very real for me.
At different parts of my life (and just recently) I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t just be simpler, easier to choose one path – become a Nazarene, become a secular humanist, become a Mormon, become a 12-step adherent, become a Wicca practitioner, become a goddess – nature – new age spiritual person, become a member of St. Francis, become a Religious Science practitioner, become an interfaith spiritual director, become a minister . . . Alas, this singular intensely focused way is not “my” way, not “my” path.
And there are expectations to release, losses to mourn, grieve, move through. But (love the but!), there are great joys, such great joys, from being able to accept, allow, love – reconcile – all parts of “me.”
So, back to the worship service. I (we) got to worship Jesus! I (we) got to see Jesus – in the beautiful stained glass window! I (we) got to hear stories about Jesus and his disciples! I (we) got to sing about Jesus, pray about Jesus, speak about Jesus, and I (we) got to break bread and commune with Jesus! It was glorious and my heart was so full. I guess I didn’t fully understand or know how strong my desire was until I was so deeply nourished, fed, sated.
And here’s where it gets really fun to be a spiritual eclectic. I see, feel, “know” that it is possible to reconcile Christianity. It is part of me, real, true. I understand and love the fundamentalist born-again Christians. I understand, love, respect the staunch Lutherans. And there is a place we can meet. I see it. I know it. “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there lays a field. I’ll wait for you there.”This is how Rumi puts it.
It is easy for me to see how to love “them” – “they” are “me.”
And I wonder if “they” would ever be able to love “me.” And I realize that it is possible, of course – I have experienced it – haven’t we all!? The love. That is where we connect – the love. The heart, the open heart, the breaking heart, the broken heart, the yearning heart, the born again heart, the “sinner’s” regret full self condemning heart . . .
As a great sage once put it, “It’s easy. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. Love, love, love. . . .” And maybe you could say I’m on one path – the path of unconditional love. And, yippee!!, I’ve signed up to take a nonviolent communication (NVC) year long immersion program beginning the end of January. My heart is smiling, my face is smiling, my fingers, toes . . . . love, love, love . . . .it’s easy.
So, this is what I understand about being “born again” – it is a profound and phenomenal spiritual experience! Knowing god, knowing love, knowing liberation, freedom, forgiveness, and so much more. Once a person has experienced that – isn’t it understandable that he or she knows that as the (one) way? And here’s what I understand about those who believe that the only way to heaven is through Jesus and believing that he died for our sins – they truly believe it! It is real for them. Their faith is so strong, so steadfast, so powerful, and so real.
And I also know (just a very small portion) of the pain, the deep longing to share the good news with loved ones — and everyone is a loved one. And the loved ones usually don’t want to hear. And hearts break all the time. All I want to do is love, give, as God and Jesus have given to me – can’t you see it?!! Won’t you receive my gift?!! Oh such anguish. To have this gift of eternal salvation and to have those I love choose hell and eternal damnation instead. Such helplessness, such hopelessness – oh the humanity of it!
Knowing these things opens my heart. And, what is perhaps even more awesome, I know these “other” hearts are open to me too. Given the chance, they will share their love and faith any way they know how. Even through the pain.