Where The Real Growth Happens
God has always spoken to me in churches.
At least that's the way it seemed to me for years.
There were the two mystical moments I had in St. Paul's Cathedral, where I was struggling with direction in my life, and I heard the voice of God spoken directly to me through the somber, serious words of Anglican priests.
And then there was the time I was praying in a nearly deserted Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, and a young woman approached me and said she felt God led her to give me a message... and then she told me exactly what I needed to hear.
I actually heard a voice speak the word "Beloved" to me in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome after an emotional day when I felt as though I was falling apart, and feeling like I was not nearly enough.
A few years ago, I was in St. James' Church in Avebury, England, and I received what I know was a clear message from God about where I was being led to move.
There have been others, including some of the churches I've served as a pastor. In fact, in the first years that I served both of my previous churches I found myself lying face down on the floor in their respective sanctuaries, praying that God would release me and let me go because I was so miserable and wanted to quit.
And both times, I had what can only be described as mystical revelations that gave me peace and helped me hang on.
So, with this long history of God speaking to me, finding me, reaching out to me in churches... it might surprise you to learn that I don't think those are the spaces/places where I've grown the most spiritually.
I've grown more spiritually, strengthened my faith, found my footing and kept stumbling after Jesus in the broken moments, the dark nights of the soul, the seasons where I succumbed to grief and loss.
I've also come to realize that the reason I was able to be more open to hearing God's voice in those churches, the reason why I was ready to listen more intently, and be more aware of the thin-ness between here and heaven there was because I'd been spending so much time feeling lost, and alone, confused and abandoned, and I finally gave up trying to control all the outcomes.
There was nothing left of me to hold on to in those moments---I'd let it all fall away, and I was finally ready to see when my eyes were opened at last.
I love this quote by Anne Lamott:
Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes--in not enough help, in brokenness, mess. High holy places, with ethereal sounds and stained glass, can massage my illusion of holiness, but in holes and lostness I can pick up the light of small ordinary progress, newly made moments flecked like pepper into the slog and the disruptions.I've often referenced the teaching of the Jewish rabbis from the Mishnah regarding Moses and the burning bush. Moses spent years and years being lost in the wilderness, herding sheep and struggling with his demons, wrestling with questions.
And then he saw the burning bush, and heard the voice of God.
The rabbis teach that the bush had always been burning. Moses passed by it time and time again as he moved his flocks around. But he never saw the burning bush, until he was ready... when he had finally come to see himself more clearly in his brokenness, and began to see the light of "small, ordinary progress" toward a new way of seeing, a new way of being.
I never needed a church to hear the voice of God. That could have easily happened anywhere, but I was probably more open in those places, more ready to hear. And here's why:
Because of all of the good work that happened to get me ready to hear God's voice--all of which happened long before, in my wilderness wandering, my struggles in the darkness, the long nights of wordless prayers.
Don't despise the low moments, the darkness, the struggles or the wilderness. These are important words right now for us. Don't despite them. Perhaps this is a season for you to let go, to grow, to inch forward in your lostness, and ready yourself to listen.
Because burning bushes are everywhere, and God never stops speaking out of them. We just need to be ready to hear.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.