The amazing thing about God is that the presence is that you rarely know where you will find it. This past week I had the opportunity to fly down to Tampa, Florida. My main intention in being down there was to attend the Large Church Initiative of the United Methodist Church event at Hyde Park UMC. Due to the way flights from Montana work I needed to arrive a day early. I took the opportunity to try and take some time for personal retreat. Pastors like this stuff because most of encountering of God happens in the presence of other people. I found a beautiful Franciscan Retreat Center in Tampa and spent 24 hours there. Little did I know it would be the beginning of process that would change my thinking.
God shows up in the most interesting ways. Yes I was at a retreat center, yes I was trying to encounter the divine, but all of my energy when I first got to the center was thinking. Why didn’t I just go curl up on a beach somewhere at a resort, instead of coming here? The retreat center was nice, but it wasn’t a beach resort. However, I let myself get settled in and started wandering the grounds.
As I wandered I stumbled onto a labyrinth and little did I know it would be the story that would define my week. Labyrinth’s are not a stranger to me. I love their curved paths for prayer. In Helena, MT where I live there is a wonderful labyrinth out in an open field that I like to use. The point of a labyrinth is to enter and walk the path in prayer, in conversation with God. The thing about a labyrinth is it takes our linear realities and bends them. It seemingly takes time and slows it and forces the brain to relax. God’s presence is much more clear as this happens. I picked to walk the labyrinth 3 times while I was there. Figuring it was a good trinitarian number. I felt in those walks blessed assurance of my call to serve people in ministry and with my life.
Then I went to this training. I have been skeptical of church conferences as of late. It generally seems we get together, speak of our sense that the church is dying out, toss around a few good ideas, and then head home to the status quo. I WAS WRONG. Whether it was me doing the prep work, or God’s spirit working on my heart, it was as if the entire Large Church Initiative event was walking a labyrinth of what my call to Methodism was and call to ministry in the world could be.
Now I know this is where I am profound and say it was one specific talk, or workshop that inspired me. It was not one thing. It was the path of walking the conference. I encountered in the conference a reality that leading a church is utilizing the skills in myself that I had been preparing my whole life, the ones I was continuing to develop, and in talking with others I recognized I had the knowledge to initiate this work.
You see for each of us the labyrinth isn’t about a defining moment. Rarely does the end leave you feeling good. It is actually the biggest let down, because in the middle of the labyrinth you reach the half way point, the journey outward still has to happen. The labyrinth of our lives is walking with God, letting the shifts of life not break you, but instead guide you to the next phase. It is the gentle nudging of God’s spirit that will awaken in us the realization of how where we have been, can be the sustaining nurture for the possibility of tomorrow.
I took away from the conference some of the best conversations, skills, and resolve about who we are as Methodists and Christians. However, if I pretended that was the end it would be a lie. It was but the first turn as I entered the labyrinth of my call. The same way when I wake up in the morning and step out of bed I take the first turn of my daily call. Where is your first turn today?
May God’s blessing be upon you.