I have just returned from an annual retreat with women who have been convening to reflect and pray together monthly for 10 years; this is our sixth 4 day retreat together. We never meant for the group to be permanent, or even last for a second year. Yet here we are, still convening, still praying, and still learning and delighting in the love that God happens between us. However, we were called this year to begin discerning whether after our summer break in June, we should plan to continue. In 10 years so much in us and around has has changed: two of our members have become widows; one has been trying to get a diagnosis on a persistent illness; two have retired for the first time, others for the more than the first time; two have moved residences inside the local area, two have moved to out of state; all of us have changed where and how we worship with other people of faith, and all of us have reason to travel. And we have two new members and a returning former member this year. Nothing has stayed the same.
It is so tempting when we are hospitably ensconced in the retreat house full of Beauty, Love and Grace to say, as Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration, (Matthew 17) “ “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Let’s just stay here, as we are, forever. We’re happy, we feel close to you. We feel the love for each other; we have come so far with each other and with you. Yet this week as we conversed and listened and noticed, it was clear to each of us that even if we continue as a gathering in the format we have presently that there will be changes–some will not be present, some will have demands that call them away, some will have to pay more attention to other things. And some changes will be disruptive and possible painful.
The Word we need to hear is what those three disciples heard, which was to listen to the Beloved , and then not to be afraid. I heard my own voice in our discernment trying to see how we could stay in the place that feels good and right. Yet even as I scan my own denomination where people are moving around in affiliations, in ministries, in locations, and I trust that, in the main, the voice that they are following is the voice of the Beloved, who is leading them back down from the mountain, into the places where they are called to be–as loving ones, prophetic ones, helpful ones, giving ones, who are listening for particularity as it comes in integrity and truth to each of them, the course of Love means that there will be changes.
Some of us will move on, some of us will stay behind. Some will take on new ministries of creativity, healing and grace. Some will find a more powerful affection that draws them. That was certainly way of the disciples of Jesus in the Book of Acts, many dispersing all over the known new world, while some stayed behind to ground the Church in the voice of Jesus, right where they all had been in the days of the culmination of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Some personal choices may feel hurtful to the others. It is hard to let go. But for now, we listen for the Beloved Voice of the Holy in prayer, and listen to and with one another as the wind of the Spirit blows in and through us. And we trust! the other important instruction of Jesus was this, “Get up and do not be afraid!” I do not need to fear losing something precious, or being abandoned, or being left alone while all around me desert me. The voice of the Beloved is in me and around me, in the same way that it accompanies each one in our group, each one in each church gathering, each one who listens for Holy Presence. It is the nature of the Love from the Beloved.