My friend articulated the Kingdom of Heaven to me yesterday in one of the most meaningful ways I have ever heard.
We were on a walk discussing everything from school closures, to our moms’ health, to the protests in Portland, to a recipe for tinto de verano, when the topic of the Kingdom of Heaven came up. Go figure.
As the midday sun warmed to scorching and we zig-zagged the trail in search of any shade that might leak in from the occasional tree, my friend reflected on last week’s sermon topic from Matthew 13, Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. She offered this gem:
The kingdom of heaven is like the very last breath of this life, when you know you have given everything you have to living, and perhaps even fought long and hard to stay here, and even your rattled breathing is part of the battle and the will to BE; and then an awareness floods your senses and you understand at a soul level that you have no control anymore over anything, and you simply surrender. And in that place of surrender you take one final breath, which is pure peace.
I let the magnitude of her words settle, and then broke into a grin and said, “That’ll preach, sister.”
Surrender followed by Peace may, in fact, be the ultimate definition of the Kingdom of God. Think back to a time when you had no choice but to admit to yourself that you were not in control of a situation, large or small, and in acknowledging that reality you allowed yourself to stop fighting – even just for a few moments – the outcome. I suspect the act of surrendering control that you never had anyway was immediately accompanied by a feeling of peace (however fleeting, because God knows we love to control all the things). That moment – that breath – is the beautiful thing about the God’s kingdom: it’s accessible to us over and over again, whenever we need it.
Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you, Jesus said (John 14:27).
Consider this: When are you most at peace? Most loving? Most accepting of yourself and others? Have you ever felt that something was NOT within your control… and you were ok with it?
In this moment, right now, take a deep breath. And just for this moment – this nanosecond if it’s all you can muster – let go completely of pain, negativity, feelings of heartbreak, loss, loneliness or frustration at the world’s messed-up-ness. And allow yourself to be immersed in one thing only: the beautiful breath of peace.
About a month in to the pandemic that has plunged us all into the unknown, someone said to me, “If we aren’t all using this quarantine as a time of deep spiritual reflection and personal contemplation, we’re missing out on a great opportunity.” I guess I took those words to heart.
Through prayer, forced silence and downtime, changing family schedules and working from home, an idea emerged that I couldn’t stop thinking about. An idea that this pandemic time represents a massive opportunity for growth and change in the way we do everything, including church. Like a dance, we are creating new moves that we’ve never done before, and I wanted to actively learn the rhythm of this new dance (and, yes, that came to me on one of the many quarantined nights dancing in the kitchen!).
The sense of change, of course, was most palpable on Sunday mornings as I looked beyond the sea of empty pews to the camera lens where you invited our worship team into your living rooms. Online worship, zoom gatherings, prayer chains and phone calls have replaced our traditional ways of gathering and no one knows how long this will last. More unknown is how we will meet the needs of children when we can’t gather in Sunday School, what student ministries might look like or small group connections, and how the church will care for the elderly and the sick when our very presence poses a risk to them. For years the Chapel, and churches like ours, have said that church is not about the building but about being the presence of Christ in the world, wherever we are – yet how long can empty buildings stand? And, of course, layered on top of all of that are the issues that confront Christians and all people around the globe: how do we make lasting changes to our health care systems, our homelessness and poverty issues, racism, economic stability that can withstand massive upheaval?
With all of these questions swirling about us, and taking to heart the seriousness of the call to both contemplation AND action, I was given the opportunity to return to the classroom (again!). I am excited to let you all know that I was accepted to Duke University Divinity School, and beginning in August I will be pursuing a doctorate degree in ministry, focusing on the future of the church. I’m not leaving Snowmass Chapel – in fact, thanks to COVID I will be able to complete much of this year’s coursework online right here at home while still serving fulltime at the Chapel – but I will be spending the next two years with a cohort of other ministers diving into The Big Question: what next?
What is next for our beloved church? What does worship look like in the future? How do we care for one another well in the years to come? How do we define sacred? How do we define community? What kind of ministries are needed now? How do we chart a plan for social, spiritual and cultural reconciliation?
As I write these words, I believe they are questions we all should dare to ask. You are probably already discussing them around your dinner table, or as you hike with friends, or gather on your deck for a socially distanced visit. My prayer is that we will all continue to be in conversation together for the next two years and beyond, as we faithfully look for the answers. We are in a vulnerable time of great change in the world. But as Brené Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly, vulnerability is simply “having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” We have no idea where all of this is headed. But it sure is an exciting time to show up and be seen!
I have no fear of this unknown time. Jesus promises to be with us “even to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20), so I know we are not alone as we navigate the dark new waters. And remember, Jesus knows a thing or two about walking on water anyway, so let’s trust together that he is right with us, urging us to keep our eyes fixed on him as we make our way.
I am beyond grateful for the opportunity ahead and I hope you will join me along the way as you and I get to travel the hallowed halls of academia together once more.
With gratitude, blessings and hope for a beautiful tomorrow,