By Ed Keithly, Deputy Transition Ministry Director
Read Part I of the article series here.
I don’t want anyone to think that this is one long story trending towards, “Pipe down and trust us, okay?” During our lives, we will take turns as the proverbial patient, family and doctor – sometimes all at once. When it comes to the ordination process and working with search committees, I suppose that makes me the doctor, or, probably more fitting, the nurse or physician’s assistant. Those of us entrusted with power over the lives of patients have equal responsibility to keep awake and alert. There’s a difference between, “I’m afraid the tests are inconclusive. We need to send you to another specialist,” and, “I’m afraid the tests are inconclusive. I slipped in the break room and spilled your blood sample.” It’s my responsibility to respond promptly when I get a call from someone in discernment or a search committee. Sometimes my response needs to be, “Slow down. Spend more time in prayer.” Often as diocesan facilitators, my colleagues and I are called to ask a seeker, a church, a priest, to stop, live in that space of uncertainty and listen.
Any patient fixated on the prognosis to come gives up his freedom and agency in this time of waiting. Not knowing what’s next releases us from our impulse to plan our lives into oblivion, to spend our lives scheduling toward the “next thing.” The point I’d like to make to the seminarian, the church searching for its next rector, the priest searching for her next call, to myself, is that life is a series of transitions, times waiting for endings and beginnings, and if we don’t stay alert during the times when we’re predisposed to fixate on the horizon, we give up our freedom – our freedom to take stock, to examine and give thanks for what’s brought us to this point. And if we don’t allow ourselves that freedom, it weakens our ability to serve when we do reach a new beginning: We can’t give ourselves fully if we don’t allow ourselves to receive the gift of time to discern who we are and where we’ve been.
So during this Advent season – and all the less clearly defined advents I will face – I will do my best to not selfishly decide where and when the important beats in my life are supposed to come, because when I do, it’s never what I’d hoped. If I can allow myself to sit with the unexpected and the unfamiliar, I allow the sacrament of the present moment to unfold, “for [I] do not know when the time will come.” I will pray to be released from the fear that leads me to strive blindly for the “next thing.” I will thank God for the gift of being allowed to wait with those expecting new endings and new beginnings, because it’s in this beautiful wilderness that we know God better. And during Advent I will wait with my brothers and sisters who walk the way with me for God to be made man and the Kingdom of Heaven to enter in. A kingdom which is not bound to our time, but God’s time, past, present and future.