In a few days’ time I will be heading to Chicago for an event with the Center for Courage and Renewal. This will be the third time I will participate in this larger event and one of many other retreats and workshops I have had the blessing to be part of. I have received gifts of financial assistance directly from the Center and also from the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario of The United Church of Canada, to be able to attend these events. I should have written this thank-you note/report much sooner, but I want both groups to know how much it has been appreciated. How much I have learned. How much I have grown. And how much the workshops and retreat-time through the Center have touched my ministry.
At a time in our world’s history when the forces of either/or seem strong and US/Canadian relations are experiencing a sense of ‘pause’ (until we know what happens with certain political decisions), AND, a time when ‘my church’ – the United Church of Canada – and the United Church of Christ USA have begun an agreement of full communion with one another, it seems even more fitting that voices other than those of fear and hatred speak out. At a time when Canadians might be tempted to a sense of superiority and thinking that our history of racially-based treatment of citizens is somehow ‘different’ and when we might be tempted to not see ‘sister or brother’ when we look at US media, the work of the Center for Courage and Renewal is even more relevant. The theme for this years’ clergy event, ‘Liberating the Voice of Courage’, seems especially fitting.
One of the Courage teachings of Parker Palmer (one of the founders of the Center) requires a re-versal, an up-side-down-ness to our usual way of thinking about apparent ‘opposites’. Palmer invites us to hold the tensions between two poles (whatever they might be) and offer another possibility, a third way. Our default habit seems to be that we don’t want to hold paradox in our own lives – it is too uncomfortable. We also know (scientifically, spiritually, physically), however, that this place of tension is painful, but ripe and even necessary for creative generation of life. The type of leaders that are needed for this world we live in, Palmer suggests, need to be able to stand in this place he describes as ‘the tragic gap’. This is the space where we do not have to choose one or the other – right or wrong, black or white, Christian or Muslim, American or Canadian, all or nothing – but with love, patience and hope, invite others to join us there.
Again, at this time in our history, we might be tempted to despair or to ask why human relationships seems so difficult, but there are others who are also inviting us to creatively hold the space between what is, and what could be. I have seen it, for example, in John Phillip Newell’s works of prayer and peace and even more explicitly so in his recent book The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings (Skylight Paths, 2014). Using the image of twilight as the liminal time between night and day, known and unknown, Newell reminds us that the ability and gift of being able to hold opposites or paradox in a life-giving way is a calling and that it requires continual practice. He writes that ‘the way forward in our lives is to somehow place ourselves in the middle of such tension’ (95). Discussing Carl Jung’s work on the unconscious, he points out that space, or the ‘marriage of opposites’ is where generation occurs, where new birth can happen. “If there is to be a rebirthing of the Sacred within us as nations, as religious traditions, as communities and families, we need to move into relationship with those who are considered unlike us” (98).
We are each being called, I believe, by some of our wisest teachers, to purposely place ourselves in that space between, holding the tension, bridging the tragic gap and offering ourselves to new experiences of ‘other’. Our world is yearning for people full of possibility, of love, of purpose, of peace, of deep listening and deep compassion, beings able to live in this liminal space of twilight. The opportunities I have had through The Center for Courage and Renewal have given me (and many others) a chance to practice doing just that. The model and rhythm of the days (from deep silence to boisterous laughter to stirring music) the way we are invited into a profound listening of the ‘other’s’ story, and the acceptance of all kinds of different expressions of truth, have all been such an important part of the practice or habit-forming work. I am thankful that I have had a chance to experience some of the people who help bring this fullness to others. I am thankful for my Church and my community for the opportunities to share some of my excitement with you, and to help bring to others such promise. I am full, even at ‘this’ time – whatever is happening in the news at this very moment – I am full of hope, possibility, gratitude and perhaps even courage, as I pack my bag for Chicago!
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