There are No Short Cuts to the River by Pam Durso

Last Thursday I went with my Peer Learning Group to the Ignatius House–a Jesuit Retreat Center tucked away in north Atlanta. The center is an oasis of trees and large grassy areas all sitting just above the river.

Our group gathered for coffee and conversation, and then our leader guided us into the day’s topic and gave us our instructions. Observe silence and listen. Listen for God. Listen to God. Read and pray and journal–but be listening. And then she said, “Come back in an hour and tell us what you heard.”

I found the assignment rather daunting. But I am a direction follower–so off I went to listen. For thirty minutes I sat on one of the beautiful decks outside–overlooking the river, surrounded by trees. Spring has slammed into Georgia so the trees were in full bloom and the birds were singing.  I read the scripture text we have been given. I sat quietly. I wrote in my journal. I listened. I heard nothing but the birds. But I persisted and read more, listened harder, wrote more. Still nothing. God apparently was practicing silence as well.

After another ten minutes of hearing nothing, I gave up and decided to just enjoy the sights and sounds. I began making my way down to the river. The trail leading to the river winds around. An earlier rain had left it a bit slippery. So I walked carefully. The wooden beams that serve as steps on some of the trail’s curves are not evenly spaced out, and for someone like me with short legs, those steps are awkward. I found myself taking two to three shortened steps for every one wooden beam.  This walking on the trail down to the river was turning out to be more work than I had anticipated. I looked around to see if there was an easier way–maybe I could just bypass the trail and make my own path. But the trail was on a sloping hillside, and the way down was steep and crowded with trees, fallen logs, bushy undergrowth. The ground was uneven and blanketed by wet leaves. So I stuck to the trail.

I finally negotiated all the turns and curves and steps and made it to the river, and just as I arrived, I saw a bird flying just above the water’s surface looking for lunch. I heard other birds calling out to one another. I heard the quiet sounds of the river.

And standing by that peaceful river, I finally heard. God ended the silence, and I listened and heard.

“There are no short cuts to the river.”

Being somewhat slow to process, I had to ponder this message, but I finally got it. And my understanding drove me to confession for I am one who too often looks for shortcuts, quick answers, immediate responses. I don’t want to wait for God to speak, for God to move. I don’t have time to sit around. I need God to work faster, harder. I need God to speak louder, clearer.

There standing beside the quiet river I understood that I have to invest myself in times of silence, times of prayer and listening, times of reading and pondering. I need to be willing to make my way down the trail, even when the walking gets hard or the path seems too difficult. To know and follow God, to embrace fully my relationship with God requires time and patience. It requires reading and studying, pondering and praying. It requires commitment to walk the trail, to stay the course, to persevere.

“There are no short cuts to the river.”

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. 

 

 

Redeeming my Peace by Tammy Abee Blom

Sometimes a simple task is the hardest to accomplish. Recently, I wrote about “hands off my happy bucket” and how I have the power to decide who can drain my happiness. I have attempted to live out this belief. I read the words of a spiritual director who talks about redeeming your time, peace, and life. I began to focus on redeeming my peace. When I started paying attention to who owned my peace, I was in for a shock.

Relatives who called to complain only to share the complaint as gossip about another family member disturbed my peace. Children, in particular MY children, who did not follow directions robbed me of my morning happiness. And the slow cashier who answered the phone as she inaccurately tallied my order sent my peace into outer space. Apparently I am not the owner of my peace at all but I can redeem my peace. I can reclaim it.

While deep breathing over some disturbance of peace, I was bemoaning the already rising temperatures in our state where summers reach the 100s and stay there. I pondered floating. What would it feel like to just relax into the refreshing waters of God’s grace and float? What would it feel like to not struggle against the aggravations of the moment, to not deep breathe and bemoan how I should be redeeming my peace? What if I could just float?

A member of a women in ministry peer group in Tennessee introduced me to this poem by Denise Levertov. I do not recall which minister shared the poem but I remembered the joy of hearing these words.

The Avowal

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

Avowal, meaning to make a statement of truth, is a good word for Oprah’s “what I know to be true.” Levertov asserts that she can dare to float, and God’s grace will support her. She can dare to glide, and the Spirit will sustain her. What I hear in this poem is I can stop treading water. I can stop flapping my wings of redemption for a while. I can float or glide and God will redeem my peace. God will hold that which is disturbing my happiness. Grace can redeem my peace. I can float.

I suspect I will return to my old habits of swimming against the current and trying to fly too far too fast, but for today, I relax into the “all surrounding grace.”

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.  Avowal may be found at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-avowal/

Celebrating Sue! by Pam Durso

Today I celebrated Sue Fitzgerald! She is one of my favorite people. I first got to know Sue in 2005, when she wrote her story for Courage and Hope: The Stories of Ten Baptist Women Ministers, a book I co-edited with my husband. Over the years I have talked numerous times with her on phone, and I finally met her a few years ago.

Last March she invited me to her home in Mars Hill, North Carolina. That afternoon she drove me on the mountain roads, showed me her favorite scenic views, and cooked me a scrumptious dinner. That evening I sat in one of rocking chairs and talked with her late into the night.

All of my conversations with Sue have been sacred for me. Her calm spirit, her loving questions and concern, and her sense of peace lifts me up, gives me hope, encourages me in my work. And today I celebrate her – on this her 81st birthday! Happy birthday, Sue!

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

An Invitation to the Bat Mitzvah by Pam Durso

A few weeks ago I was at the salon, having my hair cut. It is a great place for nosy people like me, who like “overhearing” the conversations of others. The woman sitting next to me talked loudly about her husband’s less than thrilling habits, and the salon’s next-door neighbor, who sells diving equipment (diving equipment in Lawrenceville, Georgia?) came by to share the latest update about prospective new tenants in the building. Lots of interesting information was floating in the air.

Just as my hair cut was almost completed, an older woman stopped by to talk to Michaelanne, my stylist. The older woman announced with pride that she was taking classes, studying for her bat mitzvah. With great excitement, she shared that her rabbi had decided that since the older women in the congregation had been excluded from participating in a bat mitzvah when they were girls, they should now be invited and should have opportunity to learn and study and celebrate.

I smiled at the older woman and offered her words of congratulations and thought -“What a wonderful day when a faith community thinks to include all its women and to provide a time of redemption and grace for those who have been left out.”

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

Hands Off My Bucket by Tammy Abee Blom

While volunteering in Audrey’s kindergarten classroom, her teacher mentioned, “Audrey is good at filling buckets.” Knowing Audrey’s love of all things organized, I quipped, “She does love a good storage container.” The teacher said, “No. I mean happy buckets. We talk about them in kindergarten. You come to school with a bucket of happy, and some people fill up your bucket and others empty your bucket. Audrey helped Shane pick up all the papers that fell out of his folder this morning. She filled his bucket.”

Since this conversation with her teacher, I have noticed Audrey using her happy bucket language. Sometimes she will get in the van and say, “Amanda taunted me on the playground. She emptied my bucket.” Another time, she shared, “Sam dropped his tray at lunch. I helped him pick it all up. I filled his bucket.” I like the duality of recognizing when someone is filling or emptying your bucket as well as being responsible for filling or emptying other people’s buckets. I like the concrete imagery of the happy bucket.

Recently, I encountered a person who was determined to empty my happy bucket and shake out every last drop. According to her, I had not met her expectations, and she needed to vent her frustration at me. I heard her. I reassured her. I apologized. It didn’t matter what I said or did, she was determined to ruin my day with her attitude. There was no end to her anger, angst, and annoyance. I heard my brain scream, “Hands off my happy bucket.” In that instant I was able to step away from the emotion of the situation and decide who had the power to upset me. Why was I giving my happy away? I have a choice about who empties my happy bucket and I can choose to say, “Hands off.”

Jesus had an opinion about people who were unwelcoming to the disciples and unwilling to hear their words. In three of the four gospels (Matthew10:14, Mark6:11, and Luke 9:5), Jesus tells the disciples to abide with people who are welcoming of their words and their gifts. I like the Matthew passage where Jesus says, “As you enter a house, greet it and let your peace come upon it; but if the house is not welcoming to you, let your peace return to you.”

In our ministries, we want to exhibit the grace of God to all. We want to hear and value people. Yet, there are those who cannot hear us or value our giftedness. Rather than giving away all of our happy to them, we can sense where the peace is and if needed, walk away. Let our peace return to us. We are not called to be all things to all people. Jesus charged his disciples to abide in the places where there was welcoming peace. The next time you are in a situation where someone is determined to take all your happy, or you find yourself thinking, “I spend time with this person but she never offers happy back to me”, discern if this is a place of peace for you, a place where you feel welcomed. If there is no peace, there are two ways of handling it. You can declare, “Hands off my happy bucket” or you can “shake the dust off your feet.”

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.