Last week, I reached out by phone to a friend in my parish community who is moving to another state to follow her spouse’s employment. She is a wife and mother, a gifted writer and poet, insightful, compassionate, optimistic and full of energy. Two years ago, under her dynamic, collaborative leadership, a new Women’s Ministry Group came into being in the parish. Until recently, eighty or ninety women convened weekly for small group faith sharing and spiritual enrichment sessions in several sessions a year. There were also opportunities for engaging in service together. Adapted to COVID, this work continues.
On the call we chatted about my friend’s move and I asked where she might find a faith community in her new place. She asked what I was up to, and as I began to tell her a little about our discernment process here, I was brought up short by the sound of sobbing. When she was finally able to speak, she told me about a “box” she has kept buried in her heart full of all kinds of complicated feelings and questions about her place in the Church. Until that moment she had never admitted to a living soul that she had such a box. She had moved it out of the closet, in a manner of speaking, but she hadn’t wanted to examine its contents. She says she feels shame about that. What longing must have prompted all her labors in the last two years! When asked, she could not name a single kindred spirit who shares her unexpressed feelings. What a deep disappointment! How many of our sisters have just such a box? Next week, my friend and I will meet for tea on my patio so she might begin to take her box out of the shadows into the light of day.
Before I posted a single syllable this week, I ran out of my allotment of words. My dream encompasses so much more than I have language for. Even the idea of writing was exhausting. So I went in search of images, not to admire but to dwell in.
The welcoming upper room of my dream is a metaphor for the church as a whole, yes, and also for a much smaller something that might come to pass with yet-to-be-discovered women who are sheltering in place while clutching their unopened boxes. This week I went back to the Scriptures where Jesus’ tells his disciples that he requires a spacious upper room and then asks them make the arrangements. He specifies a “guest room,” not some generic space. In one translation it is called “the” guest room, in another, “my” guest room. That moved me to change the header of my post. The upper room belongs to Jesus who claims it for himself and his purposes. It is for the celebration of the Passover that embodies and makes possible deliverance from every form of Mitzrayim: Israel’s, his, ours, the world’s.
In my small group this week, I wondered aloud with some anxiety, “What if I throw a party and no one comes?” (A certain parable, as I recall, recounts the same concern.) Then I realized that the first guest, my friend, had shown up before the table was set or any menu planned. One is not no one. This one needs “a room spacious enough to hold her Passover,” “a room where she can be known by her wounds and loved.” Nothing more.
I was asked in a response to my post, “What do you dream might happen in the places of possibility you describe?” For now, it is enough to ask myself: “What if I were to simply stand humbly and reverently before this one woman’s story? What will I hear? What has kept her silent all these years? What questions might she ask of her own experience and how can she do that safely? And then suppose I discover another “one?” Where will her story lead, if I but listen? And then, what if I seek out another and another? Jesus called his disciples one by one, not as a group, and maybe not all on the same day. If I believe that the guest room belongs to Jesus, and trust that I am sent to prepare a place, it will expand as he desires and be shaped by their need and his purpose. Dayenu. No need to get ahead of grace.