Thursday, August 4, 2011

Transition time…

I’ve written before about the Celtic concept of “thin spaces”; an idea that particular geographic locations contain more spiritual possibility than others. Ancient Celts thought manifest (everyday) reality was but a thin veil separated from divine reality. And sometimes you’d encounter someplace where that veil was routinely lifted. A dedicated worship site. A hidden glen or valley. The gravesite of a renowned leader or saint. These were ‘thin spaces,’ where gods regularly abided.

As well, the Celts suspected particular times were thinner than others. In the twilight of early evening or the haze of ending dreams, the spirit world invited humanity to commune, to seek guidance, strength or hope in the brief thinning of holy moments. Ancient Jews intuited a related respect for sacred time; commandment four in God’s Top Ten says, “Honor the Sabbath, and keep it holy,” suggesting a dedicated day of rest and worship was thin enough for God to enter in power.

But in normal life, we rarely encounter thin spaces with regularity. That’s partly our fault- our indifference to God’s guidance, our frantic pursuit of comfort, gain or security, our need for personal control and so latent distrust of God’s supervision. Another factor, however, is the elusiveness of thinness itself. I’ve been to Stonehenge in Southern England, and can easily understand how ancient peoples found that massive monument overwhelmingly sacred and set apart. But now, surrounded by highways and gift shops and teems of visitors snapping pictures, the space feels to have thickened. And in the workaday rush of bills and home improvements, even regular church attendance can fall short of the Sabbath ideal, another in a list of to-dos.

Occasionally, though, thinness forces itself upon individuals and communities. The Church Calendar of holidays, at its best, allows Christians annually to redouble our efforts to experience holy thinness. And in the long-term arc of a community’s life, another forced thinness will- or can- present itself every several years: the transition from one leader to the next.

One of the Boards on which I’m privileged to represent Plymouth Creek and MN Disciples has entered a thin space. Gary Reierson, President and CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches for the past 22 years, has announced his retirement, effective next July. Yes, that’s a long transition. But considering his length of service and wonderfully effective leadership, it makes sense to transition deliberately. I’ve been asked to serve on the selection committee for our new CEO, along with other Board members with much greater experience in such matters. Thankfully! And in the short time we’ve been working together, I’ve gained appreciation for the opportunity before us. Critically, we’re not trying to replace Gary with Gary 2.0. Rather, we hope to reflect deeply and prayerfully on what the future holds for GMCC, and identify the leadership needs that future will demand. Will we continue to grow, or get better at a few core functions? Are there unmet community needs we’re uniquely positioned to assist with?

It seems to me that thin spaces, being so fragile, can be easily overlooked. If you’re not prepared, they rush on by. Transitions- of leadership for organizations, but also in our personal lives with new births, moves, job changes- carry that same fragility and potential. And oftentimes, what leads us to miss the chance for experiencing God’s thin space guidance is simply anxiety that we’re in transition at all. We liked where we were. Or, at least, understood it. So when something new presents itself, rather than stare boldly into that uncertain future, seeking first God’s Kingdom, we get hung up on the fact of being in transition. Alas, by the time we’re ready to move on, time has thickened.

I’ll appreciate your prayers for GMCC’s search committee. Being the largest Council of Churches in America, it’s critical we get this decision as right as possible. But also in the other transitions we all face, some large, some simple, may we have courage to encounter God in God’s fullness. Being rare moments, they might feel overwhelming, even frightening. God, however, in every situation retains a name that provides hope: Love. Which is as thick as can be!

Grace and Peace,

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