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Continuing Conversation

By Mary Domb Mikkelson, Senior Editor Connecting Voices

     “God called us into being with a word and chose to continue the conversation.”

     That sentence, from my minister daughter Karen’s Statement of Faith couldn’t have annexed my attention at a worse time:  I was packing for vacation, for Pete’s sake, primed for relaxation rather than rumination.  Nor, for that matter, I was forced to concede, could it have appeared at a better time:  January loomed and the two “guiding star” words I had drawn on Epiphany Sunday last were demanding an accounting.   What had I done about “Prayer” and “Respect,” other than attach them to my file cabinet with magnets?

     At the time of the blind drawing one star had made me cringe while the other seemed rather a dubious choice.  Further reflection led me to the glum conclusion that discomfort and doubt were excellent starting places – and that maybe that was the whole idea.  Okay, so be it.

     I put “Respect” on a back burner after a friend griped that I got off easy by being charged to achieve something “you’re already good at.”  It refused to stay there.  “Prayer,” on the other hand, I knew to be a weakness, at least as conventionally defined and practiced.  The problem with that proviso, it turned out, is that it festers merrily away in the deep recesses of the mind, “stirring the pot” until it bubbles over – God continuing the conversation.

     Karen (the Rev. Dr. Karen Sue Hybertsen)’s Statement continued by describing God as “both incomprehensible mystery and a voice in the night seeking us out even when we turn away.  We struggle with this call,” she explains, “turning from those who are different, refusing to respect each person for what God made them to be…(letting) fear drive us to exclude what we do not understand.  And yet God remains, calling us to turn, in the words of the Shaker hymn, ‘until we come round right and see each one as they are seen in God’s sight.’”

     Respect for those of different backgrounds, different beliefs, different orientations is one thing;  recognize that God is God by whatever name can make “made in God’s image” a given.  But when the differences are of outlook and manner?  When another’s wishes threaten your dream?  When personalities or values clash?  When others’ certainties disallow your own?  When you are confronted?  Scorned? What then?

     Surely, God, you didn’t make THEM that way, didn’t call them to use words as bludgeons or, worse, as, in Rudyard Kipling’s words, humankind’s “most powerful drug.”

     What’s that, God?   Your children?  As they are?  Even as I am?  Okay…okay…alright, already…I’ll work on it!  Keep talking to me – and them, please; we need all the help we can get.

     Which brings me to “Prayer” which, I suspect, those last words were!  I’m not on my knees (well, at least physically), my eyes are open but not fixed on the rood, my words aren’t formulaic – or humble and I’m feeling anything but spiritual.  But…

     Once, during pastoral counseling soon after my husband died, I was offered carte blanche to yell at my pastor (and God).  I didn’t take him up on it, that not being “me,” but, like another Mary, I “kept those things in my heart and pondered them.”   And, gradually, began to come to terms with my unorthodox prayer life.  If yelling at God, á la the psalmists, is “okay” then perhaps so are those odd times and places internal conversations that know no set schedule or pattern, meet no recognized guidelines.  Not very scriptural, I’ve been told.  No?  What about going into one’s closet to pray?  Need the closet be corporeal?

     And, for that matter, I found myself thinking, need the conversation be verbal?  On my part?  On God’s part?  I was nearing the heart of the matter, crossing a Rubicon in the process.   While definitely taking me past a point of no return, my crossing, unlike that of Julius Caesar’s army, was not an act of insurrection.  It was, rather, the recognition that God was and is a nudger par excellence, coming to us in the silence of our souls, opening paths, urging us forward – and that my conversations with God, however shaped, however experienced, are indeed prayer.   

     Back to those stars – and where they led me.  Robert Frost spoke of “how way leads on to way” and concluded upon taking the less traveled road that “I doubted if I should ever come back.”  That’s how I feel about my faith and the lessons – “Respect” and “Prayer,” for example – God whispers in the silence.  The road taken “has made all the difference.”  I’m in for the long haul; no turning back.

     We’ll be receiving new stars soon, will be starting down new roads of self-discovery…wonder where mine will take me!

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