Magazine article The Christian Century

Two Loves

Magazine article The Christian Century

Two Loves

Article excerpt

YEARS AGO, I ran a reflection group for newly ordained pastors in their first ministerial appointment. I employed a simple formula that never let me down. For seven uninterrupted minutes, Person A would speak about their ministry, looking back over the previous couple of months and focusing on a particular incident of joy or regret, pain or perplexity. Then for three minutes we would go around the circle and each participant would wonder: "I wonder whether you were sad or angry," we would say, or, "I wonder what made a person whisper a thing like that to you." Person A would respond to the wonderings for five minutes. After that we'd pause and then begin again with Person B. With six people it took two hours. I called it reflectio divina.

And so it was that one morning the youngest member of the group went first. "It's amazing to be in love," said Person A. "You feel the possibilities are limitless. Life is a dreamy dance of silence, touch, and words. It's like the other person is a door into a vista of hope and home and heaven. There's nothing you or they can say that isn't an invitation to deeper trust, discovery, wisdom. Everything becomes a prism through which you see color and life and adventure.

"But I realized I had more than one love. The love of my life was the church. The love of my heart was my beloved. And the love of my life couldn't accept the love of my heart. I wanted to be ordained. But the church doesn't accept the love of my heart. And so just before I started at seminary I said to the love of my heart that we could not be. I had to be obedient to the love of my life, even if it meant breaking with the love of my heart. My heart did not understand, couldn't be reconciled, was angry, hurt, rejected, alienated.

"I went ahead with the love of my life. I had three years at seminary, and now here I am, a year into being a pastor. It's a wonderful life. But do you know what? Every single night before I go to bed, for what's now four years, I check my email one more time to see if the love of my heart has sent a message. What am I hoping for? I don't know. Maybe I have a faint hope that my heart and my life can be one."

The group sat in stunned silence. We'd covered all the usual things about stuff staying in the circle. What we weren't ready for was a full-scale gut-wrench, right there in the living room. But I trusted the process, so I invited the person to the left to begin the wondering.

"Why did you let yourself be crushed by the institution?" asked the first. "How can you possibly stay in the church?" said another. "Why don't you just call the love of your heart and get back together? …

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