I'm a wanderer. I admit it. My mind isn't always focused. I've always known this about myself but never has it become so clear to me than in the past two years. The struggle to sit quietly or to move quietly in the moments of the day continues to be my challenge. In spite of that, I am recognizing that the more I listen for God the more I hear. That is the benefit of the struggle. So too, this struggle was a concern as I sat with my directees. Has my wandering affected my ability to be fully present? Are my directees sensing that I'm wandering? I suppose to my credit, never has the question "Are you listening?" come up. Still, my desire to be alert to the needs of those who have entrusted their journey to me at times can be overwhelming. Fortunately, as I learned from my time spent in Iona, Scotland - God's desire is greater than my feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps even, the feelings of being overwhelmed is God’s.
When I started this journey, I was a priest without a congregation. Not knowing if I would ever pastor a congregation or how long that may take, and I needed a way to keep my self from relying on my own understanding as I waited. Mostly, I travelled this path for myself. My intention was simply to hone and enhance the skills I believed to be my gift, which ironically (given that I'm a wanderer) was listening to others. More than anything I wanted to be spiritually ready for when (by God’s grace) that time of pastoring a congregation arose. In the mean time, I'd also feel better prepared for those incidental encounters with those who may have felt they were wandering as well. These encounters seem to happen quite regularly when I least expected. So many are without a church and yet yearn for the presence of the God Spirit. By church I mean a community that believes in something, a set of moral ideals and a higher ethereal existence. They yearned for things to - in their terms - "make sense." I believe that making sense indicates an unresolved relationship both physical and spiritual. Physically, se are all in various stages of unresolved relationships. Spiritually, God, Allah. The Universe - whatever we decide to call it is always in perfect relationship with us, assuming we believe this Higher Spirit exist. Unfortunately, as the “lower spirit” we are ever reaching towards the higher. However, even that is a physical response to a spiritual desire. By that conscious spiritual desire, the Higher Spirit has already reached us. We have only to open ourselves to the presence that has reconciled itself within us. The unresolved relationship now becomes, how we do for others what the Higher Spirit has done for us. This is how I understand my call as a Spiritual Director, a companion on the journey towards opening oneself up to the Presence already at work within us.
Well, it’s been almost two years and I’m still a wanderer – now pastoring a congregation, I am drawn into the congregational life. I can’t be certain it’s permanent and that’s okay. I’ve always been a spiritual person from a very early age and yet up until 20 years ago no one religion caught notice until I began attending the Episcopal Church and it’s three pillars of understanding God’s Word by integrating scripture, tradition and reason helped to form my personal understanding. Scripture and tradition were easy. It soon became clear that reason would require more from me. Scripture is in black and white. Tradition is human made long established customs based on the black and white of scripture (i.e. sacraments). The question we are left with is “Who’s reasoning?”, mine or God. If we lean on our own understanding, where is God present? Yet, who can really know God’s reasoning (Isaiah 55:8)? Although we like to think (and some preach) that faith alone makes it all “right” - does it make it all work? In the end (physical), the simple answer is yes. The more compounded answer happens in the journey beginning with the rebirthing of the Spirit within and the final ascending of that Spirit. Throughout this journey our contexts change. Context affects reasoning (i.e. Females Priests, LGBT) and reasoning affects traditions. Scripture is what it is - but in order for the scripture to "make sense" the equilibrium between how we think (reason) and what we do (tradition) requires some work on our part. We're not as good with that as we like to think we are, which is perhaps why so many of our churches are in decline. Religious congregations need spiritual direction too. The letter of the law we understand, Its the spirit of the law that we sometimes have trouble with. I believe God has called me to the Spirit of the law. It now makes sense to me that I'm a wanderer. It makes sense to me that I see myself journeying with others as they move from one context to another, helping them to make sense of the letter of the laws and traditions which can sometimes hinder our understanding of scripture and the Spirit of God’s law in our own lives.
Physically, I’m not where I thought I’d be and yet Spiritually I am exactly where God needs me right now. I learned that listening for God is a daily exercise and that presence doesn’t necessarily need words. I like that I can now identify my rule of life to the Benedictine Way, which focuses on mindful presence and a commitment to balance and simplicity. I am also drawn to Franciscan Spirituality as I recognize myself in the Spirit of God’s creation and upholding the dignity of all that God has created. I adore that his life is about the intimacy we have with God because I’ve always felt drawn to the perfect relationship, which I believe can only be gotten through the spiritual. I stopped looking for the perfect physical relationship because I don’t believe that it exists and that’s okay. While this is not a banner I would hang in front of directees, it helps me understand why spiritual direction isn’t always perfect as well. I am also encouraged that I have not abandoned my own cultural spiritual experience. To some extent I’ve returned to the idea of writing letters and notes to God with question upon question believing that one day they will all eventually be answered. My ministry is very much rooted in my African American experience lived through the generations, because for a long time our Spirit was all we had to give. I am a wanderer indeed. Yet, a wanderer needs no place to specifically be. I realize now that wherever I am, I always have something to give. I realize that everyone else does too.
The Rev. Deirdre Whitfield
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Chester
If you have some interest in participating in the liturgy please contact me at 610-745-2053 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I have office hours on Wednesday from 10:00 – 5:00 pm.
Some of you know that I have a website www crustybread.org, that is a daily reflection based on the BCP daily office. However you may not know that St. Mary’s Church (stmaryschester.org) and St. Mary’s Food Cupboard (stmarysfoodcupboard.org) also have websites. St. Paul’s has also invited St. Mary’s to be linked and included in their monthly newsletter and website.
Dedicated volunteers: sitting – (l-r) Yvonne Mitchell, Gloriajean Jackson, Oram Allen, Dorrie Rawley, Sibby Toland; Standing (l-r) Rose Gilbert, Sara Washington, Ruby Moore, Al Eoylan, David Darley, Betty Lou Darley, Nancy McKean, John Keenan, Rasheed Muriel, Arnetta Granger, Harold Hardy
St. Mary’s Food Cupboard is a mission outreach of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Although the parish has had some unsettling stretches, with the determination of its members and the help of the Holy Spirit, it continues to survive because of the food cupboard ministry. St. Mary’s Food Cupboard is the longest and most successful outreach ministry at St Mary’s. Since 1982 it continues to serve an average of over 70 families per week. In addition, St Mary’s Food Cupboard is a member of the Delaware County Food Assistance Network, a program run by Family Community Service of Delaware County. It is also proud to collaborate with other churches and organizations in and around the Episcopal Dioceses of Pennsylvania and very fortunate to have a dedicated core of volunteers. Although the Cupboard has taken a hit like may other organizations due to the economy, it is poised to collaborate with other profits and not-for-profit organizations to ensure its longevity within its surrounding community of which it serves.
The Rev. Deidre Whitfield
The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel
The Rev. Marge Oughton
Joint service with St. Paul's with Bishop Clifton, February 8, 2015