I’ve been hip-deep in doubt the last few months, writing chapters for a book on doubt and living through my own doubts as I apply for jobs I do not get. I’ve given some thought to how I’ll look back at this time. If I get a job I love, it will be “Whoo-hoo! Yay, God! Yay, me! Yay, job!”
And if I don’t? Is there still a whoo-hoo in the looking back? Is there a whoo-hoo in this very moment?
I’ve hesitated to speak of this, because I’m riding through this in-between time in a pretty sweet saddle and I know so many people who have it so much worse. How can I complain? My family and I are healthy and strong; my beloved is glad to support us, whether with love or laughter or lament.
And yet … it is a struggle to feel gifted for and a desire to work and not find a community calling for those gifts. Not to mention unemployment sucks. And every day adds another piranha to the school of suckyfish nibbling away at your identity, belief in yourself and your worth.
In the midst of this comes an invitation to preach at a church that’s between pastors. I love to preach, so this is good news. I wish I got to preach every week, but I do my best not to let that take the fun out of the invitations and opportunities that do come. I have a lovely ritual for beginning the process: I look at the texts for the week, copy them all onto a single page, get out my colored pencils, take a deep happy breath and dive in, reading and writing and praying all over the words. Joy joy joy …
One silver lining to the intermittent nature of my preaching is that when I do get the invitation, I get to experience the lectionary lottery: what texts will come up in the worship calendar for that week? How will they speak to me, and to the given community, the given place, the given time? Gift gift gift …
So, let me end your suspense. The gospel reading for August 10 (yeah, I see no need to wait when I can be diving in!) is Matthew 14:22-33, the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus and getting a little — okay, completely — wet. And Jesus saying, “You of little faith; why did you doubt?”
Leaving aside for the moment the spectacularly unhelpful nature of that remark, let’s just sit with these factoids: I’ve been writing about doubt and faith for months. I have been working through my own issues about doubt and faith. I will be preaching for a church that can’t help but be working through issues of doubt and faith, to a bunch of people who can’t help but have been wounded by this notion that times of suckiness have to do with a lack of faith, and the presence of doubt. (Which may not have been Jesus’ message, but sure has become the message of way too many churches.) We are all of us at sea.
I love it when shit comes together. But I’m not even done yet. Here’s the lagniappe.
As I’m sitting and reading and writing my “first read” of the text, I remember this song called “Walking Over the Water” by Mat Kearney, from the compilation album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. It came out a few years ago, and I wish there were about 27 more just like it. Not that I like all the songs but at least none of them are coming from or headed in the-same-old-direction. [Note: interwebz reveal there's a Mercyland 2 on the way. Yay!]
As I listened to the album, the music in “Walking” drew me in first, and then I began to catch snatches of the lyrics, but I wasn’t sure I was hearing what I thought I was hearing. “I need to pull up those lyrics and make sure,” I thought more than once. But I never got around to it.
So, today I Googled the song and read the lyrics and then noticed a blog post written by the album’s producer, Phil Madeira, about the experience of writing the song with Mat Kearney. It’s a lovely post, with this bit of musing toward the end:
Life is happening all around us, joy, love, happiness, prosperity, victory, yet not excluding death, loss, failure, sadness. I wonder what it’s like to be thankful on downside of the wave.
Did the universe just go “booonnnggg”? Or, was that only in my head?
Please write a few words about the downside of the wave.
Oh, and there’s your sermon title. You’re welcome.
Mat, Phil and the Holy Spirit
I do know a little bit about the downside of the wave, enough to know that being thankful is a big part of how you survive to climb the next swell. When the crap gets deep, I feel the feelings and then reach out for the both/and. Yes, this is sucky, and I feel both sad it’s happening and glad for what I am grateful for and glad that I can feel the gratitude.
That’s whoo-hoo worthy enough for today. I don’t want to miss a bit of this life in the waiting and working for whatever’s next: I want to feel all the pain of what isn’t so that I can feel all the joy of what is, now and in the days to come. I want to connect through that pain to other people who are hurting, and try to be a blessing to them. I want to feel the love of the family and friends around me, and yes, the love of and for the Holy God who I feel most whole with and in.
/climbs out of boat
/gets really wet
/takes deep happy breath and keeps swimming