Thursday, February 15, 2018

Praying with Hamilton: "Wait For It"

Prayer: “Wait” by Rev. Debra McKnight

Timeless God, Living Water;

I stand waiting. I stand asking, “What is it all for?”

I can’t find the right answers; they are unwritten,
not mapped but crafted from within,
not listed by command but awakened, not directed but driven.
The answers take the time that they take, they demand wait.

The world says get on with it. What do you stall for?
Push on, get going, move ahead,
get to part of the story where the action is,
where the verbs dance, the tension grows and the stakes are high.
Get on with it, find the steps and start to climb, get in the race, even if its the wrong one,
stop wasting your time.

But You, Gracious One, You say, “Wait. Get uncomfortable, dive in and find out who you are.
Find the life-giving pause, pregnant with possibility and growth.
Wait, study your call, know your own soul, you’re not falling behind or standing still.
Wait; Grow your gifts, find your own path, go your own pace
Pray like you never have before, pray like it’s all at stake,
Because You are a work of art, a masterpiece of dynamic co-creation,
beautifully and wonderfully made,
take courage when it seems like others fly by,
take heart when you get past; its not your race and this isn’t a competition.”

Timeless God, Grant us holy space to learn and grow,
Grant us discernment between waiting and controlling;
between intention and hesitation,
between courage and comfort.

Holy Waiting, steady and disciplined, neither grasped by fear nor afraid to move,
determined to draft the path from within, to rise and fall again and again,
determined to answer Love’s purpose with deep resolve.

Free us for something more, brave enough to wait in that hard space where growth happens,
dropping the guise of control and forgetting the race for power.
Liberate us to wait for good things.
For the right reasons and the right seasons, neither sinner nor saint,
but faithful, faithful to the question, “What was it all for?”

And so we, your impatient, imperfect children answer with our every breath and we say, Amen.

Scripture for Reflection

Psalm One

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers; 
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on God’s law they meditate day and night. 
They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper. 

Sermon: “Wait For It… Easier Said Than Done!” by Rev. Debra McKnight

Waiting is not something we are built to do, at least not well in our context. We have instant messaging, fast food and same day delivery. Waiting feels like a waste of time or poor planning, and if we can’t avoid it, we at least try to accomplish something or distract ourselves on our phones. There are a few places where we have to wait. There are literal waiting rooms. When we check in with the doctor’s office, we wait until we are called back to an exam room, then we wait some more. We wait for the exam and then sometimes we have extra waiting… a top secret waiting room… for the overachievers who wait for a blood draw or an extra test, then we have to wait for the results. This kind of waiting might actually be more about patience; it is waiting that is beyond our control or intention and when we say, “They have the patience of a saint.” Or “Patience is a virtue,” we are typically celebrating how someone responded to an inconvenience or annoyance or difficulty or hurt. It means, “They handled that situation without exploding or imploding.” Which is important, but not quite what I think “Wait For It” is getting at.

In his book, Hamilton: The Revolution, Miranda notes a different kind of waiting: this powerful waiting. He names the challenge of creating a song about waiting, “How do you dramatize stasis?” (1).  How are the discipline, resolve and self-control required of waiting interesting, dynamic and powerful? This is the part of the story we usually skip, it’s were we make a video montage because it doesn’t look like much from the outside. The sometimes slow process of learning and failing, all the growth and change and discernment doesn’t look like action. I think this is the beauty of Miranda’s Hamilton. We are gifted with a foil to Hamilton; Burr is cool and calm, reserved and resolute to choose his path, to write his own story, and ever mindful of his legacy. While he and Hamilton share drive and ambition, they have their own path and each brings their own gifts. Hamilton brings non-stop energy, writing like he is running out of time, leaping over boundaries and obstacles that would have kept anyone else in their place. Burr is characterized like his legal arguments, succinct and persuasive; he is disciplined, discerning and determined and resolved to choose the right path in the right moment. And just as Hamilton’s gift of non-stop energy elevates him beyond boundaries, out of check it is part of his self-destruction. So, too, it is with Burr. Waiting is good for you… until it’s not. So we are invited into Burr’s narrative with an eye to hold that same tension. Burr’s narrative asks us to look at our own discernment, to notice when waiting is hesitating, when discipline is an attempt to control, where comfort is avoiding the challenge of change. Waiting isn’t about fear of failure or anxiety at the next step; it is the intention of choosing who you are rather than avoiding your risks.

We are a part of a tradition that names waiting as holy, and we have two seasons in our church calendar set aside for waiting: Advent and Lent. Advent is the season that leads into Christmas. It doesn’t always feel like a season of waiting as our culture pushes us to shop and spend, buy the gifts, decorate the house, make the food and sing the carols. We are too busy to wait, and holy waiting probably doesn’t have much in common with waiting for Santa. Advent is intended to be a season of holy waiting. With Mary and Joseph, we prepare ourselves for new life; we change, perhaps under the surface and deep within, to be ready for a new season. Lent, our other season of holy waiting, is sometimes expended more as a season of penance. Our tradition has taught us to approach Lent in what is, I think, the worst possible way. To feel bad and to give something up, like chocolate or coffee or meat or… happiness. And that isn’t really waiting either. We would do better to think of it in terms of alignment; a season of going so deep into ourselves. Spiritual practices help us do this, but we do it with the purpose of being more clear about who we are. That is holy waiting, discernment that guides us through the uncharted roads we are called to take. And that requires the courage to know who we are. 

The world around us teaches holy waiting; it is woven into creation. We see the most obvious example in winter. When it snows we slow down; literally we drive slower, there are no short cuts, arriving will take the time that it takes. Winter is a season of waiting, and it is holy, and it is essential. We look around at the brown earth and the sometimes gray sky and start to feel like everything is dead, like nothing is happening; but below the frozen crust, life is happening. The creatures so small we miss them are hard at work creating nutrients and preparing the earth for spring’s rebirth. Waiting is holy and active, and it gives life. Our own bodies enter a cycle of waiting. Every night we sleep and our body heals, restores and makes us ready for a new day. Waiting is seeded within us. It can be holy.

The thing is, no matter how holy waiting might seem or could be, it is still hard for us to do, let alone do well. Perhaps we can identify with Burr, when he watches Hamilton soar past, feeling disappointed, disregarded, longing for his position or role or work. Perhaps you have watched classmates earn approval you wanted or noticed colleagues climbing the ladder and feeling left behind. I remember a time, when I was getting a divorce and all of my highs school friends seemed to be welcoming newborn babies. It was hard to be happy for them while I wondered if I would ever have that chance. 

I know this is going to shock you, but sometimes in church work… politics and egos find their place. It can be hard to watch people get appointed to particular churches when you think…“Why them and why not me?” As a new church start pastor, I am typically surrounded by other pastors, all of whom are men. I have even been asked if I was a pastor’s wife and had to explain that actually I was a pastor and yes, I have actually been to seminary and I am actually ordained. These gatherings are filled with visionary people and usually a lot of ego. It can be dangerous, because if you succeed you think it has a lot to do with you, and if you are not succeeding, well, that can feel like it has everything to do with you, too. And I have had seasons of feeling pretty unsuccessful. In fact, one Bishop said, “Debra, I know you are not used to failure,” as she warned me of the high rate of failure among new church starts and campus ministries. There is this added pressure, with so few women and so few out of the box ideas. I think to myself, if this doesn’t work out they will be less likely to let someone else dream a wild dream… like a coffee shop, bookstore church or worse… they will be reluctant to support the next woman who asks for a big grant. These of course are my own fears, which I am not required to carry. But the truth is, there is a high focus on results and growth, and this is powerful when it is about including people in God’s love, and it is less powerful when it is about amassing people and numbers to prove something to someone. And so over the years, as a new church start pastor of a weird church, in a hyper-competitive, and I would say male dominated environment, particularly early in my journey, I have had to make peace with uncertainty and get clearer about who I am and what the vision of the Abbey is really about. I do this with Psalm One. This Psalm is about a tree planted by the stream of water, and it gives fruit in due season. This Psalm has been my liberation. Especially when I look around and thought, “Oh my God, where is the fruit…I have to turn in a report.” It has nudged me to think deep about what is fruitful. And about what is faithful, what does it mean to be planted by that stream of divine, loving water and to wait, wait for the due season? 

Last Easter, we hosted three services and I felt it was risky. Would people be present? Maybe we should have stuck with two… and then it was life-giving and we had room to welcome more people than ever… plus there were bubbles and delighted children dancing in bubbles, which leaves everyone feeling pretty great. I was on what must only be described as a lit-phoria (Liturgical Euphoria is not a technical term), humming “Christ the Lord has Risen Today,” and posting Sierra’s photo of Lila and bubbles when I saw my friends’ posts (Use your most annoying voice for the following): “Oh so grateful to worship with 1,200 people for Easter.” “We served 800 people communion today.” “Three services plus one million people on Facebook.” “What a day! Christ has Risen and raised $80,000 in our special offering.” I looked through these posts and thought, “Expletive… what the expletive am I doing? We can never do that. How can I complete with that?” And as I was spinning out thinking about renting the Civic Auditorium and remembering it was being torn down, or considering the weather logistics of Heartland of America Park at sunrise, or how I could host an Easter communion parade down Howard Street. Then, thank God, someone who loves me and has stood by the Abbey dream from the start, my spouse, asked, “Is that even what you are about?” 

No. It’s not. That is not my path. Those are fine paths and fruitful. That is not the fruit I’m longing for. That is not the vision. That is not why I wrote and asked and asked and asked and that is not why people joined the team. That is not why you are here or why you show up and invite people. We are enormous and small at the same time. We host the whole community. We are a living sanctuary open all the time. And it might be the least efficient way to be church, but I believe these many small services give us a chance to see one another, to talk to one another, to hear one another’s voices, and that is the place in which we are rooted.  

Holy waiting is about knowing who you are, diving in deep and getting uncomfortable. Loving your call with such passion that you pursue it without worrying about the calls and paths and races other people are running. Wait for it. Amen.  

© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey

(1) Miranda, Lin-Manuel and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: The Revolution, New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. P. 92.