Absence and Presence

The church, the community of faith, exists long before and long after a rector’s tenure.  But when called to serve for a season, a priest is privileged to be present with God’s people in the turning points of their lives—whether it is a deathbed in the middle of the night or to minister to strangers who are just passing through.  Before elevating the bread and wine, the presider seeks the communal permission to continue with the Great Thanksgiving, ‘lift up your hearts’ to which the community replies, ‘we lift them up.’  And then, taking bread and wine, we affirm the outrageous truth that this ordinary stuff of life is also infused with the glory of Christ’s real presence.  And as we chew on these holy things, we begin to have eyes to see and ears to hear the truth that we—and all of creation—are all both.  We are both ordinary and holy, both separated and profoundly, impossibly interconnected.

This week a friend gave me a beautiful, framed, pen and ink drawing of a ballet dancer drawn by artist Jason Fricke ‘live’ during a performance of the Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker.  The gift speaks to me in so many ways, given the pivotal place ballet held in my life until I was 16.  I had a moment to dance—really dance—two years ago in a fabulous space all to myself… an incredible, healing blessing.  The Joffrey’s performances this past year brought to light how much the classical ballets performed long ago remain with me at a cellular level.  Even when I’m not thinking about dance—or preaching about it, as I frequently have—I am indelibly formed and informed by the beautiful truth that we all share in the dance of life.

Some of you have asked what comes next for me. The framed gift’s note read:  In music, the silence has rich meaning.  I imagine that in dance, the stillness does as well.  Indeed.  Without stillness and silence, in language, music and dance, we have nothing.  My calling as a priest in this next season of life is to a sabbatical season of healing and rest on full-time disability. I’ve been pushing through the pain out of love, and now it is time to honor the stillness in love.  And wait.  Doing nothing, says Pooh, often leads to the very best something.

The framed artwork reminds me of beginnings and endings.  Placing a frame around something, whether it’s the edges of the stage, the covers of a book, the prelude and postlude or a solid wooden frame of a golden hue, forces us to pay attention to whatever is within.  At the beginning of my ministry at St. Simon’s, we held a Celebration of Ministry with the Bishop presiding.  Gifts were shared, dreams were dreamed and joy permeated the evening.  Endings are much harder, for most of us, especially endings that seem to us premature or even unwanted.  And, yet, ending well, having a frame with substantial heft to it, helps to make that which is coming to an end complete, whole.  My privileged place as your rector and priest comes to an end with this Sunday’s liturgy, and beyond that I will no longer have a pastoral role standing with you at the turning points of your lives.  And because what we have shared has been so precious, it is all the more important that we must let go fully, honoring what we had and leaving space for the budding new creation to come to life and grow in you and in me.

The more deeply connected we are, the more painful it is to say goodbye when the time comes.  I will miss journeying with all of you as we have.  But in the end, I know it is a good pain, a precious pain, pain that reminds me of the deep love we’ve shared.  Life in death.  Presence in absence.  You are God’s holy people, and I know it well.  Every time it is uttered do this ‘for the remembrance of me,’ we share, together with all of God’s people, in the blessed communion of the Holy One.  Thank you, and thanks be to God!

With hope to see you Sunday,
Pastor Elizabeth

Elizabeth shared her Easter Story last Sunday with us. You can watch it here, if you missed it.