From Sunday through Tuesday of this past week, I attended the annual Clergy Conference for Episcopal clergy at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, along withthe other “Sisters of St. Brendan” (Donna Downs, Jenny Reece and Emily Blair Stribling). We were at the gathering during the big storm on Sunday evening and Monday morning and so witnessed the gigantic waves and pounding seas that broke against the rocks of Schoodic Point, making for a dramatic show of unimaginable power and beauty. It was something to behold, leaving us speechless and in awe.
The natural beauty of our surroundings wasn’t the only gift of our time away, however, as the conference speaker was Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing and the author of many books offering wisdom and guidance for those who are interested in participating in the work of healing as related to both internal and external forces that threaten our well-being. Our focus was on Dr. Meek’s book The Night is Long but Light Comes in the Morning: Meditations for Racial Healing, which offered all of us so much wisdom and truth to ponder. (A book I would recommend to anyone interested in working on the issue of healing in both our individual and communal settings.)
There are so many things Dr. Meeks said that I will carry with me, most important among them being her insistence that we do our “inner work” alongside the work any of us may do on behalf of the world. So often in her presentations she would stop and ask, “What is your name? Who are you?” Challenging us each time to find that part of ourselves that is not defined by external labels placed upon us by others but “rings true” to our most authentic selves (otherwise known as that of God in each of us).
“It takes a lifetime to know who we are,” said Dr. Meeks. “And in the end, it requires us each to listen to the river within us and to sing our own song.”
What I recognized in Dr. Meeks’ call to us was how difficult it is for most of us to let go of the externals of praise, criticism, fear, insecurity, rage, cynicism and apathy and instead to listen to the presence of God that runs deep within each of us. But, as she said numerous times, this is the difficult work we must do if we are to contribute in any way to the healing of the world.
In some ways, I have come away from our time at Schoodic wondering if the stormy waves of the ocean or the words of Dr. Meeks were more powerful (or more threatening) to the “certainties and securities” we clergy brought to the conference with us. In her gentle way, she cut us all to the bone and sent us away, like Jacob at the Ford of the Jabbok, limping…
Reminding me of the passage from Hebrews that says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Indeed. And, as we witnessed both in the presence of Dr. Meeks and in the presence of the waves crashing upon the rocky shore, beautiful.