Reflections from my life and work to encourage the reader to think. But not too much. After all, thinking is only needed until it is not needed... and, then, needed again. So, please think until the shades are no longer drawn over the Window. Two words to leave with you before you proceed: Wisdom shines!
Now listen, by riding the wave of things, you make your mind free and easy; by going along with what can't be helped and nourishing your core - that's the greatest!
— Chuang Tzu (ca. 300s BCE)
The key to this malleability - riding the waves - is "nourishing the core." The heart is a garden filled with beautiful qualities - peace being one. And the more at ease we are within, the less we're inclined to wrestle with what we can't or can change without. Wrestling stirs the waters more. Jesus: "Peace I leave with you. My peace, I give to you, not as the world gives, give I to you, ..."
We engage our spiritual path to nourish this core - the spiritual heart. We all have it. If we move away from that, we move into as the world gives, not as the world cannot give. Don't leave your garden. If you do, return.
Maybe the spiritual life is return after return. Fortunate are you if you know when you need to return - sadly, many people, possibly most, have adapted to life outside the garden.
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In the late 1990s, I finally wrote the letter to resign from the pastorate. I had written a goodbye to the church poem months before, soaking in the sunshine in Macon, GA. I was serving in the United Methodist Church after previously serving in the Southern Baptist Church.
I traveled to Tampa, FL, looking for work as a counselor. I had just completed a counseling Master's. The letter above was my way out of what I had much wanted to be out of. I wanted a life free of being the pastor and shepherding the flock. I had been surprised at how unruly the Christian flocks could be. And I was young and did not know how to manage conflict well. And, additionally, being a sensitive person, this was not a prime setting, for from it, for my disposition. I saw a mail dropbox. I dropped the goodbye letter in. It was on the way to Macon, GA, to headquarters.
After returning to Georgia, I called the Superintendent - overseeing all pastors in the area I served (District Superintendent, or DS). He didn't even acknowledge receiving it, though it had surely gotten to his office. I notified him the resignation was a mistake and wanted to stay. He was glad.
I remained in the United Methodist Church for over ten years. After relenting on the resignation, I moved to Florida, hoping for a less conservative people, which was not to be. I had thought Florida was less conservative than Georgia - now, after knowing Florida better, I can only feel humor at that misguided assumption.
A group of pastors were responsible for renewing or not all pastors on yearly contracts. I was on contract for never being ordained by the denomination but was previously ordained. I had never had any problem arise in the renewal. This day, they called me in from home, hours after a subcommittee interviewed me, to tell me I didn't "fit" in their denomination. They affirmed my divine calling and wished me well in continuing Christian service. They gathered in a little circle and prayed for me. Can you imagine how hollow that prayer felt to me, just stunned by their unexplained verdict? Beyond being stunned, I was well acquainted with the frivolous use of religion by many. In the group of about 8 persons, a dear woman spoke with me after the prayer, and she, among all the others, expressed heartfelt empathy and concern - genuinely. The others, to me, behaved like ecclesiastical robots.
I went home dumbfounded, partly because they never told me why I didn't fit - imagine, I had been approved for 12 years and now didn't fit. Interesting. Later, I told a friend, "It took them 12 years to decide I didn't fit."
Later, my then DS attended a meeting with my congregation, stating he disagreed with the dismissal but that it was out of his hands. The congregation was stunned - it had previously met and approved unanimously my return, but the committee of pastors overrode its choice.
So, the tables were turned - I decided ten years prior not to leave them, but they chose to leave me - maybe better push me out - and without showing the decency to state why (I was told to tell was against their United Methodist policy). Somehow, I did not fit, whatever that means, but that was never my priority among them, or before. I was seeking to be somewhat like a man named Jesus - as all Christians are to aim to be -, whom they claimed to follow, and he surely seemed disinterested in fitting in. - I still have no interest in fitting in. I admire people who don't fit in. They're not egoic rebels, but they're not conformists.
I still wonder if I was being true to myself when dropping the letter in the mail. Possibly, there is often no right way, only the way we choose. Then, we live with the choice. And not to choose is a choice.
There remain no regrets about staying for that additional decade - I refuse to live with regret. Possibly - rather likely - now, I would drop that letter in the mail and never make that call to relent on the initial decision. But, again, no regret, and not trying to position what I did in the oft simplistic right or wrong.
We make choices. And, sometimes, there's no clear choice, but we can't escape choosing. Fidelity is often simply going in some direction when you could have faithfully gone in other directions, for there was no right or wrong direction to begin with.
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I like to lie in bed at night with all lights out - quiet, not trying to meditate - breathing, resting, being, and hearing sounds, like the little refrigerator in my room turning on and off, the air doing likewise, and traffic outside. Sometimes the thought arises - but this is meditation.
I wouldn't be surprised to find out, at least for experienced meditators, that they meditate better outside set-aside times for meditation. After all, meditation is natural, and we engage it to relearn to be natural. Likely, everyone meditates - they just don't know it.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2024. Permission is given to use photographs and writings with credit given to the copyright owner.
*Brian's book is An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love. The book is a collection of poems Brian wrote based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.