I own a piece of art that isn’t worth much money but, it’s a conversation piece. Handmade with small patches of fabrics varying in colors from red to the brightest orange it hangs on my wall. This gift is a modern version of American quilting. On the black border you’ll find a hand stitched words, “Follow the path with heart.” My Aunt gave it to me when I graduated from seminary. I carry it with me like the stories of the women who encouraged me to follow the path of Jesus with heart. We are woven together by faith and love.
One fateful night my friend Annie and I spread our books out on a kitchen table. We made piles with our notebooks and plugged in our laptops. Coffee cups lined the table. We lived on coffee. Midterms loomed over our heads. Feeling lost and overwhelmed by all the theological terms in our first year of seminary we decided to camp out. She was housesitting for a local family. The large windows let in light and air we couldn’t feel in our cramped dorm rooms. Quizzing each other never worked so we asked questions in the attempt to contextualize the large terms. Sparks flew. Laughter encased us. After a few quiet moments I shouted out a question, “Do you think Jesus has a body in heaven?” Annie scrunched up her face, sighed, and said, “I don’t know.” In the bright light of a kitchen I would never see again we taught each other about theology and friendship. To this day we reference that night almost ten years ago now.
My women friends in seminary surrounded me with prayer like a warm blanket that radiated the scent and glow of home. I gathered with Bridgett, Annie, Kim and Aisha for prayer in our dorm rooms. Kim always knew how to center us around God’s presence. She could throw out jokes like the best of them, but when it came time to talk to God she knew how to welcome the holy into the most ordinary of circumstances. With Kim I learned how to tap into the spirit of God that sustains me. After finishing our finals one year we drove around the town of Princeton with the windows down shouting, “Hallelujah, we made it!” When Bridget made dinner in her seminary apartment she gave me permission to be myself in a unique way. Her faithfulness to God shined through in her encouraging words. I saw her heart grow day by day.
The first time I heard Aisha sing my heart melted. She is a jazz vocalist blessed with an undeniable gift. And when our friendship grew over the years in seminary I learned the story behind her voice. We found a safe space to be the artsy and spirit filled women God made us to be. I’ll never forget the courage I found in her friendship.
Meredith and I share more than a name. The second year of seminary an effervescent group of women moved in on my floor. I felt enlivened by their energy and desire to change the world. It was over countless meals and endless cups of coffee I found a kindred spirit in Meredith. She’s taught me to love my sometimes irrational and always searching self.
Truth is, I could decorate an entire wall with names of the women who were like steps on a staircase of faith for me in seminary. Each one challenged, nurtured, and encouraged me in unique ways. Meredith, Aisha, Bridgett, Kim and Annie are the women I can call in the middle of night with any question in my heart. They light my path. They show me that I don’t have to be perfect to serve God. I learned how to listen to God amongst the noise because of their voices in my ear. Each step I take on this beautiful and crazy journey of faith and vocation I take with them beside me. With God’s love we will go far.
I realized then that even when our arms drop off for a moment or a connection is missed, we are still standing in this thick river of Love that connects us. I also realized that if we’re standing together, it’s hard to walk away … Even when we slip or need a rest, we are not taken out of the River. We have a place and there are grace-filled arms all around to help carry us. We don’t stand in our own effort, but we stand in a divine Love…The Source is not our humanity that is finite (and can burn up pretty quickly), but it’s from a Greater Love that passes all understanding.
Not only do we stand in thick Love, even the atmosphere around us is Love. It’s grace and anointing. It’s kindness, patience, goodness. Faithfulness, humility and self-control. I’ve learned along the way that this kind of Love empowers. That when I know I am loved—even in my mistakes—I can move ahead in confidence. I know the Love is not dependent on my actions or perfect performance, but instead, this Love covers. It graces. It protects. It connects. So, my dear sisters, this Love we’re called to stand in, is rivers deep. It stretches far and wide, for as many of us would come and stand.
Rev. Erin Hayes serves as the Pastor to a multicultural church in Rahway, NJ. Serving in Rahway helps her use her Hungarian and African-American heritage in many ways. She was nurtured in the Baptist church and became ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA just shy of a year ago. After 10 years in ministry in various churches she loves the challenge and blessing where she serves now. In her free time you will find her hanging out at the local Crossfit gym trying to find a way to work it into a sermon.