Post Author: Kate Hurst Floyd
With varying degrees of success, this has been my mantra as of late. Ministry is quite the opposite of stillness. Ministry requires moving—running ahead of deadlines, walking with the hurt, throwing out hope, catching blessings, dancing and leaping for joy. Stillness won’t write the monthly newsletter, prepare a congregational prayer, lead retreats, authorize bus repairs, exegete a text, teach Bible study, answer e-mails, serve communion, visit the homebound, and then squeeze in time for a social life.
And still, I try to take a moment each day to be. Stealing away to the sanctuary during a particularly hectic day, sitting outside in the beautiful fall air. Sometimes I simply shut my office door and close my eyes for five minutes.
My hope, in doing this a little each day, is that this stillness will sustain me when I’m on the move. That in the inevitable movements of hectic hospice visits and frantic phone calls, I can be and know.
Lovely, isn’t it? Peaceful, even. I’m finally on my way to becoming one of those people I’ve always admired, who are centered, set aside time for God, prize silence and sitting. You know, Ghandi, Henri Nouwen, Mother Superior in “The Sound of Music.” Trying my hardest to overcome my extroverted, ambitious, multi-tasking, over-analytical tendencies, even if it’s just for a few moments each day. Being still. Being still. Being still.
Until yesterday, when stillness betrayed me.
I found myself on the move, literally. Sitting in my Honda Civic, headlights and flashers blinking, as the cop had instructed me. Following a hearse and leading a mourning family. Cops on motorcycles dashing around our procession, halting traffic, clearing the way. I was on my way to my first burial. Moving between the celebration of a life and the committal into the ground.
I was sheer panic. Turns out my brief, random moments of stillness hadn’t turned me into the Dalai Lama. Darn it.
I was being many things, but still was not one of them.
Neither was quiet. I found myself repeating, in a loud voice in my empty car:
Not a contemplative, Benedictine chant. Not a calm, Buddhist mantra. More of a Mick Jagger, open-mouthed kind of yelling.
Instead of being still, I was being frenetic: being tense, trying to hold back tears so I could be present for the family (besides, you can’t show up to give pastoral care looking like you need it yourself); being lonely—sitting in my empty car, all by myself, nobody with whom to share this experience; being scared—to be the minister, about to perform a ceremony I haven’t witnessed, much less led; being sad—this was a loving, inquisitive woman, who became my friend at the end of her life.
And in the midst of this panic, realizing this will be the first of many times, over decades, I will be making this drive, behind a hearse. Being doubtful: really, this is the life I chose? Spending beautiful fall afternoons at gravesides? Then, as if my emotional musical chairs weren’t enough, my stomach began to move. I was too anxious all day to eat, and now my belly was starting to notice. I managed five diet cokes, yes, but food I could not stomach. Now my stomach was speaking to me. Oh God, I thought, please don’t make loud rumbling noises as I bless the body.
I’d love to report that in the midst of my panic, I closed my eyes, recited a Psalm, and sank into calmness. Became still.
No such luck. And still, I managed. I didn’t cry. I greeted the family as we poured out of our cars, giving her son permission to cry, hugging the grandchildren, gathering people to sit near the grave. I greeted in the name of a resurrecting God, read scripture, prayed, blessed. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, earth to earth. More hugging at the end, words of comfort, sharing memories and stories. Somehow, I was able to be. Be present for the family, be present to the scripture, be present for the one who died.
As soon as I got in my car and drove around the block, I fell apart. My body releasing what I had been holding inside. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. Only this time, words said in sheer gratitude, not panic. And then, the Psalm did come to me: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
This time, however, with an addition. I realized after my experience at the graveside (and my panic-ridden car ride) that the Psalm was saying to me: “Be still, and know that I am God, and you are not God you-control-seeking-mortal-you.”
In my car ride home, grace slapped me upside the head. I’d like to say grace wrapped me in loving, gentle arms. But really, this was more of a kick-in-the-pants. A not-so-gentle reminder that I don’t do any of this alone. That, yes, I am worthy to be in these sacred places, with these hurting people, to bury their mothers. I, in all my panicky, 25-year-old, overly-empathetic, teary-eyed self, am worthy. And at the same time, I am not worthy, to commit a body to God, to send a person to eternal life. This is God’s doing, not mine.
Not mine, not mine, not mine.
And that’s why God is there with us, holding us, letting us lean on those everlasting arms.
When we’re still, and know, really know….we know that God is grace. Grace that is giving and forgiving, abundant and awe-inspiring, before us and after us. In our stillness, we seek to know this, and believe. But, the amazing thing about grace, is that it doesn’t only show up in our stillness. When we’re at our most monk-like, contemplative, model-Christian moments. No, the amazing thing about grace, is that even when we’re on the move–panicky, busy, feeling unworthy and lonely–God is still there, knowing us. Knowing us and loving us, giving us strength and wisdom, humility and hugs.
Yesterday, grace at the graveside added to my mantra:
Be still, Be still, Be still. Let go, Let go, Let go. God knows, God knows, God knows.
How sweet the sound.
Kate Hurst Floyd is in her second year as the Associate Minister and Minister with Senior Adults at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and graduated with her MDiv in 2007.
Image by: Aleksandr Ledogorov
Used with permission