Creating space to breathe deeply, filling ourselves with that feeling of calm. At this year’s Young Women Preachers Conference Embodying the Sermon, we spent time gathered in the library at Cathedral College doing just that. But for me, the space to breathe deeply opened when that heavy front door swung open for our arrival.
Just one year earlier, I had arrived at those doors with a carpool of strangers, excited but anxious and just a touch homesick. How would I fit in and make friends when I was so worried about preaching to strangers, about being in a strange new job, and about being away from home for a week?
It took some settling in, but sure enough, over a week of preaching, listening, testifying, worshiping, drinking, crying and laughing, the conference became a retreat. Friendships were formed over sermon preparation, margaritas and trips into the city. We shared the space and time in a way that made the stones familiar–at least, that was my hope for my return this year.
In between the conferences, I knew that the stories I heard in 2007 had given depth to my ministry in 2008. Reading the blogs of conference-goers took on a different meaning when I could hear their voices through their writing. Sharing ideas and questions through the Young Clergy Women Project discussion board was perhaps more fun, or more easy, or more engaging because I could associate faces and sounds with the names on the screen.
As I landed at the airport this August, exhausted from an early morning flight and my last-minute sprint through the Detroit terminal, that same wave of anxiety washed over me. Would the women sharing a cab even recognize me? As soon as I saw them waiting in the terminal, my nerves calmed and my excitement soared. As excited as I was to see last year’s friends, I didn’t anticipate how encouraging it would be to be remembered, and to remember them. I knew of the newly adopted baby, of the job change, and they knew of my newly acquired house. And when we arrived at the Cathedral College, and pulled open the door, the stone hall was familiar again. The women were not all the same. Some had new jobs, new marriages, new babies. Some couldn’t return to the conference, and there was a definite lack of bright pink hair. Others were new participants, expanding this gathering of laughing, sharing, breathing women into a community of faith.
Breath really does make a difference, you know, and not just for embodying our sermons. As much as I love my computer, having young clergy women colleagues I can see and hear and share stories with over dinner is a great gift. Christian faith is, at least in part, about incarnation, about finding the presence of God-With-Us in the people we encounter. Sharing our breath through stories and songs is a reminder that the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, moves between us at whatever distance life creates. As the good old hymn (okay, maybe it’s a good modern hymn) says, we were “together met, together bound” by God-With-Us, and that shared experience lives between us, no matter where it is we live.
It’s not that we shared so much time together, or that I keep up with people on an especially regular basis. The friends and colleagues from the Young Women Preachers Conference support my ministry by living into their own calls. I hope others have felt that same support–like water bubbling up from a very deep dark pond somewhere in your center, and releasing bubbles of memories and laughter and support.
So, to the friends we’ve made: the ones who recommend books and sermon ideas, the ones who listened to painful stories and babies crying over pizza, and everyone who has shared your words and the Word, here are two toasts to the women of the Young Women Preachers around the world, by Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer.
To the words, and how they live between us,
And to us and how we live between the words.