By Evan Miller
On May 22, 2016, the Pathways Retreat board and staff formally commissioned me as a co-director. You may have seen pictures of the event on our website or Facebook page. For many of us, Julie and Linda have been the face of Pathways. Who on earth is this new face, and why did this happen?
In the coming months, I imagine Julie, Linda, or I may tend to the why question in this blog. For now, for those who don’t know me, I thought you might appreciate more about the Who. While you can read my bio here, in this post I offer the reflections that I shared with the board and guests at the commissioning service. I trust it will give you more insight into who I am, and my journey to this bi-vocational role. You’ll also get the backstory on the beautiful new singing bowl in the main Pathways Meeting room.
Reflections for Commissioning - May 22, 2016
Where does a story begin?
I’ve decided to start this story about 10 or 12 years ago in a spiritual formation group. I think that was the first time I began to realize that somehow, perhaps because of my own personal journey of spiritual awakening, I was intuitively recognizing echoes of that journey in other person’s stories. It was my first stirrings to a possible call to the ministry of spiritual direction.
Eventually I began to test that call in conversation with others, and that eventually led me to Marlene Kropf’s year-long seminar in spiritual direction at AMBS. I’m not sure which surprised me more: that I was taking a class at AMBS, or that I felt so at home in it.
As I completed that course, I imagined that I would find a couple of directees, and that this spiritual direction thing would eventually be a nice retirement project. But a number of things happened very quickly, among them a letter from Linda prompted by Marlene, inviting me to get involved at Pathways.
And as I began practicing spiritual direction, I found myself saying, “For this I was born.”
Over the next few years, this sense deepened, and with it conflicted feelings about the world of business. My business world seemed arid and meaningless compared to exploring the depth dimension with my directees. I found little relief from anxiety, stress, and compromise.
Yet my own director invited me to look at my company with the eyes of a spiritual director. “If all creation is groaning for redemption, could it be that our human institutions - including your for-profit business - is also seeking wholeness and redemption? And almost simultaneously, an executive coach I was working with at the time asked me the same question. It was too much to ignore.
Eventually I landed at Richard Rohr’s Living School of Action and Contemplation, and had personal experience with Richard and our other two core faculty, Cynthia Burgeault and Jim Finley. At the last gathering at our first weekend together in Albuquerque, Jim advised us on returning to our “real lives” after this intense week of study and community. He said when you go back, “What’s in the way, is the way.”
That hit me like a personal zinger: “What’s in the way, is the way.”
So I came back, and the business promptly went into a tail spin. At the height of it, I cut my hours back to ¾ time to help reduce expenses and create space for others to step up their efforts. I was reading John of the Cross, the desert fathers and mothers, and Thomas Kelly, and everyone in between. Pathways launched our first capital project, and we formed the Associates. How to put all this together? I was still stuck on my vision from years ago: first one, then the other.
Then something profound happened last winter when Sara and I were invited to give a retreat on contemplative prayer practices to the Mennonite Pastors of Northern Michigan.
We were warmly welcomed, and what we shared was well received. But of course in this kind of setting, one receives far more than one gives. What I received was that through the weekend it slowly dawned on me that every one of these people were engaged in bi-vocational ministry. They were teachers, farmers, excavators… and deeply sincere, deeply committed church workers.
Slowly, and in conversation with Linda and Julie, I began to realize that I had set up a false dichotomy: now/then, business/ministry. Perhaps I was called to do both now.
I already had release from the business to a ¾ time position. Perhaps it was already time to make official what was already beginning to happen at Pathways.
The Quakers talk about discerning God’s will as Way - Way opens - Way closes. With time and patience, Way becomes clear.
As I’ve leaned into this bi-vocational idea in the last five months, I’ve experienced Way opening for me on both paths. The business has recovered from it’s tail spin and looks ahead to significant growth. It needs me right now in ways that I cannot ignore. And I think I have a contribution at Pathways beyond both my work on the end of a shovel, or even in my personal ministry of spiritual direction.
Or maybe Way has been open all along and I’ve just stopped resisting so much. And we arrive at this place, on this day with me wondering… What’s next? The only thing I know is that I don’t know.
And so we come to this Singing Bowl, which I purchased for Pathways a few weeks ago. Ever since we opened this new retreat house, it seemed to me that we needed a singing bowl that was appropriate to the size of this room. The retreat center we met in Petosky had a bowl that was about this size, and they were happy to let us use it instead of the bowl that I had borrowed from Pathways. So there is direct connection for me with this larger singing bowl and that weekend in Northern Michigan.
But this bell also reminds me of Jim Finley’s teachings, and I thought I’d share something from him that captures something of what is emerging at Pathways.
I’m guessing as I read this you’ll feel a bit like me when I read it, which is that it doesn’t make sense. I don’t quite understand it. But in a way, if I don’t overthink it, it does make sense. In a way I do get it. Or maybe it gets me.
Jim is talking here about why we study the mystics - why we read St. John of the Cross, and Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr… He says,
The mystic is the one that realizes that the word God, whatever our tradition is, God, is a sound that bears witness to the infinity of this. [Bell] Like that. God is the word we use for the infinity of that. And simultaneously this [bell] is the concrete immediacy of God. [Bell] That God is the word we use for the infinity of this. [Bell] And this is the concrete immediacy of God.
And instead of this [bell], it's the orchid, [bell] or your beating heart, [bell] or your sadness, the end of the day, turning to see a flock of birds descending. You can't explain it, but your awakened heart knows that it's true. That God is the infinity of this day's end. And this day's end is the concrete immediacy of God.
That's why at this moment if we could really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really see what we really, really, really, really, really, really,really are, we'd all see God, really, really, really, really, really, really, really emptying herself, giving himself away, pouring himself out as all of us sitting here just the way we are. Nothing missing anywhere. Just like that.*
Nothing missing anywhere. Just like that. [Bell]
May God grant us eyes to see God pouring God’s self out as all of us, just the way we are. Nothing missing anywhere.
* From an unpublished conference presentation: “Spiritual Healing of Trauma”. Available from www.contemplativeway.org.