Being Small

A few years ago I went to Chautauqua – a retreat centre in New York state. Chautauqua isn’t any ordinary retreat centre; its massive to start with – bigger than most of the communities where I have served the church – its multi-faith, and it has a full arts program with its own in-house orchestra, opera company and theatre company. Its also very expensive and has a lot of people with a lot more money than I have who ‘summer’ there. I went to Chautauqua on my Con-Ed money; and frankly it was an incredibly good use of that resource. I heard some of the biggest names in contemporary church-dom speak; J Philip Newel, Rev. William Barber, and Diana Butler-Bass. I attended church every morning in an amphitheatre with more people than attended our Regional Conference and a choir the size of Bethel.
It was, in the same moment, both inspiring and intimidating. I felt like a fish out of water. My whole outlook on life seemed to be the antithesis of Chautauqua: small, local, and rural. I heard about remarkable things and service that the Church is doing in this world. I heard people speak first-hand about justice issues that I only read about on Twitter. I listened to music that was absolutely spectacular.
And I felt small. Unimportant. Inconsequential.
Now you need to be sure that my feelings of ‘smallness’ are completely my own. Nobody made me feel this way. Nobody said to me anything about my call to Rural Ministry, the difficult reality that the mainstream Christian Church in Canada is declining, and the significant Rural decline that hits our communities with a double-whammy. Nobody called my life inconsequential or unimportant.
I got close to losing myself in these feelings and close to a sense of despair.
And then I went to a lecture by Diana Butler-Bass. For those of you who haven’t read any of Dr. Butler-Bass’ work – she an amazing author and theologian. I highly recommend her books ‘Grounded’ and ‘Grateful’. Dr. Butler-Bass lectured to us for over an hour, and I can’t remember much of what she said; it was the content of her book ‘Grounded’ so in my mind I have mixed up the book and her lecture. However, she said something that gave me pause. She said “in our efforts to build places of grandeur and majesty as offerings to God, we have forgotten that God is actually here as well’ and with that statement she gestured with her arms open to the ground that she was standing on.
In that moment I realized that I had lost my sense of God’s presence. I lost God because I bought into our Western ideals that bigger is better – that God’s presence is only in majesty and awe and forgot the simple truth that ‘His eye is on the Sparrow’ to quote an old hymn. I lost God and I lost myself because I forgot that God is both bigger and smaller than the monuments we build, than the programs we run and the service we do.
Another one of my favourite theologians, a feminist theologian named Ivana Gabara, has said something to the effect of salvation being found daily in small things; like a cup of coffee with a friend. I like this a lot. I like that I have access to my own salvation simply in leading my regular sometimes small life. I like this too, well because I live and work in a life that relies on God being present in the little and daily things, especially during the Pandemic when much of our lives have been reduced to smaller and simpler.
I guess the key is to not let ‘smallness’ equate inadequacy; but instead recognize God in those times and in those moments.
God in the times when both my dogs get on my lap for a cuddle.
God in the times when I make a really good chicken pot pie for supper.
God in the times when I look outside and see a squirrel run across my yard as if it’s the most exciting thing in the world to climb the maple tree.
God in a breakfast of scrambled eggs and sunshine.
God in our times. Our small times. Our simple times.
Blessings today and remember you are Loved,
Rev. Lynne

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