Desert Places

On Sunday, we gathered in worship together to consider our place in the dessert. We heard the story of Sarai laughing at God. We heard the story of Hagar and Ishmael finding their place. We heard about a disciple at the feeding of the 5,000 feeling as if he had been in a space between. In all these stories, we consider our place in the desert.

We struggle to find our space without water and seemingly without hope. It’s the question of hope that fascinates me. In worship, I felt moved too quickie out of the desert. An oasis appeared as we greened the cross. I know we want to be people of hope. I believe we are people of hope but I wasn’t yet ready to claim that hope. Instead I wanted to wonder about where we find hope in the desert.

In the United Church of Christ, as we discern together who we will be in the General Synod 28, I believe we are not quite ready to move out of the desert. Like Sarai, we are laughing at the possibility of God. Like the disciple in the desert, we don’t think it will work. It can’t imagine our way through. I feel we’re still there. We are still in the desert.

I say that with great awkwardness because I don’t really think we are in the desert. To claim this image feels as though we feel like we are dying. It seems to insist that we currently have no hope. We are dry. We are parched. But even in the desert, there is laughter. There is challenge. There is promise. That’s not easy because when you’re in the desert — most often we feel the hopelessness. The possibility of hope feels like a mirage that is both futile and not trustworthy. It can’t be relied upon. We can only know with certainty what we can see. We can’t quite escape our own emotions. Indeed, in the desert, our feelings might be all we have. We can only rely on our gut.

I hear that happening in the decisions we’ve made together. Yesterday, with great difficulty, we voted for a unified governance. Not everyone agrees. Not everyone feels included. Not everyone feels represented. Of course, with this vote, it doesn’t mean that we’re out of the desert. On the contrary, we are still there. We need to remember that. We may have found a promise. I’m not sure of that. I’m not sure that we now have the insight into how to feed the crowd of thousands in our denomination. I wonder if we trying to find a way to laugh together. We are trying to trust that possibility together. We are trying to embrace a shared vision of hope. In the desert, that feels impossible. Still, I wonder if that really means we are without hope. Instead, I wonder if we are trying to bring each other along to make our way out of the desert. Or at least, that is my prayer.

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