Submission by Margot Sanger
St. John’s Church, Williamstown
Our Diocese offers several opportunities for lay education and inspiration. The six month series “Loving the Questions” is one of these. The most recent attendees arrived in October from parishes across the Diocese of Western Mass. We were a small, diverse group coming from a variety of faith and life journeys with the common goals of learning more about ourselves and where we fit into the larger picture as Christians. We met monthly for a full day of workshops and study, reaching deeply within to explore new directions in our spiritual lives. The Rev. Jenny Gregg from the Cathedral of the Beloved in Pittsfield gently shepherded us through the entire process with kindness, wisdom and grace.
Several overarching aspects of this transformative journey come to mind as I write this little synopsis and reflection. The first is that through asking and” loving the questions” of faith, vocation and calling we chose to set aside our need to be in complete control of the answers in favor of an opportunity for deeper spiritual growth. My academic training generally pushes me to leap through a question as an almost inconsequential first step to the actual point which is unearthing the answer. The adventure and engagement for me has always been in answering the question, not asking it. The experience of “Loving the Questions” has taught me that the unexpected and delightful gift of learning that the questions, the curiosity, the unknowing, and the uncertainty of what comes next are meaningful and life giving. My questions ranged from the abstract, “How can I be of use to God and the community?” to the mundane, “How might this look in the real world where I live?” Over the course of six months, with the guidance of Rev. Jenny Gregg and her selection of invited guests and leaders, my questions were anticipated, valued, and nurtured. What began as an amorphous desire to learn about myself and my place in the church ended with a clearer sense of purpose, some specific answers and a desire learn more.
The second greatest gift was permission to take the time to be still before the Lord and in fellowship with others. An experience during one of the early sessions has remained with me as an example of an unexpectedly transformative moment. One morning session began with silent time to walk the labyrinth kindly provided by the church that hosted our gatherings. This concluded with directions to claim a small rock from the collection on the labyrinth and take it back to a table generously covered with paints and brushes. Our task for the next two hours, (two hours!!!!) was to meditate/pray and then paint something meaningful on our rock. So many non-productive thoughts filled the silence in my brain! The transformation that occurred was that from this experience of taking excessive time to produce something of dubious aesthetic value, I received the gift of permission to move more slowly through life, or at least through one day each month. The imperative to be productive was replaced by the balm of time and the realization that the quiet, “non-productive” moments are kinetic opportunities for growth.
My rock is always with me as a physical reminder of the value of taking time to be still and available for the next question. The little team of fellow travelers on this journey will be present in prayer, for and with each other, as our futures unfold. I am very grateful that this experience of asking questions, walking in fellowship and learning about service in the Episcopal Church is part of our Diocesan educational outreach.