Stewards of mystery

A note (if you read my last blog post and are curious): My dog, Cyrus is still alive and well.  On the day that I was scheduled to euthanize him, the vet said, “he seems to be doing better today – I think the prednisone is working!”  He’s back at home and almost back to his old self.  I couldn’t be more grateful.

When a wave of a certain size finally curls over itself and pummels into the water below, there is this sound – a bass thud that you can feel in your stomach and your heart and your lungs if you’re paying attention.  It’s so low that it’s almost hard to hear.  But the way it hits your gut evokes a sense of wonder at something so grand and mysterious as water that can move you without you ever getting wet.

We were standing on a beach in Florida, looking out over the Gulf.  The sun was setting and my friends all had their cameras (read: phones) at ready to document the beauty of the occasion.  But not me – my phone’s camera had recently decided to quit every time it was opened, so I didn’t even bother to pull it out.  And there’s a part of me that balks at this ritual of picture taking anyway.  When I was young and on vacation, my mom, dad and brother would all take copious pictures, all being avid photographers.  My version of teenage rebellion took the form of leaving my camera (a real one at that time) in the car and huffing when they said, “oh just one more.”  I was a real wild child.

So there I stood on that beach with my friends, watching the water with empty hands.  And I experienced that sound reverberating in my chest.  It struck me that for all the time that I’ve spent standing on beaches in my life, never once had I noticed the power of that moment when a wave’s curl pounded into the water below.  The wonder and the mystery of it captured the whole of my attention and I was rooted to that sandy spot as that moment saturated with awe crashed over me.  And I realized that had my phone been working properly, I would have missed that mysterious moment entirely.  Because I know myself and I know that I would have been far more concerned with getting just the right picture than with getting caught up in the moment.  In fact, for me, that mindset  – the desire to get the right picture or text what I just saw to a friend or to write about it in my journal so I can use it in a sermon or to check my email or turn on the TV instead of sitting still – it’s the norm.  Being fully present to the awesome reality of the world, the moment, that’s right in front of me such that it fills and overflows my very being?  That’s the exception.

Yet when I think of those times in worship when I have been most open and present to God, when I have most fully and freely offered myself to Christ, they’re the ones where the worship leaders took care to convey something of the mystery and wonder of the Lord to worshipers.  Whether it was the words that they said or the way that they used the space or the songs that they chose or the actions that they used in prayer and sacrament, they were acting as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4).  They had been blessed with an experience, a knowledge, a first-hand understanding of the mysteries of the Lord and they used their gifts to share that experience, that knowledge, that understanding with the rest of us.  They crafted services that compelled those worshiping to be fully present, fully aware, fully attentive to the divine Spirit moving in and around us all.  They were truly faithful stewards of mystery. 

Now a worship leader myself, it wasn’t until I was standing on that beach that it occurred to me that part of my role is to be a steward of mystery.  Preparing for each Sunday, I admit that I don’t usually spend a whole lot of time thinking about how what I’m doing does (or does not) encourage people to step away from their scattered, too-busy, too-full, technology-ridden lives and into a state of full-attentiveness, a state where they too might come face to face with the soul-stirring awe and mystery of God.  It never seemed to be a priority before, at least, not on a weekly basis.  It does now.  Because it seems to me that this is vital to our lives of faith.  It seems to me that this is vital to our lives as faithful disciples.  We need space to be overwhelmed by the mysteries of God.


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Jennifer Barchi is serving as the Solo Pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.