|Photo credit: Michael Piazza|
I spent this past week on the rugged Central Coast of California, in Monterey. Around 500 UU ministers gathered there to attend the Institute for Excellence in Ministry, a week-long program of worship, workshops, and welcome rest. This is the third Institute I’ve attended and perhaps the best.
While there, in addition to attending the seminar on Preaching and Worship, facilitated by a friend and former colleague, Rev. Michael Piazza, now a United Church of Christ minister with the Center for Progressive Renewal, I also enjoyed the beautiful coast in the free time the conference planners thoughtfully included. I ran three days along the shore; the ocean’s crashing waves providing the sound track to my runs, with an occasional descant belted out by seagulls. There is so much oxygen at sea level, it felt glorious to run in the warm air; the sea salt mixed with my sweat, stinging my eyes, but I didn’t care. I just squinted a little and kept on running.
Another wonderful opportunity I had to visit the Butterfly Pavilion where the Monarch butterflies overwinter. Pacific Grove, where I stayed, is one of a handful of places in California where the Monarchs migrate as winter approaches. Although the Monarch butterflies are ubiquitous in the U.S and even as far north as Canada, they can’t survive the freezing temperatures and so, when the days get shorter and colder, they migrate. Generally, those east of the Rockies spend the winters in the high mountains of central Mexico, while those west of the Rockies come to California’s Central Coast.
It’s an amazing phenomenon in many ways: while traveling to their winter homes, they can fly as much as 200 miles a day, and take several months to arrive. Astonishingly, the life span of the adult Monarch butterfly is only 2-4 weeks, so they live long enough to mate and lay the eggs for the next generation before dying. Unlike other migratory animals, then, the Monarch migrates to a sanctuary it has never seen; in fact several generations of Monarchs have been born as larvae, transformed into butterflies, and died before the ones I saw ever made to the safety of the eucalyptus, Monterey pine and Monterey cypress trees that provide shelter and food.
On my list of things to do before I’m 60, seeing the Monarch butterflies in their overwintering home was high on the list; imagine my delight when I discovered their winter habitat was only a mile from the hotel where I was staying! On our free time on Wednesday, my friend and colleague, Gretchen Haley, and I hiked to the Pavilion along a green trail with beautiful trees providing a dramatic, welcoming archway for us. Once there, we discovered the Pavilion was a simple path, open and free to the public, that wended its way through trees and bushes and there, halfway down the path, thousands upon thousands of Monarch butterflies flew in the air above us or clustered on trees so thickly they looked like a rich harvest of autumn leaves about to be unleashed upon the earth.
It was a cool, overcast afternoon, and so the monarchs kept close to the warmth and shelter of the trees but they were still amazing and marvelous to behold. I thought about their lives, their dedication to living in what is essentially a perpetual migration, laying eggs, before dying, the eggs hatching into larvae that become adorable caterpillars before that final transformation into the regal Monarch butterfly who would continue the cycle again. And I wondered how it felt, to be a part of the generations that got to gather together in the thousands, seeing their beauty reflected, as in a multi-faceted mirror of nature, in the wings and eyes and antennae of their brothers and sisters. I wondered how it would feel to be the a part of the generation that leaves, finally, in the spring, going to far flung places across the nation to share their beauty with us.
|Opening Worship Service at Institute for Excellence in Ministry|
I thought of my own congregation of ministers just a mile down the road, and how it felt to be a part of the generation that comes together, that sees the peculiar beauty of what it means to be a minister reflected in the eyes and faces of my kindred folk who talk in the language of memorials and budgets, of baby naming and difficult divorces, of shepherding and exhorting. It underscored for me the need for ministers to gather as a whole.
This was reflected in the powerful worship sessions where we ministers could sit in the congregation and be ministered to, rather than have to be the ones up on the chancel. It gave ministers who love to sing a chance to join the 100 voice choir, directed by Jason Shelton, and to blend their voices with others in music that they didn’t choose, didn’t prepare, and wouldn’t be speaking after. There were chaplains available to minister to ministers seeking solace, or wisdom, or the presence we give out so freely in our own home congregations or hospitals or navy battalions and the scores of other places where we would scatter at the end of the week, leaving the familiarity and comfort of our shared experience in this mystical, beautiful place.
This business of perpetual migrating sounds exhausting, but there is a wholeheartedness in it as the beautiful butterflies do simply what they are called to do, and don’t worry about the rest. I guess that is where wholeheartedness is found in ministry-- which can also be an exhausting undertaking at times—in doing simply what we are called to do, in being in the moment whether in shared fellowship with other ministers, in our places of ministry, in our homes with our families, in the migratory rhythms of our lives.
And perhaps that is what we all need to do: stop seeking an antidote to exhaustion—whether in the form of more caffeine, or self medication, or other ways we try to numb ourselves—and instead to seek where we are called to be, in this moment, in this generation, in this mystery.