As I settled into the presence of each woman gathered there, various occasions of stepping outside my comfort zone surfaced in my memory. When I first arrived in Phoenix nearly four years ago, I knew almost no one, and I knew that if I wanted to get to know new people, I'd have to be in charge of making those connections happen--those relationships wouldn't manifest without my initiative. So I did research, I stepped out, and I introduced myself to people I'd never met.
To be vulnerable in a new setting has long been hard for me. Experiencing that vulnerability was rarely worth it when I was younger, but these days I do it despite sometimes intense discomfort, because what I seek lies on the other side of that discomfort: trust, new insight, and connection.
Each new encounter, each new experience, is an opportunity for synchronicity, an opportunity to meet myself in a new way, to come face to face with the deepest yearnings of my heart. Even when I hit an apparent wall, encountering someone or something that repels me, I can see myself in that as well--my shadow side, the side that is hard to accept, the side that is easier to brush under a rug and be done with.
As I sat in this beautiful, open-hearted gathering of women this evening, I sensed the risk involved for each person there, including myself. I hold this space for others that they may be given life from it, but some part of me whispers in my ear, "If no one shows, you've failed." And that is the struggle so many leaders of faith communities face--the idea that numbers determine success in ministry. In reality, "success" is ancillary. What is central is presence--in my case, a willingness to be present to and with other women, whether or not they seek or accept that offering.
Tonight I found myself grateful once again that my livelihood is not determined by the "success" of my ministry--that my dayjob affords me the opportunity to pursue my ministry without requiring anything from those to whom I minister. As a woman inclined toward faith and spirituality, I have often felt pressure to offer something to the communities in which I have been spiritually fed, which has more than once left me depleted. What a gift to be able to offer ministry to others in which I require absolutely nothing back. And, by my not needing anything from those to whom I minister, perhaps those who take part are able to focus inward (on what they seek) instead of outward (on what others think or need), and in doing so are able to discover that what they seek dwells within them, and also dwells within each person gathered.
For who is Thea but the fire inside you and me? Who is Thea but our very breath, the light in our eyes, the dance in out feet, the poetry of our hearts? Who is Thea but the community that binds us, the beauty that delights us, the music that sustains us, and the love that heals us?
Who is she indeed, the one to whom we pray, if not the one we behold in the mirror, and the many we behold in the world?
I am grateful for the women who show up for this gathering, those who show up only once and those who show up almost every month and those who are there now and again. I am grateful for the unfettered gift of their presence to me, for in it they are living icons of Thea. They remind me of who I really am and also of how much love and thoughtfulness and wisdom the Creation is capable of. In their vulnerability and openness, I encounter Thea. In my leadership and ministry, I encounter Thea. In our journeying together, I encounter Thea. And in all of that, my heart is made full, ready to face the shadow side, to pull up the corner of the rug lovingly and to deal bit by bit with all I and the world have stowed there--because if a dance is going to take place, that rug needs to be rolled all the way up!
We shall each get to where we are going, I believe, one wobbly, risky, uncertain step at a time, until we've mastered Thea's wild, loving dance. And what a gathering that will be!