During my studies at SSU for my Masters of Ministry, Pete Fitch gave us an expression for a spiritual condition to aim for and to practice: Fat Souls.
It could be my appetite for Guinness or for food in general, but this practice of a mode of being has stuck with me. Sometimes I feel myself getting thin, sometimes it sneaks up on me but whenever I sense it I know my practices have not been keeping my soul fat enough to withstand the weight of the world that is constantly pressing in on me.
And I try to do something about it.
After an incredibly intense 10 days, I arranged for the Elusive and myself to retreat to the mountains for 48 hours. A time to rest, reorient and renew in the Appalachians at a Christian conference center called, Ridgecrest. They offer this ridiculous deal for pastors for which we are grateful and try to take advantage of a couple times each year.
I went tired but also excited. I’m supposed to be starting work on a second Masters next week and I wanted to be rested up for it.
Our second night there coincided with the start of the South East Vineyard Regional Worship leaders retreat and so we snuck in to see and hear old friends and new friends. Legends John and Marie Barnett led worship that night and the Swirlmaster, David Ruis, spoke.
During worship, I died. During the message, I received hope.
I don’t remember how many songs we were in to the worship set, but it wasn’t long before I knew the Spirit was speaking to me. There are times where I ‘sense’ the Spirit speaking to me, I get ideas or impressions but there are other times where I ‘know’ the Spirit is speaking to me, I recognize that Voice that is neither mine nor the enemies, neither vague nor opaque. And as I worshipped with a room full of people jumping in with both feet, led by two people who live what they sing and who embody “a sacrifice of praise,” God was inviting me to die.
I was supposed to start school again next week, I was excited, looking forward to it and full of anticipation. And the Spirit took it all apart, took me right down to my core again, challenged me and called me to something else. I had a choice and I chose to die to my dream. I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t feel some spiritual euphoria as a result. But I did feel peace. Or maybe ‘resolved’ is a better word. I told the Elusive the next day. And the next day I withdrew from the school.
I still don’t feel happy about it. Maybe what I feel is a small slice of what Paul felt when the Spirit prevented him from going to Bithynia (which I hear is lovely).
As Jon Foreman sings: "Friend, all along / Thought I was learning how to take / How to bend not how to break / How to live not how to cry, but really / I've been learning how to die / I've been learning how to die"
I was undone during the worship. When David Ruis spoke to us, I was filled with hope.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I often think I might be mad, alone, a voice out in the wilderness (the crazy - tinfoil hat kind, not the John kind). David’s message gave me hope for myself (I haven’t completely lost the plot) and for us as a movement, a collection of saints moving together further up and further into the story of God. I won't try to recap, but if you get the chance to hear or watch the message when it's available, you should. It's a message for all of us. It's a message that reminded me of what I love about the Vineyard.
My soul got fatter this week, even as I feel a significant sense of personal loss. Weird, right?
Sometimes I attend gatherings of my Tribe and I’m left feeling that sense of being the “odd duck.” Tuesday night felt like I was in one of the very best expressions of who our Tribe is and what I believe our Tribe is called to be. It was a night of beauty, of honesty, of simplicity, depth and Kingdom and Spirit and power.
I’m grateful for the Swirl that is our Vineyard worship community and the friends who created the space for my Liminal moment Tuesday night. I’m grateful for a safe place to die and for a resurrection of hope.