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By Wendi Bernau


I really should call this one: Interruption: An Experiment. We talk a lot about experiments at Missional Wisdom Foundation. One thing I know about myself is that I would much rather be experimenting and exploring new ideas than rehashing or managing old ones. It’s one of the certainties and signs to how I knew serving as the pastor of a local church was not the right path for me. Now, even when I’m doing something I’ve done before, it’s generally new to this group. “We’ve never done it this way before” to me is all the more reason to do it: it’s exciting even if it’s uncomfortable. I like comfort as much as the next person for my personal life, but in my work if I’m not a least a little bit terrified, I’m not trying hard enough.

Recently, I was flattered when one of my preacher colleagues referred me to someone else as a potential guest preacher. I love to speak publicly and since I don’t serve in a local congregation, I am usually available for Sunday fill-in. I will confess that I have been very busy lately and really didn’t need another date on my calendar, but the unicorn that I chase doesn’t like it when I say “no” to things. If I say “no” too many times, the asking stops. I never know whom I am going to meet when I go places, so I do tend to say “yes” more than perhaps I ought. Sigh. It’s a shortcoming, but one I’m willing to live with. It takes me into uncomfortable territory and that’s good for me too.

Generally, when I guest preach I use the lectionary to narrow down the choices. This also forces me to research less familiar passages. The week for my fill-in, the gospel story was from Mark, the one in which Jarius (whose name means “God enlightens”) asks Jesus to come heal his daughter, but along the way a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years touches the hem of Jesus’s garment and Jesus stops to talk to her. Most of us like to be the woman in this story, asking for and receiving healing. I suggested that we look at the story from the point of view of “God enlightens,” the important religious leader whose daughter died while Jesus stopped to interact with the unclean, unnamed woman.

It is very revealing to consider how the “God enlightens” character handles interruption and to ask how we might respond in similar circumstances, like in Ignatian Imaginative Contemplation. Of those present, we agreed we would have been pretty peeved if Jesus stopped to help someone else while our daughter died. Of course, Jesus was able to heal both of these daughters. Jesus said “yes and” and if you know anything about theatrical improvisation, you know this is the foundational philosophy of the improv event. I am a firm believer that the message of the sermon should be mirrored in the delivery of the sermon, so I asked: what if I interrupt the service with this sermon by making it a not-sermon? What if I use the sermon time to have the people improv out the story and ask some spiritual direction-type questions while we do it?

Here is the result of that experiment (the video is the whole service; my part begins at about 30 minutes into it – I’m the one in the black robe):

Cahill UMC guest preaching

The service did run late and some people did walk out. But many found it profound and enjoyable. Two of the people who actively participated in the improv specifically came up to me afterward to thank me. One said, “I get it. I see what you did there” and after more extended conversation about some of the things people said during the improv, the other one said, “you must have extensive training in psychology.” I said, “no—not psychology; I am trained in spiritual direction: the practice of active, layered listening and the art of asking open questions to elicit deep reflection on the intersection of life with the movement of God.”

[[  FYI: Missional Wisdom is about to launch a missional spiritual direction training program called Anam Cara, in a multiple retreat format beginning this September (2018). Anam Cara means “soul friend” and indicates one who walks alongside—or companions (as a verb)—a person or community through active listening.  ]]

It always amazes me how God/Universe/Energy/Unicorn will use every bit of an experience to teach me something. The call to come guest preach was definitely an interruption in my idea of how I was going to use my time last week. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the sermon was about interruption. It felt good at the time and I came home energized. I’d say that is a good indicator that I was faithful, which for today, is enough. Come to think of it, the last two art meditations I’ve done have lines crossing them, interrupting the canvas/paper, like above.

Hmmm….apparently I am anticipating further interruption. If I claimed premonitions, I would think this might be one.

Makes me wonder… and I love to wonder.

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