PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids —Finding A Balance

I took a week to be quiet.

I realize how privileged I am to have this opportunity — to get away and turn off the noise of the world. For far too many, the realities of everyday survival preclude such luxuries, and for a chance such as this, I am deeply grateful.

I’ve done this for years.  I return to Manitoba Pioneer Camp, the camp I attended as a child, which my children attended, where members of my family have been attending every decade since the 1940s.

MPC is on an island in Shoal Lake, on the Ontario side of Lake of the Woods, and from the moment I step foot on the island, it feels like “going home.”

My parents are gone and the house I grew up in was sold nearly 20 years ago, and the house I raised my sons in we left six months ago. In the midst of the transience of life, this is a place to which I can always return.

As I walk down the path to the Stuga, a small cabin overlooking the lake past the end of the cabin line where I retreat, I am greeted with happy smiles and the occasional shout of “Paula!” as I am embraced old friends, unsurprised to see me in my old stomping ground.

During the course of the days at camp, I spend time with people who were my counselors in the ’70s,  as well as those who were campers and then on staff with me and also the children of friends and friends of my children. The whole span of my life  melds together seamlessly over shared meals of amazing food and shared prayers to an amazing God.

But mostly, I am here for silence. Except for the time I spend at meals, the only sounds I hear are the lap of water on the rocks, the birds and creatures that scurry around and my favorite sound of all — the cry of the loon.

I have come to the Stuga over the years at various points in my journey — after my divorce, when I was going through changes of call, and this time, I came to spend time rooted in the Mission and Ministry of Emanuel Lutheran Hartford.

My goal was to hunker down with all of the materials I have pulled together in the past nine months of listening to my congregation in small group meetings as well as archival information about where they’ve been and where they are going.

And then pray.  Pray for God to help me discern the next steps in what I hope is a very long journey together. To help cast the vision, after listening to their voices, of where God is guiding us, hoping that I set a pace that is rapid enough to keep us vital but not too fast so that I lose folks along the way.

I find that the silence clears my mind and helps me really hear — hear voices that get drowned out when I spend too much time consumed by news that I cannot change.

And as I listen to those voices, they encourage me to change the things I can. To work with others, in this messed up broken world, to be agents of change. To look for common threads that will come together to strengthen the fabric of our shared experience.

We are living in dangerous times. And we walk between two extremes.

On one side, we can become completely subsumed by the news and the noise, and it all melds together in one cacophonous yarl that overwhelms us with an addiction to what is happening coupled with a paralysis  to do anything but simply howl about it.

On the other side, is the desire to tune it out. To normalize it. To ignore a world rapidly spinning out of control with the poor and the disenfranchised becoming victims of hatred that is accepted as a form of discourse. We cease to be outraged by horrific actions, sliding into a state of being comfortably numb.

We need to find a place between the two where we can be aware, be outraged, but be effective and find a place of peace — solid ground from which to build up the world we want to see.

I think we find that place by seeking out places of silence and places where we feel at home. By being intentional about recharging.

My breath prayer, the prayer I say when I need to center myself, has long been “Be Still And Know that I am God”

And I understand it on two levels. One says, “Let your heart be still, Paula, and your soul, in the current of life and trust me to guide you.”

The other says, “Shut up, Paula, quit talking, and start listening to me.”

I need both to stay centered — to shut up and trust.

And I need both in order to navigate the world we are in so that I can remain effective — to not fret about what I can’t change and to find courage to change what I can.

I leave this week recharged, but I can’t afford to wait another year to do this in a news cycle that seems to run 25 hours in a 24-hour day.

So my challenge to myself, and to anyone else looking for hints of ways to remain sane in this world, is to be deliberate about finding ways to seek out  and  relish silence, whether it is on a walk or in the car or in a media free zone.  Find silence and sit with it for a while. And then return to the world and it’s struggles.

Because we can’t remain silent in the face of oppression.

 

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Paula Mehmel

Paula V. Mehmel describes herself as “a radical, evangelical, Lutheran mystic.” After 24 years serving as a pastor in North Dakota, she recently moved to New England, where she serves as senior pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hartford, Conn. A Minnesota native, she holds an undergraduate degree in English and German from Washington University in St. Louis and her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. “Pastor Paula,” as she is widely known, is a popular speaker, writer and proud single mother of two sons who both attend Harvard University. With a passion for serving the last, the lost and the least, Mehmel is a committed community member with a special interest in homelessness, refugee resettlement and addressing issues of sexual violence. She also created a no-cut community theater in Casselton, N.D., to assure herself a small role in the ensemble each summer, fulfilling her desire to sing and dance on stage. One of the many reasons she is thrilled with her recent move is that she is two hours from New York City, where she goes to as many shows on Broadway as possible. Thus far, though, no opportunities to perform. She relishes the opportunity to share her thoughts on anything from social justice to theology to random musings about her latest travel adventures.

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