As a United Methodist elder, I’m ordained to a ministry of Word and Sacrament. I thought going into this, back during the mid 1990’s, that the exciting part of ministry would be celebrating the Sacraments. There’s something amazing, beyond my comprehension, about standing before a congregation and placing one’s wet hands on the head of a newborn child, a kneeling teen, or an adult who comes forward for baptism. There is a mystery each time I lift up the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper proclaiming God’s presence and trusting in God’s action among us. But… what has really surprised me is how incredible the ministry of the Word has been for me.
I never imagined myself as a preacher when I was younger. I was drawn to pastoral care and to teaching. I figured I’d just do my best when I stood in the pulpit. What I’ve found is that my gifts are rooted in words, that preaching is the most natural and most fulfilling part of my ministry.
For many years, I preached every Sunday morning, but now that I serve as a college chaplain, I only prepare and share sermons occasionally. Thus, I am starting a blog because, although I truly love my vocation as a chaplain, I feel called to share words, to share the Word, more regularly.
And then there’s the other reason. If you know me well, you know our family history of dementia. My mother has early onset dementia. Her brother and her mother had it, also. Modern science has uncovered all sorts of new knowledge, enough that we know exactly what type of dementia our family bears. My doctors know not only what chromosome is affected in our family disease but also how far out on the strand of the 17th chromosome that the problem occurs. Science can tell us so much! And it tells me that I have the defective gene, and that, unless a treatment or cure is discovered in the future, I, too, will have early onset dementia. Around age 55 seems to be the year that things fell apart for my mom, my uncle, and my grandmother. I’m 46 as I write this first blog post. I can’t know for sure when the effects will begin to be noticeable, but I do know at some point I will begin to lose words.
How do I lose words without losing myself and my purpose? I don’t have the answer, but I am determined to live into the answer with faith, with openness, and with hope. I am titling this blog “Thoughts from Below” due to inspiration from Bishop Ken Carder’s recent blog post entitled “Voices from Below.” Bishop Carder was quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s well known words:
“There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.”
Bonhoeffer’s words along with a recent exchange I’ve had with Bishop Carder remind me that my genetic blueprint is not cause for pity. It’s simply a part of who I am, which means it is a part of my giftedness. And if Ministry of the Word is my calling, then I have something to share even as I someday begin to lose words. In fact, I have a responsibility to share. Perhaps I can help those who do not have dementia catch a glimpse from the perspective of one who does (or who will.) My thoughts and experience are not the voice of a “highly” educated professional, rather from a lowly individual who visits her mother daily in the dementia-care unit of our small-town assisted living home. These visits trigger fear, anxiety, dread… and beauty, acceptance, curiosity. My thoughts are thoughts from below where questions are more plentiful than answers and fear threatens to consume hope.
The title “Thoughts From Below” reflects my position of vulnerability, and it also captures my nearly constant awareness of my diagnosis. Someday my memory will slip from me, my reasoning skills will abandon me, and even the most basic words will escape me. This awareness is almost always just below the surface. I rarely speak of it, but it shapes and informs much of what I say and do. What I share here is to give you a glimpse below the polished surface I usually present.
Thank you for visiting this blog. Here I hope to share words and to share The Word. Even when words begin to fail me someday, I hope to continue to write until words leave me entirely. Perhaps then someone else will pick up the pieces of the words I leave behind and build upon them, building something even better and brighter. Even in death, I believe there will be new life. My faith is built upon a belief that the Word of God was once made flesh. This reminds me that my frail journey of human life is sacred, and yours is too. Every breath is a gift, every word is a treasure.
Thanks be to God!