“Our metaphors often become reality, transmuting themselves from language into the living of our lives.” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
There is a section in which Peterson emphasizes the importance of the two visions that Jeremiah had. One was the rod of almond and the other was a boiling pot. Peterson states,
“Jeremiah was shaped by the visions, not by the fashions of the day, not by his feelings about himself.”
We all have “visions” whether we call them that or not. They are those moments when we see something, and it takes on a meaning that is far beyond what we physically see. It is seeing with spiritual eyes instead of human eyes. Paying attention to these moments of clarity, reflecting on them, questioning them and seeking deeper meaning from them is how we grow and find direction in our walk.
While Jeremiah’s call was discerned through the first two visions, God continues to use the ordinary stuff of life to show Jeremiah deep spiritual truth. My favorite and likely the most well known metaphor is that of the potter found in chapter 18 of Jeremiah.
“God told Jeremiah, “Up on your feet! Go to the potter’s house. When you get there, I’ll tell you what I have to say.
So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.” Jeremiah 18:1-4 The Message
This vision of being clay in the potters hands, is powerful and rich with meaning.
“It is indeed by analogy that I believe the mind makes the richest movements, and it is by analogy that I believe the mind makes its deepest use of what it has understood. It is through analogy, if at all, that things can come together again, and that again the center can hold.” R.P. Blackmur
There are two images that have shaped my own journey as a minster. The first was in 2003, long before I graduated seminary or started Embrace Richmond. At that time, I was leading a neighborhood based women’s ministry called Quest. I had asked the women in my small group a question, “If you could do anything for God and knew you would not fail, what would you do?” I asked them all to pray over that question and to draw a picture of what they see.
What I saw was a ministry on wheels. I could not see exactly what that ministry was, but I clearly saw that it was mobile. As I reflected more deeply on that image, I knew that I was not called to traditional church ministry. I knew with 100% certainty that whatever God was calling me to, it was outside the walls of the traditional church. That vision has helped me find peace in the community-based work that ultimately found me.
The second image was a butterfly. It was in a season of deep despair that this image took on a life changing meaning to me. Our ministry had grown and I was feeling the pressure of supporting an ever growing staff and program. I felt I was being called to be someone I was not.
One of the senior adults that I had met in Hillside Court always called me “the butterfly.” She said I never sat still for very long but I always brought a smile. It was one of the kindest names I have ever been called.
During my season of unrest, I was praying for guidance and a beautiful butterfly landed on my leg and looked at me. In my spirit, I heard, “Be the butterfly.”
For years, I have been asking God what that means and at the core of what I hear is “let it go.” Over the years, I have helped to spark and grow over 50 neighbor-led projects, the majority of which have been in more recent years as I have learned to “be the butterfly.” I have learned my role is to be a part of the pollinating process; I get to marvel at the beauty of peoples dreams coming to their fullness but I have learned not to try to hold onto them. They are not mine; I am just a pollinator. I play an important role, but it is not a permanent one.
These two “visions” which occurred ten years apart, have deeply shaped and continue to shape my understanding of my call.
Having clarity about God’s unique call on your life is one of the rocks upon which a fruitful life is built.
I see far too many ministries that start with someone else’s formula for success. I see ministers and non-profit leaders trying to morph themselves into being someone or something they were never created to be. This pressure comes from church members and from donors and well-meaning friends. It is easy to get lost if you are not building on a solid foundation.
There is freedom in living in accordance with God’s call on your life. As Peterson points out, the visions God gave Jeremiah gave him the strength to withstand the winds of his culture and the demands of man. It is not easy, but it is life giving.
The belief that all are created and called is the cornerstone upon which I built Embrace Richmond. It is a rock upon which my life’s work is founded. I believe the greatest gift we can give someone is helping them discover and live their God-given purpose.
While ABCD best practices clearly support the core belief that everyone has a purpose. I think it is important that we clearly name the theological nature of this belief. The starting place is never, “What do we want to do?” or “What do others expect us to do?” The starting place is, “What is God calling us to do?” Those are very different questions
From my experience, defining our call is not something we do once but something we discover little by little. As I reflect on the two images, the first being a ministry on wheels (2003) and the second being a ministry with wings (2013), I realized the second was simply the next level of the first. I had to spend time on the ground, before I was able to fly. Each stage took many years for me to understand and to grow into. I suspect, there will be many more stages in my own journey as I continue on this path of discovery.