Freedom for the Soul

Matthew 10:40-42   The Sunday  Slot 6

This passage from scripture takes us back to the reading of a couple of weeks ago when we were asking the question… In whose name are we ministering to the world? Is our ministry in Jesus‘s name meaning that it is his very essence informing our own soul, or are we merely using Jesus‘s name as a label under which minister according to our own egoic views, opinions and judgements! Jesus now is asking precisely this question and exploring the consequences. I’d like to share an anecdote that does exactly the same.

About 10 years ago I was a minister in a very busy church in a large town in the midlands. One day a woman came to see me (we’ll call her Linda), she wanted to understand how I found being a woman minister a male dominated context. At that time I was the only female minister across all of the denominations in this particular town. Of course women ministers are quite the norm for Methodism but I was aware that my appointment had been viewed with dismay by a few of the other ministers in the town who had until then enjoyed an all male clergy club!

Linda and I chatted and she told me her story of how she had left one of these churches some years ago because of these particular views. It was, to be truthful, a very hard line approach she had been exposed to. No one was allowed to ask questions but rather told what they ‘must’ believe. Linda had fallen foul of the system there by daring to question some of the beliefs during a bible study class and from then on her life had been made very difficult indeed and an elder had been appointed to ‘keep an eye on her’. She left the church and had never sought to attend anywhere else.

She had become interested in ‘new age’ spirituality where she found people far less judgemental. She surrounded herself with crystals and the general paraphernalia of the new age …. but she had never given up on Jesus. Linda had come to know, within her own soul that tender loving essence that guided every moment of her life but she could never quite equate this version of God with the one she had learnt of in church.

One or two of her friends from church would continue to visit her and intime opened up to their own experiences of oppression, of not being allowed to speak, of being belittled and of being told what to believe and even how to behave. Very quietly word got round and one or two others from different churches but equally oppressive, arrived at Lindas door seeking support. Then came a few who had long since left such churches, in other towns, some now describing themselves as new age or pagan but who had seen something in Linda that really spoke to their depths.

I had always been used to women preachers in the pulpit in the church in which I grew up and my rebellious nature was always questioning the ministers who positively encouraged such challenges.There were occasional exceptions to the rule but I am thankful at least that I had not personally been subjected to the oppression that I knew was widespread in some denominations.

Anyway, at the end of our chat, Linda’s invitation to me was to come and speak to this group which now met once per month. She believed that an ordained women minister could do much to help their healing process.

And so I went along for the lunchtime meeting where a lovely spread had been made ready (as was the norm for this meeting) in a beautifully creative space in Linda’s home.

As I watched Linda welcome each and everyone with such generous hospitality, with such love and concern and an open space where there was no judgement, no requirement to believe anything at all, no requirement to share or speak but a place to do so in wanted…I realised why so many had found their way to Linda’s door. Indeed she had attracted so many people that there was barely room to get everybody in.

Suddenly I realised that here was a woman who was truly ministering in the essence of Jesus’s name. She wanted nothing more than to share that essence through her hospitality to those who had been denied it by erroneous teaching. Even as I watched Linda serve her guests the words of the great Priest, Monk and Theologian Henri Nouwen came to my mind who describes true spiritual hospitality as a place where

‘…the guest can be free to come and go, to be close and distant, to rest and to play, to talk and to be silent, to eat and to fast, the paradox indeed is that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space where the guest can find his own soul.’

This is the very antithesis of what many of these women had experienced and I realised straight away that Linda was adept at offering precisely this because she truly acted in the essence of Jesus’s name. No one here was judged, oppressed, subdued or manipulated into a belief system. This was one of the most fruitful ministries I have ever witnessed! The broken and the hurt came from all over to experience the healing power of this amazing woman who simply acted out the essence that suffused her soul which can be summed up again with words from Henri Nouwen.

‘For Jesus there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be Loved’.

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