In the Ash

ood morning everyone!  May your Monday not be too Mondayish!

Today’s scripture:

Job 4:1-6New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:

“If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
    But who can keep from speaking?
See, you have instructed many;
    you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
    and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
    it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
    and the integrity of your ways your hope?

When I was in seminary, I was required to serve two years of field education.  This would be 15-20 hours of internship per week. My first year, I was paired with a small congregation as their children’s minister.  This congregation was mostly women over 80 however.  There were two kiddos from one family.  The pastor I worked with is still a very dear friend of mine. Vickie had just been ordained and had gone to the same seminary so she knew what it was to have field education. Because I only had two kiddos, Vickie was wonderful in giving me rich experiences. She also let me try just about anything I wanted to do. I preached every once in a while. Tried new worship styles with this adventurous group of older women.  I could go visiting with Vickie or on my own.

At the time, I was taking a class on the Book of Job and I was in love with this book of the bible.  I asked Vickie if I could create a 5 week curriculum and teach a class on Job.  I was 22, now teaching a class on Job (a book about how one deals with tragedy) to a group of women who had lived more life than I could even imagine. I was soooo out of my league.

But I was in love with the poetry and nothing could stop me.

When we came to this part of the book, where the friends give advice, the stories started pouring.  Each of these women (5 were in my class) told me incredible stories about when their friends told them things that were not helpful. Job’s friends represent the culture well but all tell Job what he should or should not do.  While he is in the Ash, the keep pushing him down. Eliphaz appears to tell him that he most have done something to deserve this.  What I learned from these women was that this is the furthest from where we need to be in pastoral ministry.  When people are in the Ash, it is not our job to stand above them and hand out shoulds…we are instead called to get dirty too.  Empathy comes from walking with…not standing above.

When I opened this lesson today, I was still quite taken with the poetry. The writer is brilliant in how words are laid out. Job is still one of my favorite books of the Bible. I feel as though I have heard these words from the world before….you must have done something to deserve this.  And then I remember what it has been like to hear those words when the world looks pretty bleak. They certainly don’t make me want to rise and fight the day, only to sink into my ash and moan.  Instead, these women who lived life so fully, taught me about hearing the story, walking with, and slowly stepping out of ash into something new.

When we talked about the whirlwind later where God showed up, I could only listen in awe and how these women had seen God because they had been where Job was.  I was way out of my league and I thank God for that!

Where can we walk together?  Where can we get dirty in our journey and slowly rise?  How can we be empathetic friends rather than handing out the shoulds?

Peace.

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