By Anna Woofenden
Someone said to me recently, “‘Showing up’ is a refrain you all use often.” I hadn’t specifically noticed this before. I know that I often preach about the dignity of all human beings, about the power of all kinds of people eating together, and about how we want to be part of cultivating more heaven here on earth. “Showing up” wasn’t something I had consciously taken as a theme, yet having had it pointed out to me, I realized that “showing up” is at the root of so many fundamental values I hold dear. We need to show up in order to:
- Join together with all kinds of people around God’s table
- Find reconciliation in our relationships and families and between races and classes
- Regenerate, or grow in our spiritual lives
- Be changed by a conversation with someone with whom we wouldn’t normally interact
- Be out in the world meeting new people
- See God in the faces of all those people we meet
- Strengthen our spiritual practice with God
- Love our neighbor
In the Swedenborgian tradition, we talk a lot about the trios and the trines: the trinities that comprise the Divine and the spiritual life. One of the trios that is evoked constantly in Swedenborg’s works is that of love, wisdom, and useful service. At the core of this trio is love, to be sure, but for it to have any life and be experienced actually in the world, love must be paired with wisdom so that it can be put into actions of useful service. It doesn’t end there, though. The trio circles back the other direction, too. As we engage in useful service, we experience love and have new insights of wisdom that shine light on new ways for us to be useful.
Since the Lord is love itself and wisdom itself, the Lord is also usefulness itself, since love has useful functions as its goal and puts them into effect by means of wisdom. Apart from usefulness, love and wisdom have no definition or boundary, no dwelling. This means that we cannot say they exist or are present unless there is a useful function in which they occur. (Divine Love and Wisdom §230)
The elegant circling of the trio breaks, though, if we don’t show up. To encounter and engage with the Divine and to be part of that cycle of love, wisdom, and useful service, we need to show up.
I am not saying that showing up in life happens effortlessly. “Showing up” is a simple enough phrase, and I believe that it conveys a deep truth about our calling both as individuals and in community; but actually doing it, living it, and responding to it are not easy. Showing up requires deep prayer for strength and humility. Showing up:
- Necessitates our commitment and our spiritual practices
- Can mean battling to get out of bed in the morning, to overcome mental and physical challenges
- Entails the emotional work that needs to be done to be present with each other, to look inside ourselves, and to examine the places within ourselves that we would prefer stayed walled off
- Means being humble and willing to rest in God, to trust in God, and to believe in our value and worth as creations of a loving God
During my time as pastor of the Garden Church, showing up every day has presented itself not only as an opportunity but also as a challenge. I remember vividly those early days when I would shake as I drove down to the empty lot that we were transforming into a spiritual gathering place. So much was unknown; anything could happen. I felt vulnerable and curious, even excited and trepidatious about what might happen if we showed up to this community in such a raw and exposed way. Week after week my hands shook on the steering wheel as I drove down Pacific Avenue, and week after week amazing things happened when we opened the gates. Just the right number of people would show up with food in hand so that there was enough for dinner; a conversation at the gate would turn into an opportunity to pray for a family who had just lost a loved one; two people who come from very different walks of life would come together as they harvest beans; and God would be there.
And in these moments, I was reminded that though showing up is hard, it is also so very simple. It might take determination and courage, but to move outward into basic action can be a simple step to take. As a beautiful passage from the book of Micah reminds us, God delights in how we show up and what we show up to:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Showing up doesn’t mean that we always know the outcome or are going to be able to accomplish things in exactly the way we had planned. Showing up is that humble walking, that surrender to God, as we are reminded step by step that God is the one who knows the way and is leading and providing. And though we rarely know exactly what God has in store, our experiences often show us that it will be more surprising and delightful and uncomfortable and transformative than anything we could come up with on our own.
Rev. Anna Woofenden, MDiv, is the founding minister of the Garden Church in San Pedro, California.