“Joy in Unexpected Places,” by Leslie Manning

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, June 24, 2018

I want you all to see my coffee cup, which says “It’s a tough world, stay Prayed Up”. Most days, coffee and prayer get me through the day. Alright, coffee, prayer and the love of a good dog.

This cup is a gift and came from a very important Christmas tradition in my family – the Yankee Swap. I see this tradition is familiar to a lot of you. Every year, about 30 of us gather in my mother’s living room with a gift, costing no more than 20 bucks, and we wrap them up and pile them up in the middle of the floor.

Then, after drawing numbers we choose one gift for our own. If we don’t like what we have drawn, we can exercise the right to take someone else’s, until the last person has drawn, and then the first person can look them all over and choose any one they want. The Elvis Presley cookbook? Lottery tickets? A pair of Jesus socks? (Not socks that Jesus actually wore.) Wine and a couple of glasses? All yours–except the chocolate body paint. That was drawn by my then 80-year-old widowed mother–and she wouldn’t give it up. (She later said it was delicious over ice cream.)

And what, may you ask has that got to do with my studies at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine? Well, my dear friends, every day at ChIME, every monthly weekend of intense study and practice, every weekly class, is a spiritual Yankee Swap. But in our version, every one of us gets not only the present that we want, but the present that we need.

I have invited some of my classmates to join us in worship today, and I hope you get to visit with them later. They are all remarkable , ordinary people.
The kind of people who show up without being called, who speak up, who stand up and who sometimes dance. It’s called chaplaining, — who knew chaplain was a verb? And it is becoming my life’s work and the work of a lifetime.

Chaplaincy Institute of Maine is an interfaith program with the intention of turning us out into the world, as called and led, to offer hope, healing and a listening presence for people at some of the darkest and most joyful occasions in their lives; and to be available, on spiritual stand-by, for all the moments in-between.

In between, that liminal space where we find grace, sorrow and joy. Today I want to concentrate on the joy. Liminal space is occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. For example: “While doctors operate, she hangs suspended in liminal space”. In other words, G-d space.

The ChiME website says, “ChIME educates and ordains interfaith leaders who serve with integrity, spiritual presence, and prophetic voice.”

As part of our studies, we learn about the world’s religions, about our own vulnerabilities, our dark and golden shadows; we learn to listen and go deep to the source of all grace, sorrow and joy. We learn the difference between forgiveness and forgiving; to hang on and to let go; to open ourselves and allow ourselves to be opened. And we are only in the first phase of this work and calling, as we go together into the “classwomb” and are churned as we are chimed.