A Letter to Herm

June 11, 2015

Dear Herm,

On a Thursday morning in the Fall a few years ago, I walked into a local church, sweaty palmed and fighting the inward pull to shut down and shut off and not meet the faces of these strangers I was there to see. I entered the yellow painted room with the round table set and jackets strewn about and the candle- lighted- in the middle of the space indicating the presence of God. And I met you.

Rugged and rough and laughing, with a face that I knew in an instant had been marked by equal amounts of grace and pain. I met you and in the moment, I met the most honest of persons I have ever known. Such honesty is hard to come by, and it is a gift.

You did not know- and maybe you still do not know- that the space I was in on that day was an unkind space. I had been riddled by my own losses, tossed by the violations of those once named friends, and so unable to trust that there would be goodness, especially in someone deemed an authority over others. I was unsure at that time about anything and anyone, yet quite certain that this place too would disappoint, leave me wrung out and lonely and trying to piece back together the soul that had been ripped up several times too many. But I entered, and you made space. You led your pastors to make space. To clear a spot for a stranger in all my awkwardness, and to invite me in.  

And so I came. Slowly and quietly. Watching and waiting for one glimpse of something that would make me bolt for the door, and watching oh so closely the way you would pastor and lead your colleagues and those in your care. And I found in you a trustworthy soul.

A person who had been broken open and bled with great mourning, and I could relate to that, having held the lifelessness of own broken heart in my hands, eating the salt of tears and the bitterness of injustice and pain. I found you most trustworthy because you had broken. Because in breaking, you had expanded. Grown open. Carried the heavy tensions of grief and gift and loved both with a fervor unmatched in most people. I could trust you because in your face I saw a piece of myself. A fellow human who had tasted deep loss.

But your gentle love for your pastors! For those who had been entrusted to your hands, how you carefully drew close to everyone, comfortable in the uncomfortable conversations. How you quietly listened and spoke powerful truth in a tender voice rather than using your authority to wound and rough up and bruise. And your pastors melted in front of you- safe and knowing that with you anything could be spoken and it would be held sacred and hopeful and honest. Because in you, there is no guile.

And though I have rarely been the one to melt at your gentle words, or to even weep at the way you speak life into lives, I have found myself time and again, filled to the brim with gratitude to have been able to watch and see and encounter such leadership.

Even when you faced challenge- challenge that threatens to rip out the seams of friendship and shred up the goodness that God has planted- you withstood (and withstand) with the same humble grace. With the same open hand and open arm even to those who would sooner turn away from you. You may know little about how your gentle strength speaks loud to those who will listen, and if I told you, you would simply grin in self-deprecation, and crack a joke, but the withstanding still speaks as testimony to the Grace that holds you.

You said to me that very first day this off-the-cuff joke of a response that I have not yet forgotten. We were talking in the group of something ministry-related and I made the comment, “You never know what God has up his sleeve.” To which you quipped, “God doesn’t wear sleeves and he’s got tattoos all up and down his arms.” It was spoken as an aside, under the rest of the conversation with all the laughter that you meant it to have. But it was more sobering than you know. You see, to my heart- to a heart that at that time felt alone and beaten and exiled- that joke sunk into my soul. It was as if the Spirit of God flung himself across the table, grabbing my face with both hands and saying, “See, see, this is why you are here. To remember that I do indeed have you engraved on my hands.”

You led your people in welcoming me. In opening up a space at the table and valuing my voice or my silence. You took someone who was living in a place of exile from her own people and you lavishly gave me a place. You welcomed someone who felt far from her ordaining body and gave me the strength to live into who I was even as I live apart from my “tribe.” You saw me as a sojourner in a foreign land and you took seriously the Scripture to offer respite and grace.

My heart grieves as you move on from here. The void that you leave behind will bleed wildly. I know that you will sprinkle Grace into every footstep from here, but your absence will be large and felt long after you have spoken your goodbyes. All things become new, but I do not always like the process- the things that are left or moved or taken along the way. But all things will be new for you too, and I just hope that I can catch a sighting of what that goodness will be.

You and those in your “tribe” have forever changed the landscape of my soul. And I am better for it. Thank you.

Peace, Karen

2 Responses to “A Letter to Herm”

  1. Beautifully said and I agree 1000%. A living witness like Herm in our lives is a rich and rare blessing…a heart sparked, created, and radiating such beauty that a ‘witness’ is inevitable, as such beauty draws us in (rather than repel us, as so often “intentional witnessing” does.). Truly, it is a heart, like Herm’s, that is broken and healed, renewed, transformed, and being led in each moment by the tender, ferocious longing and cruciform love of God that makes the Good News irresistible despite the tremendous efforts by committees, and denominations, and the old but ongoing efforts and “traditions of men that make void the will of God”. Herm, the depth and range and influence of the light you’ve allowed your heart and soul to be simply cannot be overstated. Yes, as this writer has said so beautifully, the Light that filters through your soul has, indeed, forever ” changed the landscape of our souls”. Add mine to the Very, very long list of “thank-you’s”. In love, by grace – PreetamDas

    • wrenlk said

      “…being led in each moment by the tender, ferocious longing and cruciform love of God that makes the Good News irresistible…” I love these words you have written. Thanks for reading.

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