Last week while on vacation to St. Louis, my spouse and I went to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. While there, we were invited to get a tour "behind-the-scenes." When we accepted this invitation, we were quickly made aware that no pictures were allowed in this area. Soon, I think, we learned why: The behind-the-scenes tour was of the aquarium's large shark and stingray tank--the largest tank in the entire aquarium--and we would be standing directly over the top and around the sides of this open tank.
There was one observation porthole in the actual aquarium tour in which these majestic creatures could be observed, but otherwise, the only way to take it all in was this backstage pass. After explaining how many of the creatures (not just sharks and rays, but also turtles and different kinds of fish) had found their home at the aquarium due to an injury or to a defect of some sort, we were led to the center of the tank where a large rope bridge crossed directly over the open waters. Our tour guide explained that the rope bridge was made only of rope tied in over 2,000 knots, and that it was strong enough to hold 6 elephants, but then turned over her shoulder to us and said, "Only one person on the bridge at a time," before demonstrating her heel-over-toe method of navigating the bridge.
Suffice it to say that my confidence was not at an all-time high as I began to navigate the bridge myself. As I began my way across, I felt the bridge begin to quickly move me side to side. I balanced, then I counterbalanced. And when I got to the middle, I stopped. I stopped to take in the beautiful creatures swimming below me: The rays with no barbs that flipped their fins up above the water to look like a shark fin. The actual sharks motating elegantly through the water. The turtle who had been in an accident with a boat rudder and suffered a hole in her shell that had to have a weight surgically attached to her shell to help her be able to dive beneath the surface of the water. I was on shaky ground--no ground really--but in that shaky spot I was met with something spectacular and ordinary all at the same time. And all I had to do was be willing to stop and receive it.
I know the old adage is that "If you're going through hell, just keep going," but I wonder if maybe in our drive to "suck it up and soldier on," we're missing what the shaky spaces have to offer us? What if, in the places that shake our spirits and shake up how things have always been in our lives, in our homes, in our workplaces, in our relationships, and in our journeys of faith, there is something spectacular and ordinary waiting to surprise us or offer us something new? What if we--even for just a moment--didn't just keep going and didn't soldier on and instead stopped and received what the shaky space had to offer us? What if we felt our fear and our uncertainties and our dashed hopes and our wonder and simply stood in it, taking it all in? Might we find that there are ordinary miracles swimming around us? Might we find that life continues even as our hearts break and our fears rage, so we can continue as well? Might we see the shaky places as places we can learn to rest in, knowing that the Divine always finds a way to meet us in them? I don't know...but I think we just might.
The way I see it, we can either rush through the shaky places in our lives, or we can stop and receive what they hold for us--no matter how many times we've been told to just keep going, no matter how many times we have chosen to power through. We can stop and take in the gifts of shaky places, and what we might find is that we have always been held by something stronger than we could ever ask or imagine.
Navigating the shaky places with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.