Faithful Risk

A man stands alone on a bridge between two mountains.

Faithful Risk

My cherished siblings –

I’ve spoken to some very wise comrades this week. People who are near to or part of the Way of the River and have been with me for some time. I feel privileged to work with them, whether 1:1 or in small groups—or both! These folks – you folks – have reminded me of some very important pieces of work that I haven’t thought of in a long time or haven’t thought of in the ways you’ve brought out.

And now that I think about it, much of what I’ve learned about the growth of The Way of the River since 2016 has come from you. My spiritual accompaniment practice grew love letters because you suggested that I might have more to share than only with one person at a time. And my accompaniment practice grew again when you asked whether I would coach and mentor you through the MFC preparation process. And then you asked for season classes and workshops. And then you thought it would be great if I offered a class on discernment, since it’s a topic so close to my heart and something I come back to again and again.

You, dear comrade, are the human manifestations of the wellsprings of love that nourish and feed this particular river. Thank you.

I have had conversations this week about “inefficient ministry” and how luscious and important it is. How subversive and roguish and rascally it feels to say no, I want a ministry of smallness and slowness and peace and time to find clarity. We have spoken about the glory of the discipline of “ten mistakes a day” and the practice of disappointment. So there’s plenty for me to be thinking about, and I hope to bring some more thought-out words to you on those subjects soon.

So that’s the (wo)man behind the curtain, pulling levels and ringing bells and blowing smoke, all the while realizing that the whole thing only exists because you exist. We all need all the rest of us to survive, which is a paraphrase (I always get it wrong) of an important manifestino of our comrade Rev. Theresa Soto.

Today, though, I am thinking of those of you who have been or are in search for a congregational ministry, as well as the rest of us who are trying to live our lives faithfully in response to the movements of the Spirit of the Universe Who is male, female, both and beyond gender. Who is One and Many. Who is known and unknowable. Who concerns Themselves in human affairs and would never concern Itself in human affairs, but who in any case is the miraculous system/process/be-ing that allows love to come into the world. The Love, as the Sufis call Allah, the Real, the One, the only perfection.

One of my clients and I this week were talking about search and all its difficulties and brutalities. All the ways one can be subjected to microagressions (and macroagressions) for being a person of color, whether you are indigenous, Black, or inhabit another racial identity. For being fat, in whatever way the eyes of the beholder are beholding your size and shape. For being Appalachian in a tradition that is hung up on the Boston roots of some of our tradition. (As much as we love to deny that we have anything to do with Calvinism, good Mother of all the gods, we surely are puritanical.) For having a gender…I almost want to stop there, at “for having a gender,” but it’s more appropriate to say, for having a gender other than the one the people selecting a candidate are looking for. For being working class. For having disabilities that show and are known. So much.

And is it our job to fight all our own battles? Of course not. As I’ve already said, we all need all the rest of us to survive. What do we do? How do we make it through these slings and arrows of outrageous, late-stage capitalism and white supremacy and cissexist, heteropatriarchal bullshit? How do we do it?

Many, many people have explained it, the most famous of whom in English is probably Shakespeare, in Polonius’s speech to Laertes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man (sic).

What our comrade called it in our talk, though, was “faithful risk.” The risks one takes out of a commitment to fidelity.

Many of us, simply by virtue of being who we are in the world, who we are seen to be, at whose mercy we are, cannot help taking risks. For all the reasons I said above, many of us are at risk.

So what is faithful risk?

Faithful risk is a decision borne out of a sense of connection to that “self” that old Will mentions above. The one who takes the faithful risk moves out into the unknown, following the headlights of the self into the dark, fifteen feet at a time across a continent.

Taking faithful risks demands that we ask ourselves to whom or what are we accountable. With whom and with what do we keep faith, and so risk breaking faith? Surely one of those needs to be ourselves. Another might be Love itself. Another might be a given congregation. Another might be the Spirit that inspires us, moves us forward, to Which we pray when we sing, “Sing in my heart / all the stirrings of compassion.”

And the risk part, well, some of it isn’t optional, if we’re going to be in deep relationship with anyone. It’s risk that makes us vulnerable. But some of us don’t have a choice about being vulnerable. We just are. Our bodies, the way we look. Our voices, the way we talk. The ways we are on the outside bring physical danger or oppression, even though they may also connect us to communities of support.

But choosing to risk even more is another matter.

Choosing to tell the truth when the truth is not comfortable or what you think the person with the power wants to hear can be faithful risk. Knowing that if you don’t tell the search committee, don’t tell the prospective candidate for your congregation, the truth about some ugly background, everyone will suffer.

That truth telling is faithful risk.

Admitting our own fallibility, ffs, can be faithful risk. I don’t think it should have to be risky. I wish we were tender with one another, listened closely to one another, treated one another well and with challenge and support. But we aren’t. A lot of the time, we just aren’t. And so any truth telling that opens up our humanness to be sliced and diced and judged can be faithful risk.

This risk is not just the one we take because we’re thrill-seeking goofballs. It’s because we’re working to be true to ourselves. And the One/s for Whom we give our lives. Faithful.

So let this rumble around in your hearts and minds today. What faithful risks are you being invited to take? How can you keep faith with “any man” by being true to your own deepest, wisest self? How can you show up to that today?

Blessings as you consider your risks, my loves, blessings –

~Catharine~

PS – Still considering the possibility of joining one of my small groups? There is still room for you! Just go to and set up a free half hour for us to discuss whether one of the groups might be a fit for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

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