‘The camels leave in the morning’

In a poem, Father Kilian McDonnell tells an ancient story. The gist is this:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country.’”

Talk about imperious. Not one for conversation, this unknown god issues edicts to strangers; a command – simply, “Go.”

At 75, Abram and Sarai were to scuttle their lives and become sojourners on the road to some mumbled nowhere.

Abram blanched at the thought that from two desiccated lumps this God of the wilderness promised to make a great nation. Yet he answered:
“You come late, Lord, very late,
but my camels leave in the morning.”

At Bishop Peggy Johnson’s consecration service July 18, Bishop Susan Morrison delivered a sermon based on Genesis 12 and McDonnell’s poem, The Call of Abraham.

Bishop Morrison, a clergywoman from the Baltimore-Washington Conference was retiring after 20 years of being a bishop and she spoke to Bishop Johnson, who became a bishop that day.

Her message was simple. Climb up on your camel and “claim your vulnerabilities — your strengths and your lesser strengths.”

Too many people in the church feel a need to hide their wounds, getting caught up in their “reverendness.” But “our faith enables us to move beyond vulnerabilities and claim whose we are and who we are. And it is sufficient,” Morrison said.

The monk Thomas Merton once wrote, “Humility consists in being precisely the person you are before God.”

In a sense, this is what Morrison was preaching to the new bishop – and I believe to the 50 or so clergywomen from the Baltimore-Washington Conference who were gathered in the pews.

You don’t have to spend a long time with our conference’s clergywomen before you learn a common lesson from them. They live, as they believe, that all people, in the broadest spectrum of their uniqueness, were created exactly as they are in order to be loved and to bring glory to God.

These clergy women gathered on the steps after the service to sing to Peggy. They wanted to give her a blessing as she traveled into becoming Bishop Johnson.

They sang, “Stepping out on the Promises,” a song from their shared past.

Each of them knew that the bishop’s journey, as well as their own and that of each United Methodist in the conference, won’t be entirely comfortable.

God calls God’s people to some untidy places where it’s not always easy to feel capable, or even relevant. But the point, as Bishop Morrison said, is to honor the journey.

“It’s about claiming who we are. Because in the end, God’s call is not about us. It’s about living and telling the story, the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.”

Our camels leave in the morning.


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