There are two kinds of adventurers: those who go truly hoping to find adventure and those who go secretly hoping they won’t.
(William Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways: A Journey into America)
For many years I have gone on little adventures; just a few days away by myself, mostly no farther than a day’s drive. It is a time to hear the sound of my own thoughts, take a break from schedules and experience things that my family is not interested. Beginning with the very first one, I got lost. It totally stressed me out. This was before in-car navigation and cell phones. All I had was an awkward, too-large-for-the-front-seat paper map. I finally found my way to the hotel after navigating road closures, detours and rain. I dried off, took a breath and then was delighted when I found the hotel bar featured a string quartet that evening. I was able to let go.
Ever since that first trip, I now look forward to the moment when I am lost. It happens every time I travel. It is part of the adventure! So now when it happens, usually at night and/or in the rain, I have a moment when I literally say out loud to myself, “Here it is.” I embrace that part of the trip like every other part. For me it is a way to relinquish control, albeit reluctantly.
After all these years of adventures I have learned that getting lost means that I will also be found. And learning that being found does not happen in the way I imagine.
· Sometimes I do it alone.
· Sometimes I ask for help.
· Sometimes I end up somewhere unexpected.
· Sometimes I easily fall back into my plan.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to. (Miracle on 34th Street)
At some point we all have lost; our way, joy, laughter, hope, our voice, love. This is the reality of being human. The other reality is that we are created for community. When we are lost, we are not alone. (Although sometimes it feels that way.) Because we are in community, we will be found.
How do I know? Because I have confidence in all the good that is unseen.
Because I believe when common sense tells me not to. I have faith.
And when my faith wavers, you have faith for me.
We are always found.
I just came home from the Institute of Liturgical Studies held at Valparaiso University in Indiana. It is a 3-day conference which focuses generally on worship and specifically on Proclamation of the Word through preaching, song, and teaching; and how the Work of the People (the liturgy) informs, grows and strengthens our faith for our work in the world. It is a wonderfully thick and profound three days.
This year the theme was: Table of Thanksgiving: How the Eucharistic Forms Us. As always, the plenary speakers and workshop facilitators were thoughtful and helpful. Each year I take home something to use in my work at church. This year was strange since I do not have church work (at the moment) to immediately apply my learnings. I still took notes and got resources to store away in my toolbox. My immediate learning this year was deeply personal.
I experienced many moments of pure grace. These are two that are still with me.
· A friend greeted me with a hug, looked me in the eye and said, “How are you doing in this in-between time?” So many times, we do not want to make reference to someone’s pain. It can be uncomfortable. And yet if we are willing to risk discomfort, we can transcend the surface relationship and be truly human with one another. Just him asking the question was enough.
· During one of the refreshment breaks, a fond acquaintance asked how life was recently. I answered, “It has been difficult.” He said, “Yes, for me too.” He asked about me and then told me that his companion died during Holy Week after multiple cancer diagnoses. We sat knee to knee in a crowded conference room quietly listening to each other – to all that was said and unsaid. It was a holy moment saturated in mutual vulnerability.
When we are the Body of Christ together, there is no hierarchy of pain or grief. We are simply one – together. It struck me that at a conference titled: How Eucharist Forms Us; I experienced over and over again the concrete reality of that formation. As a post communion prayer states, “After now receiving the Body of Christ, send us out to be the Body of Christ for the world.”
This is what I experienced: the best of what church (the Body of Christ) can be. This is what will sustain me until I can get out my tool box and use it again.
Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow
by Henry Louis Gates Jr. with Tonya Bolden
“The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” W.E.B. Du Bois
This Scholastic book needs to be read in all families with older children. We cannot use the labels black families and white families anymore. That is too simplistic and doesn’t respect all the beautiful shades of skin and experiences of people.
That being said:
· Families who have a “white” experience and history need to read this together. Parents, I guarantee you that you will learn new history along with your children. We were not taught many details of the history of black people beyond slaves picked cotton, the presence of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and saw photos of separate water fountains. I venture to guess that anything else learned was done by one’s own initiative.
· To every other family: this book is so well-written that I know it will encourage new and important conversations.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. shares stories of both former slaves and their descendants. The sheer will and determination to not only survive after the Civil War and Emancipation but to thrive for the benefit of their own communities and the whole country is truly remarkable. Some of this history is difficult to take in, which is why it is important to read this with your children. That is exactly why we need to read it. The oppressive laws, the beatings, and the lynching are our history – all Americans.
Stories of racism by white people are also included. They are told in an age appropriate way but will still trouble the reader; as they should. If we are to learn from our history and move forward as a nation, everyone’s stories need to be told and heard.
A review from School Library Journal says: “The complexity of the subject and sophisticated language will be readable for high school students but is on the more challenging end of the spectrum.”
Finally, I want to include the first verse of Lift Every Voice and Sing, many times called the national black anthem. Read the words through the lens of both oppression and hope. They are words and dreams for all of us.
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
James Weldon Johnson
I have never been good at multitasking. Just ask anyone when it is my turn to divide up the table’s combined bill at a restaurant. The first thing I say, “Don’t talk to me while I do math.” I want to do it right and can only concentrate on one thing at a time.
There is a lot of brain science surrounding the idea that people cannot actually multitask. We cannot be fully present in two or more intellectual or emotional spaces. Not everything will get the same amount of attention and focus. Something always comes out lacking.
No surprise this idea of multitasking vs. another way of thinking how we work, came to me today when I was out in my yard. I have a large yard and many gardens. They vary in size, types of plants, and amounts of sun and shade. I do not think I have ever had all of them at the same time “garden walk worthy”. When I think that is the goal, I begin to feel the job is too daunting.
I have learned over time that I just need to keep at the work: weed this one today, plant that one tomorrow. Stay the moment of that day’s work and tend to the needs of that area. (And don’t think I need to get it all done in one day!) Tending a garden is focused and quiet work.
I have recently learned to do this in the gardens of my inner life. In February, my position was eliminated and I found myself out of work. I have always identified myself with my work because it is an extension of how I live in the world. It was good work. All of a sudden, I was faced with the scary question “Who am I?” as I reimagined how I would live and serve in the world.
I got overwhelmed very quickly!
There were so many things that needed to happen:
· Move past the pain, hurt and anger
· Pack and move the 20 years of personal items to my home
· Say good-bye to friends and church members
· Network and find another job
· Find a new church community
· Move past the pain, hurt and anger (Did I say that already?!)
What I did have was time. I figured it would be easy to just tick things off the list and move forward. It wasn’t.
I realized I had areas of my inner life that needed care and tending; focused, quiet work. Just as in northern climates when gardens lay dormant, I first needed a time of gentle dormancy. My first weeks were filled with quiet reflection, journaling, and watching Call the Midwife on Netflix. Then as my inner gardens warmed, I began reading and seeing friends. Each of these activities were done with the intention of staying in the moment and being mindful of what I could do that day. Only a few times I slipped into the “multitasking zone”. Each of these areas is their own garden and each need focused time and attention.
A few months later, I still have not checked everything on my list. I have become ok with that. I will take time because I want to do this well. I am not done tending my gardens. I don’t think we ever are. As in physical gardening…some days I am very sore!
I am grateful that I have rediscovered parts of myself, found a new faith community, and have the support of friends.
One of my favorite quotes that hung in my office for years is by writer Anais Nin. It speaks to me again now. I will keep tending my gardens until the time is right to bloom.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
As Holy Week nears; I think about hearing again the profound story of Jesus leading up to the Easter celebration. It is easy to go through the motions of a story I have heard so many times. It becomes more routine than ritual. Over millennia the church has developed meaningful rituals. Through rituals, we enter the mystery of our faith. Mysteries cannot be explained. Theologian James Cone says, “Theology is symbolic language, language about the imagination, which seeks to comprehend what is beyond comprehension.”
Because we cannot adequately use words to understand the mysteries of our faith, we seek to experience it through ritual and imagination.
What does it mean to personally experience mystery?
I think of the core questions of Godly Play, the process of deep theological play developed by Jerome W. Berryman.
After children hear a story of the faith, they are asked to ponder these questions:
“I wonder what part of this story you liked the best?”
“I wonder what part is the most important part?”
“I wonder where you are in the story?”
“I wonder if there is any part of the story that we can leave out and still have all the story we need?”
I know! Profound questions!
Remember, the story is profound:
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem
Jesus’ Last Supper
The disciples’ feet are washed by their savior
The sky goes dark and you hear Jesus’ last words: “It is finished.”
We need questions that are up to the task!
I encourage you, if you know these Holy Week stories well or if they are still new to you, have these questions rumbling around your brain as you hear them again.
These are difficult questions. They demand time to ponder, wonder. They need time and space not to find the right answer but listen to how the story is speaking to you – today. Don’t try to be deep. Let the story take you deep.
I am going to write these questions on a slip of paper and bring them into church with me. I want them to be right in front of me when I am confronted with the love I will never comprehend but deeply desire to know.
Blessings to you this Holy Week,
On my own journey as a dabbling artist, some time mystic but always rooted in my call to accompany people on their journey of faith.