It happened again this morning.
I read a passage that directly spoke to my fierce wondering of the days past. How does God speak in my life or maybe that isn’t even the most pressing question? The question is about God and me, how we both listen, speak and connect; complexly pondered or simply understood.
It seems like I’ve spent the last two years contemplating a newish direction for my life, but the truth is that both small and great nudges and events have moved me forward over a lifetime. I accepted a faculty position in a new place and realize that what I have been offered I really didn’t know I was looking for. How is that?
Looking back, I vaguely identify the “stuff” of life that has surfaced; things that I’m not sure how to name or define. All my life has been about the integration of my faith and scholarship; but I worked to keep this internally pervasive (until this blog, I guess). Even speaking well-worn creeds on Sunday unleash my teetering around assertions rather than claiming them as my belief.
Last summer, I stood on the grass in front of the chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary, with little inkling why I was there. I knew the beauty of the summer day, the majesty of nearly 200-year-old buildings that epitomize faith and scholarship, and knowing that a greater Presence overtly permeated everything around me. I found solace in the creative worship, the big-organ hymns, and collective spirit of care that found me there. And I still had no inking why I was there.
For many years, maybe most of my life I’ve felt this pull to the Appalachian Mountains. From driving interstate 40 toward Asheville to waking to the foggy mist high on the mountain from deep in the hollow in Virginia, those vistas are both awe-inspiring and a reclusive escape into both myself and the immenseness of creation. Over and over I come back to this source of wonder; as a summer volunteer for the Christian Appalachian Project, taking an exit off the main highway deep in the foothills to “just see”, and reading stories of the strength and challenge of the people who inhabit these particular landscapes. And while firmly attracted to a place, this was only one part of the puzzle of where and who and why that links these experiences beyond time.
Back to this morning…
Wondering how all of the seemingly random but intricately connected “stuff” over a lifetime happens; I opened up Listening to Your Life, my daily dose of Frederick Buechner’s writing, to find that today, December 16, was titled “Small Events.” Speaking about two short autobiographical books, The Sacred Journey and Now and Then, Buechner writes:
They gave me more of a sense than I had ever had before of how as far back as I could remember things had been stirring in my life that I was all but totally unaware of at the time. If anybody had predicted when I was an undergraduate at Princeton that I was going to be ordained as a minister ten years after graduation, I think I would have been flabbergasted. Yet as I wrote those two autobiographical volumes I found myself remembering small events as far back as early childhood which were even then leading me in something like that direction but so subtly and almost imperceptibly that it wasn’t until decades had passed that I saw them for what they were—or thought I did because you can never be sure whether you are discovering that kind of truth or inventing it. The events were often so small that I was surprised to remember them, yet they turned out to have been road markers on a journey I didn’t even know I was taking.
I’ve read Buechner’s words, the very ones I read today, more than once. Did they just happen to catch my attention today because I was wondering about my life in similar ways? Looking back over events and nudges from places and people in my own life, do I now see what is true or simply justify how my new work in the foothills of Appalachia with people whose stories connect them to this place and lives of faith happened?
Speaking about writing and faith Kathleen Norris states,
This has happened to me a great deal, and I think it happens with a lot of writers: that you look at something you wrote a few years ago and all of a sudden you realize what it’s about. You weren’t conscious of it at the time…that is part of the process of writing, where the words and poems that come out know more than you do.
Shouts and Whispers Jennifer Holberg, Editor.
This is true for me not only as I look back on my writing over the years; but as I re-encounter the events recorded in those words and reconstruct memories in connection with other words and events. Patterns emerge that make me wonder, again, did I just happen to read this particular thread of Buechner’s life that sits so squarely amidst my own life now? It’s easier to listen, when I know it has happened to me.