I had the privilege to speak in chapel at King University in March 2018. The following is what I said, a reprise of my last blog.
We are not who we were, and yet we are not who we will become.
I went for a walk in early spring when the snow was gone but leaves had not yet budded.
The light was clear and clean, falling totally unencumbered through the trees.
Yes, summer was coming, lush and unsubtle, but in that moment I found myself grateful and in love with the quickening.
Life is always lived between then and soon, right here and now, in the
Beautiful, not yet. Carrie Newcomer
Carrie’s music and poetry have named truths for my own life in the ways that only inspired words can do. She celebrates this time of year that has been kind of gray. Since the trees are still mostly bare, I do see the morning sky with different eyes. The sunrise is more visible through those bare branches that twist and turn toward the light. The trees let go of their leaves last fall (another Carrie song) so that there is room for new buds to grow. Letting go of the old made possible the new, however, Carrie reminds us that there is beauty to be witnessed in the in-between of winter bare and spring’s full buds. There is something to be learned in the here and now.
I am sort of in-between, right now. Perhaps you are, too.
We put our almost perfect house up for sale a month ago, anticipating a move this summer when my job here at King ends. I am in the company of those faithful and brave people whose contracts are not renewed for the coming school year. For me, it has been undulating emotion, certainly defensiveness, bravery at times, embarrassment because I’m not in control as the world of success expects, and yet, in all this, an amazing peace that I am okay.
Our house unexpectedly sold right away. I guess I should be happy about that, and I am a little. It has been a privilege to live in this place. We moved last week, during spring break, to a cozy rental, without a lease, another thing for which I am grateful.
We didn’t expect to be going anywhere. And to top it off, we really don’t know where we are headed… yet. Women and men of faith have always been asked to leave safe places: to go to new lands, to unknown places God will show you, to receive new names, to take risks, and to take stands that are counter-cultural. I’m thinking maybe this place was a respite on that journey
I have been thinking about what I’ve learned here, what I will take with me from this place. You will do that too, those of you who will be graduating in just 7 weeks and those who will return but will also graduate next year or the next or whatever brings you to a next.
I remember the time when I was finishing my Ph.D., I was so focused on finding a job that validated my accomplishment. I thought that I needed a title from which to stand. I needed to put a “place,” an institution, behind my name along with my degree. What or how that denoted worthiness, I am not sure. I keep bumping up against the emptiness of this kind of thinking, of centering my life on accomplishments and doing as opposed to being who I am—not what a profession or place or group of people think I am or should be.
I continually struggle with whether things that happen are chance things or God’s things. What do I do and what does God do? After all my years of living, I’m not sure. My beloved Frederick Buechner reminds me, they are both at once, “incarnate in the flesh and blood of ourselves and of our own footsore and sacred journey’s.” There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak. God is present in all of our lives whether we believe in God or not and even when we are lost and don’t really know what is next. Most all of us, I would suspect, have felt a visceral wondering of what could be.
During this season of Lent, I’ve been hanging out, so to speak, with Walter Bruggeman and his Lenten devotionals fittingly titled, A Way Other than Our Own. Lent is about noticing, Walter says, just like Carrie, and seeing differently. We have to decide to walk into the future or even beyond failure on terms other than our own. The scripture story from one of Bruggeman’s devotionals that we will read has always been strange to me, Matthew 15: 21-28. Jesus had just offended the elite Pharisees and perplexed his disciples and I think that maybe he went to the next place hoping for a break.
Listen for a word for your life right now.
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15: 21-28 RSV
Now to me, Jesus doesn’t say what I would expect, him being Jesus and all that implies. He has just railed his disciples for worrying about Pharisees and not understanding themselves. And then he doesn’t seem so kind, really, to the Canaanite woman, an “outsider,” an “other’ to the Jewish people. First, he appears to ignore her shouts for help for her daughter as the story says he did not answer her at all.
His disciples wanted him to just get rid of her, begging him to send her away. And then he answers, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Was he implying the focus of his ministry as the one sent to save Israel?
But she stands up for herself. Jesus offers, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She comes back, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Walter Bruggeman says something powerful happens to Jesus in this narrative because of the woman’s persistence. She is clearly an outsider instructing an insider—and Jesus is willing to be in that moment. She explains to Jesus his larger vocation that up to this point he has not yet embraced—for his ministry to be enlarged. Jesus reached beyond his own people, beyond his perceived mandate, beyond his tradition, extending himself to this “other.”
Some of us are more able to embrace risk, to include others who threaten us and the way we see the world and ourselves. This means being open to new ideas, unforeseen circumstances and entering possibilities beyond ourselves, even those we fear. What might seem troubling or doesn’t make good sense is an opportunity for newness, for my life and relationship with the creator to be expanded.
How are we being summoned through the events or circumstances of our lives into newness—to be opened to an enlarged vision of being in relationship with God? This is lent and we are in a season on the way to new life. In this here and now, we are called to examine our passion, our suffering, our deaths and let go so that new life can grow.
For me, an illusion has cracked – what I see and what is have separated. I am able to be in this moment, ready for my ministry to be enlarged even though I have no idea where or how or when. And, right here and now, in the beautiful, not yet, I have opportunities that open me to new possibilities—like this one today.
I want to end with a prayer by Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude. This prayer speaks of an enlarged vision of not knowning, of being open to newness and how to hold more loosely what we think makes our lives secure.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But, I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude