Yesterday was officially my last day of employment.
I have to admit it did bother me a little. When I checked my email in the afternoon, just to see, I was met with: Username not found.
Well, maybe it is the last day of the kind of employment I know, which is perhaps an entirely different matter. Or, another way to frame this day in time is that I don’t know what I will be, here, now that I have moved. Maybe, too, in this unknowing, my intent is more accurately to live who I am, not what I do. Figuring out a life is complicated. Maybe all that figuring isn’t even necessary.
About ten years ago, I was determined I wasn’t going to be defined by a job laden identity. Instead, I shifted ever so slightly the context of my doing—a cerebral shift that, practically, didn’t accomplish much. I have an internal self and a self that acts (or not) in this world and the two aren’t effectively the same person. Maybe God sees another possibility.
I want to return to Tom Long’s commencement address that shoved me to reframe events of the past months of change. He elucidated three tenants of a parabolic habit of mind: abundance, reversal, and confrontation. Parables expose God’s grace, the extravagance of God’s blessing. In parables from around the world, there is also some kind of dramatic reversal of fortune at some point in the middle: peasants become princesses, the poor become rich in blessing, and the sinful are saved. Parables precipitate confrontation because they imagine a world in sharp contrast to the world in which we live.
This parabolic habit of mind engenders confidence in us that nothing is so hopeless that doesn’t merit the investment of our energies, our goodwill, our blessing and an imagination of abundance. We can imagine another way to look at things—beyond the deficits sedimented in time and circumstances. We have an opportunity to see the image God sees, that nothing can take away. Reversal is a possibility.
In my work in education, I have sought to create discourses of possibility that see each person from a strength perspective and propose pedagogical practices that equalize footings as people use their own stories and experience to make sense of the world. Maybe now my challenge is to broaden the reach of my convictions in this time and circumstance.
On Sunday, I met Stella. She has lived 96 years and considers herself socially and academically engaged in the world. In the brief time I chatted with her, she hinted at a significant journey with her daughter during the Second World War that she chronicled and a current unlikely friendship with an American State Department academic half her age. I could tell that Stella took risks: risking a journey across unknown places during wartime and risking an invitation to tea that birthed an unlikely relationship.
On the same day, I read that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice, announced that since her senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens stepped down when he was 90, she thinks she has at least five more years—a bold possibility.
I have lived enough to learn over and over that I sometimes participate with God, and sometimes without my active participation, mysterious kinds of incarnate work move me from strength to strength—from one water hole that pops up to another in a seemingly barren place or in the seemingly abundant landscape where I find myself now. What I cannot even imagine might emerge. My challenge is navigating the paradox of doing and being still enough to not get too overwhelmed with all the pieces: the what if’s, the things I don’t exactly know what to do with, the considerable unknowns, and the steady provisions for everyday living.
The actual job for my husband, the geography of this place, and the risk of what can be are openings of possibility. A parabolic habit of mind pays attention to the abundance of the life force all around by being still and noticing the possibilities—even when we lose a job, move to another city (or country), and reach any age laden with expectation.
In Wisdom Way of Knowing, Cynthia Bourgeault, describes our real dying or surrender as an inner attitude to
…just let the fear come up and fall through it to the other side… The code word for this inner gesture, as I have already alluded, is surrender. In the Wisdom lexicon it specifically denotes the passage from the smaller or acorn self into the greater or oak tree self brought about through this act of letting go. The word surrender itself means to “hand oneself over” or “entrust oneself.” It is not about outer capitulation but about inner opening. It is always voluntary, and rather that an act of weakness, it is always an act of strength.”
Reversal. I might co-opt Isaiah’s words: It may be that the Lord will act for us (or in spite of us.) For nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.
A reversal for me might be that I don’t have to get everything right. I’m here. God is here. I wonder what will happen next?