God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct. F.W. Robinson, Ten Sermons
“New Year is like riding a train into the unknown.” That was the headline of “Faith Forum” in the New Year’s Times Columnist, our local newspaper. I noted that Nancy Ford, the writer, was “newly retired.” I thought it was significant since, for me, “retired” still feels indefinite.
Actually, I was thinking that my whole life has bordered on indefinite, especially when it is disrupted like my job loss several years ago. When I accepted that job and we moved to Bristol, I imagined that the place was a final “home”—definite and distinct—that signalled my abiding connection to the Appalachian Mountains and a nourishing academia—a break from cornfields, and a large state institution. Maybe that was one of the problems with that place, the sense that it was sure, but I don’t want to think of that time as a problem.
As far as my search for being home and settled was concerned, I did think we’d arrived. Our house seemed idyllic and we did welcome many friends, family, and people we’d just met into our home for a meal or to stay a night or a few. After we left, I reflected that the place was simply a respite, a time in between.
I believe it is true, as the 19th-century preacher said, “God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite”—which is all of our lives but we don’t seem to grasp that truth when our routines appear knowable.
I made a quick list of all the cities I’ve lived in over 44 years of my life with Mitch. The places, like the New Year, are easy markers of change. Our time in Bristol, like the cities at the beginning of our marriage, was a short 2 years. As I looked back on this list, none of our moves seemed predictable except the one when Mitch finished seminary and my career was easily relocated. In each place we landed, I guess we had our routines and time went by. Our lives in each of those nine distinct locations weathered the unexpected that marked our journey.
In his memoir Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner considers the course of his life. He reflects,
…as I wrote…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.
So as a New Year begins again, I wonder what will be next because whether we feel settled or home or somewhere in between, there is always a rupture in what is—even if it is in our own mind. That restlessness I’ve felt many times seems to crop up anew and I wonder if that is a call to reflect and pay attention. Victoria is where we live, a place of challenge and refuge in breathtaking surroundings that keeps me now. Yet, I am reminded that God is the promise keeper who provides me with a good place to be on the journey I don’t even know I am taking.
Indefinite, as God directed Abram, “the land I will show you,” seems to me where we should always be.