Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Forty-Year-Old Freshman

I have change on my heart and brain of late...and when that sets in along with the sense of the present being an unsettling place, I note that two impulses immediately rise to the forefront of my psyche: the desire to "go back" and the impulse to surge forward. In this post, I am mostly going to talk about going back...don't know if going forward will work its way in, but let's see.

As Trinity moves through some significant experiences of transition and change, and as we seek to embrace that change with grace, faith, hope and a steadfast sense that God is indeed with us and intends great things for the Body of Christ, I have been wondering and praying about my role as rector, my staff as it experiences flux and the parish as a whole as we move one through this evolutionary experience together.

Of course, that means a whole host of stuff landing on my doorstep. Along with my own fears, anxieties, excitements and anticipations, I also am being gifted with the experiences and emotions of others. People call, write, drop by, send "telegrams" via social triangles and even just sit and ponder in reference to all that we are now seeing happen in our midst-and as pastor and spiritual leader of this place I am called on to speak to it, to care for the fears and anxieties and to remember and proclaim that God really is with us. But that is hard to remember on the front end of grief. When previous ways of being and being in relationship suddenly loom with ends and changes in sight...well, humans are hard wired to respond to that with rushes of emotion, adrenaline and hyper-awareness. Hardly things that sustain intimacy if we express them without care, mindfulness and while thinking about the others in our lives who are just as stressed.

So, what do we do?

We get "comfortable" with where we are, in the here and now. Even if it is decidedly uncomfortable.

That thought was made real to me this morning when I picked up yesterday's mail (I didn't get home from work until after 10:30 last night after an early start, yum) and found this quarter's Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin. There was a story in it written by a graduate from a couple of years before me (he is 44 to my impending 40). As a professional adventurer, Hodding Carter is paid to take mindful risks in crazy places where humans fear to tread. How natural as he enters mid-life is the idea that he take one of the most fearful trips of back to his own youth and a time in his life when, as a freshman swimmer, it was all potential. Problem is, you can't go back in time, only in space. So, off to Kenyon-in-the-present. Off to memories rising up from haunts old and new. Realizations that even as things change, the core experiences are frighteningly constant. I was moved to see his efforts in being back in amongst turned instead to clear messages of "What a great thing for you to come back and visit with, when are you going home?"

All of that means confronting the self out in the wilderness of our age, experience and personal conceit.

We can't be 21 forever...and even being willing to bite deeply back into those moments and memories will, in effect, only yield up nostalgia and the realization that we will never be so young again...nor can we pass this way, or indeed any way again, indeed.

But that is not a bad thing. It's just a thing.

As I ponder this article through the lens of parish ministry and my experiences both "then" as a professional interim and now as a "settled" rector, one of the hardest things about life in a church community is that deep change for the Body of Christ is much more upsetting than even this poor ex-swimmer's willingness to re-enter the lists of his youthful jousts. Churches are sought out as places to both stretch and grow us and offer care, comfort and reassurance. In change, the stretching and growing can be assumed; but the comfort and reassurance suddenly don't feel quite the same. In fact, there is often no small amount of discomfort and a marked lack of assurance. What do we do with all of that? How to talk to leadership, to each other, to the little voices inside our heads as the fibers of stress in his holler out for attention? Where is the way we felt before...confident and hopeful? What happens next? Why can't we hold on? Who is responsible? What do we do? Etc., etc...

Hod's line is, "I am not as young as I once was." Church's is "we aren't like we once were." Both moments mean real grief and some regret...and both mean that soon we will have to pack our proverbial bags for a journey that we don't/can't know the ending of until we experience it, again and again and again. Peter, the Rock of the Church, was promised in the midst of his own height of joy of being with Christ in His resurrection: "when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (John 21:18)

The narrator suggests that this was a prefiguring of the kind of martyrdom that Peter would face years hence. I am starting to wonder if it is not the lesson of true apostleship and being willing to follow the Christ wherever He leads. When we become disciples, we enter into that experience of stretching out hands for guidance...and that is when the belt of change fastens around our collective waist. And then, we go-we are taken, really...into the desert, into the wilderness, into change and transformation, not knowing when, how, where or if that irresistible pilgrimage will end.

Still, look at the hero-folk we admire in scripture: Moses, Ruth, Elijah, Esther, John and even Jesus himself. It is when we risk the wilderness, the wild desert wastes that are both inside us and out that we begin our quest to God. Yes, it does mean thirst, worry, want, risk, fatigue and even-possibly-dying. But, in Christ, life rises even from the dust and quiet of the tomb. Even the Great Ending does not have power over us if we are alive in the Living Word. That hunger and thirst are transformed by God while we are "out there" into a grace of knowing that wherever we are, we are "right here."

Hod learns quickly, really that first night of "the screamers," that he can't be "back there." He can only be in the present moment. Though memories tell him he should be able to handle it...he knows that home is somewhere else, and he misses it.

In the end, Hod quotes Melville in both word and spirit at the terminus of his submission. "Call me Ishmael." And, I think, I am finally getting the idea Melville may have wanted us to understand: Ishmael got his name from the tale he is about to tell us...and that we understand that the testimony is true, we will have to turn back to the beginning again in order to gain perspective on the whole. When we know Ahab, the boat, the White Whale and all the rest...Ishmael makes sense. The beginning is the end, and the end the beginning. So, we can't linger there forever. The next adventure looms.

Powered by ScribeFire.

No comments:

Post a Comment