On Vocation Part II: Closer to the Heart

My path seems spiral-shaped sometimes. I come back to a familiar place or thought, but things are different. It’s like further unearthing something, brushing dirt away to reveal more of the picture or map.

When I graduated Washington College in 1998, I was set to go to graduate school with the goal of teaching philosophy and religion. Ultimately graduate school debt didn’t make sense and there was something to staying in this community that stuck. That fall I started working at the Academy Art Museum, overseeing public relations, marketing, and development. Almost 20 years later, my career and spiritual paths combine, right across the street from the Academy: on October 16, I will start working full-time at Christ Church Easton as Assistant for Adult Christian Education & Newcomers Ministry.

I’ve been working at Christ Church part-time since last November, listening to a calling to work with small groups and adult education. I go back to Frederick Buechner’s thought that, “the place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I knew right away that working with the church was the first time that my vocation lined up with the big questions that I’ve always asked, the things I wonder about, and how I want to spend my time.

I am humbled by and grateful for this opportunity. This summer I told friends that if I won the lottery, I’d focus more on working for the church, continuing my own education, and writing. This fall it seems I’ve won the lottery.

Since February 2015, I’ve had the privilege of being the Executive Director of the Oxford Community Center, in the town where I grew up. I don’t have the words to say how much that experience has meant to me and what an incredible time it has been developing programs and events and welcoming and building the community at OCC. It has given me back a town I had lost touch with and one I am excited to call home again.

There have been a few moments in my life where/when things have lined up and I have known in my heart and in my bones what I was supposed to do. To this point in my working life, I’ve had jobs that I’ve enjoyed, but not that called me from the deepest level. I’ve felt this calling time and time again–from studying and wanting to teach philosophy and religion; to wanting to go back to school for Christian theology in 2014; to last year, putting my hopes and intentions out into the world, which led me to the small groups position at Christ Church.

I’ve reached a place and time in life that feels like a new beginning. It’s a beginning that is the culmination of everything that’s happened up to this point: work, fatherhood, friendships, connections, questions, faith, joy, struggle, community, opportunity, study, passion, prayer.

In his book, “Desire,” John Eldredge spells out:

“To live life fully–that is to say, to live life as God meant for us to live–demands a full recovery of our heart. You need that wellspring flowing swift and clear and true… The adventure calls. The future awaits. How you handle your heart’s desire will in great measure determine what becomes of your life.”

To be a part of a community of faith. To help each other in our own walks, with our own questions. To study, to learn, to share, to write. To have the opportunity to follow a calling in vocation. To live life closer to the heart. To listen, to discern God’s will and find deep happiness in His Way and Word.

Those are things that get me out of bed in the morning, things that stir my heart watching the sunrise. They are thoughts and images that dance through my mind when I am running, skateboarding, hiking, reading, or paddleboarding.

It’s a coming together of life and experience to this point, my part and passion in God’s larger work and will. It’s coming to know God’s grace and love as lived out and given to and for us through Jesus Christ.

Here I am. I am grateful, humbled, excited, and so many other things.

Amen.

A Tale of Two Buildings

Let’s be up front: this isn’t really a tale of two buildings. It’s more what they represent. They are buildings, but also emblems. The cabin and the church.

The Cabin

It is so easy for me to be a hermit. An active, outdoor hermit, mind you–wrangling sunrises with coffee, running, paddleboarding, looking for birds. I like to hermit in the John Muir, Edward Abbey, Thoreau style.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to daydream about finding a cabin like this one from Cabin Folk and holing up for a good stretch with books, notebook, trail running shoes, binoculars, backpack, you get the idea. And I would enjoy that and likely recharge a bit.

Solitude is a necessary condition for me. But I’ve come to realize it’s not enough. It’s just a beginning point, albeit one to return to. If you are one to ask life’s biggest questions and take the walk to find answers, there is a good chance that you are going to struggle at times. You are going to suffer, you are going to come up short, and sooner or later, you are going to need help. That can be a humbling experience. For me, being humbled is also a necessary condition.

It’s being humbled and needing help that sets us up for needing other people. Needing a community of sorts. Needing people who we can relate to; who understand our struggles; and who we can in turn help with theirs. In my experience, helping someone–whether it is moving furniture, listening, laughing, accomplishing a goal, or just being there–creates a feeling in me that I can’t replicate on my own, cabin in the woods or not.

The Church

The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Someone who thinks and feels with us,” Goethe is perhaps describing the beginning or foundation of community. In his sermon at Christ Church Easton on Sunday, Fr. Scott Albergate posited that “The reason to go to church is to be in the company of others,” and that while in a worship service, “Hopefully it will sink into your soul–through the sacraments, songs, Scripture–that life is beyond our control.”

If you spend time in nature, or if you are at all mindful of the passing of time, disease, death, the notion that life is beyond our control is almost self evident. And it can be a heavy truth to bear. As we try to carry that with us, it can weigh us down.

Fr. Scott also pointed out that the majority of what we know of Jesus through the Gospel, he is concerned with healing and transformation. Healing and transformation, through Christ, happen through love and grace. Love happens in the world, through people. We can’t experience it alone. And when we come together, a funny thing happens:

God brings his presence ‘into the house,’ and we are called to release it back out into the world. – Pete Greig, “Red Moon Rising”

Grace is only grace because God gives it to us, He shares it. We know it as a gift and show it by sharing it with each other and others. We know love and grace in the company of others.

Two Buildings

The cabin is the place to find ourselves in solitude. The church building is the place to come together with those “close to us in spirit.” We come together to know, to experience God’s grace through each other and to take it out into the world.

I need both buildings and what they represent. I think Thomas Merton gets it right when he says:

We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.

“Increase Our Faith:” Thoughts After a Sermon

I try to listen. Every chance I get. I am a visual learner, so being quiet, taking in sounds, words, wind, birds, a conversation, is something I work at. It’s a funny thing, but I find it’s amazing how much I hear when I listen.

“Increase our faith,” Luke has the apostles saying in his part of the Gospel (Luke 17:5). It’s during the trying times that we ask for something like that. When we know we’re working through something. It’s never when things are going well and life is good. Those aren’t the times made for faith.

When I sit in church, I try to make my posture silent and open, so I can take everything in. It’s those moments where hymns, songs, scripture, sermons, feel directed to my ears.

Am I being the person I am supposed to be? Am I doing the things I am supposed to be doing?

Those are the crossroads questions. Livelihood, being a good father, relationships, life, spiritual path, faith… those questions come up, sometimes we have an answer we are happy with, sometimes not, sometimes we don’t know. Those are times for faith. Leaning away from worry and leaning into faith.

Even when we can’t do it, God moving through us can make great things happen.

When we face doubt, struggle, our limitations, if we get out of the way, if we make room, God can work through us.

Being mindful not of who we are, but “Whose” we are…

What a difference a letter or two can make. When I am thinking through questions about living my life, remembering that life is a gift and should be treated accordingly, with gratitude.

I rode my bike down Boone Creek Rd., and looked up the creek. There was a deep silence, a stillness, the same as I felt in church earlier.

…silence to open a path… experiencing the stillness of God’s comforting grace.

2016-oct-cabin-p

There are times when I dig the hermit on the mountain idea. Cultivate that silence and rest in it. But I know at the bottom of that savored solitude, something is missing for me.

This great capacity we have as human beings to love, makes us better.

Ah yes, there it is. Maybe we’ve got this grain of mustard seed in us (sticking with Luke) that can grow into something beyond what we even thought it could.

In stillness, it can come to us. God can come to us. When we are still. And listening. But don’t expect a road map. Don’t expect answers. If it were easy, if it were clear, it wouldn’t require faith, this walk.

Not all things in life are unscarred, pure, and perfect.

Amen. It’s our scars, our particular brokenness and how we are put back together, that defines us.

Increase our faith.

[italics are words taken/quoted from a sermon on Oct. 2, 2016, Christ Church, Easton, Md.]

Living Stones

Sometimes I would like to be rock, stone, standing impermeable against the elements, against the world.

But neither rock nor stone win in the end; they get taken down; eaten away, cracked, eroded over time.

Wind and water abide. Their persistence and patience are too much for stone.

People have always sought meaning, wisdom, and strength in rocks, it seems. From building tools and weapons, to palming and rubbing a stone smooth in our hands.

I am drawn to stones.

assateague stones

Carl Jung knew something about why:

Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them… without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them. Men have collected stones since the beginning of time and have apparently assumed that certain ones were containers of the spirit of the life force with all its mystery. – Carl Jung, “Man and His Symbols”

rock-cairns-in-tibet

The church I grew up going to is built of stone. It has the feel of something ancient, something permanent. I have to go back to Jung:

The stone symbolized something that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul. It symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable. – Carl Jung, “Man and His Symbols”

Ah, but the hubris of man. Our audacity. We want something permanent. We want something to build on; to be that which is built on. The cool, vastness of a mountain. Let me be that. To stand like stone.

We use stones as offerings. We build. Standing stones were built, formations, as offerings to God. A temple.

But God prefers people.

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house  
– 1 Peter 2:5

People build with stone. God builds his greatest work, love, with people.

Living stones. Being built into something. Maybe I can build with words. If not my own, then Gary Snyder’s as an incantation:

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.

Snyder’s words are riprap. Pick mine up like a stone to rub in your hand and carry with you. Pocket them and pull them out when you need them.

What will they say to you?

The Head, the Hand, and the Heart

I don’t know much about John Ruskin. But maybe he knew something about living. Ruskin said:

Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.

I’m not so much worried about fine art as about living fully, deeply, integrated, connected to God. And I’ve been thinking about when you get two of three of those things–the head, the hand, and the heart.

In church we’ve been talking about the head (beliefs) and the hand (actions) going together. If you believe something, truly believe it and hold it to be important, then your actions should show it. That seems wholly true to me. If your actions don’t show your beliefs, what good are your beliefs? But there seems to be something missing. I think it’s the heart.

If you put the head and the heart together, you get a band. One I’ve been listening to a bit lately.

the-head-and-the-heart

Their song, “Lost in My Mind” gets stuck in mine. It’s a great song. Getting lost in my mind is an easy tendency.  “Oh my brother, your wisdom is older than me.” There is a notion in the song I dig:

How’s that bricklayin’ comin?

How’s that engine runnin?

Is that bridge getting built?

Are your hand getting filled?

Won’t you tell me, my brother?

Cause there’s stars

up above

We can start

moving forward

It’s that notion of work versus dreams. You are working, making a living, but are you filling your heart, your soul, with the good stuff? The wonders of the Universe. The deeper aspects of life that we miss entirely if we don’t pay attention: raising kids; watching a sunrise on the beach with someone you love; playing an instrument; staring at the stars; writing a book; whatever it is that fills your heart.

But if you have just your head and your heart, you are missing your hand: you are holding your dreams, but not acting on them. Not trying to build them.

It’s not easy to yoke those three things together and drive them forward. For me, thinking and dreaming come easy. It’s building that takes work and effort. And attention.

At 44 years old, I’m not one to let go of dreams. As a father, I’m not about to wildly chase a dream that doesn’t help, include, or provide for my girls. A conundrum? Maybe.

Sooner or later, if we’re lucky, we come to learn a pretty big lesson: it’s not all about me. Though I try to shape them, use them, and do the best I can with them, I didn’t make or create my head, my heart, or my hands. I have to admit there are bigger things, bigger hands, hearts, and minds at work than mine. And if I want to put mine out there and try to make something of them, it requires a couple things: faith and risk.

I get a daily e-mail to contemplate every morning from Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action. This morning’s musings came together like this:

This is probably why Jesus praised faith and trust even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall or to fail–and not to fall apart. Faith alone holds you while you stand waiting and hoping and trusting. Then, and only then, will deeper love happen. It’s no surprise at all that in English (and, I am told, in other languages as well) we speak of “falling” in love. I think falling is the only way to get to authentic love. None would go freely, if we knew ahead of time what love is going to ask of us. Very human faith lays the necessary foundation for the ongoing discovery of love. Have no doubt though: great love is always a discovery, a revelation, a wonderful surprise, a falling into “something” much bigger and deeper that is literally beyond us and larger than us.

We need our heads–our thoughts and our beliefs. We need our hands–our actions. And we need our heart–love, passion. And love is something that goes beyond us, is bigger than us, involves a letting go, a surrender; involves faith; involves God.

I’ve still got more questions than I’ll ever have answers. But I like to think about living life the way Ruskin describes fine art. And I like to think of giving my head, hand, heart, over to faith, to love, to God, and trying to build dreams, to build life, with a little Help.

2016 Hammock Swing

 

* The photo at the top came from Living Outdoor. It represents something of a dream for me–living and writing outside in the woods, in a simple cabin.