Buechner on Eternity

I spent late Sunday on a bike and under a tree. The morning and afternoon had been music, prayer and fellowship of worship services, then blessing of pets (several dogs, a hedgehog, two guinea pigs, and a horse) at Christ Church Easton.

On a beautiful fall evening, I hopped on my bike and eased around Boone Creek and then found a tree on the shoreline of the Oxford Cemetery. I stretched my legs out and listened to geese in the cove, the breeze through the trees, conversations of boaters in Town Creek, and watched the sun dance on the water. I read David Bailey, Richard Rohr, and N.T. Wright. Mostly I sat, watched, listened, imbibed.

I was completely full. I didn’t try to give it words, just breath and feeling.

Yesterday I came across this passage from Frederick Buechner’s “Wishful Thinking,” and I realized Buechner had the words I was looking for:

ETERNITY IS NOT endless time or the opposite of time. It is the essence of time. 

If you spin a pinwheel fast enough, then all its colors blend into a single color—white—which is the essence of all the colors of the spectrum combined. 

If you spin time fast enough, then time-past, time-present, and time-to-come all blend into a single timelessness or eternity, which is the essence of all times combined. 

As human beings we know time as a passing of unrepeatable events in the course of which everything passes away including ourselves. As human beings, we also know occasions when we stand outside the passing of events and glimpse their meaning. Sometimes an event occurs in our lives (a birth, a death, a marriage—some event of unusual beauty, pain, joy) through which we catch a glimpse of what our lives are all about and maybe even what life itself is all about, and this glimpse of what “it’s all about” involves not just the present but the past and future too. 

Inhabitants of time that we are, we stand on such occasions with one foot in eternity. God, as Isaiah says (57:15) “inhabiteth eternity” but stands with one foot in time. The part of time where he stands most particularly is Christ, and thus in Christ we catch a glimpse of what eternity is all about, what God is all about, and what we ourselves are all about too. 

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.

Wonder and Welcome

“We need to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.” – G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy.”

Watching the sun break the horizon, change the whole color of the sky and the landscape; watching fog dancing on still sleeping water on the cove–that conveys the sense of wonder we can find any given morning.

Smiling at the sunrise, laughing like it’s an inside joke, or on a morning with others running, skateboarding, or paddleboarding, realizing what a gift those moments are to share–that feeling, that recognition, that is welcome.

Maybe it is our job, with the time we have, to find both wonder and welcome. Maybe it’s our job, with the time we have, to be grateful for both wonder and welcome. Maybe it’s our job, with the time we have, to convey both wonder and welcome to others.

Part of that is finding what moves us. Part of it is staying after it, stoking our fire, our passion–what makes us who we are–and doing something with it, not settling, and not just being comfortable.

For me, that starts with waking up, wrestling the dog, smiling. Putting coffee on, grabbing a notebook and pen, a book. Praying. Reading. Reflecting. Maybe it’s a running or skateboarding morning. Maybe it’s watching hummingbirds light on the feeders next to the window.

Wonder and welcome are up to me to find. They are up to me to recognize. They are up to me to be grateful for. And they are up to me to pass along.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Maybe life is more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book than a box of chocolates, with apologies to Forrest Gump. The problem is, at some point we forget we can choose.

With life, it’s more difficult to look ahead at the different outcomes before you make a decision. But unless you choose, you are stuck on the same page.

Without being able to read ahead, the stakes feel bigger. We are talking about our lives, how can we make choices like that? What if we make the wrong one? If you belong to the overthinkers club like I do, that kind of stuff can keep you up at night.

The analogy between books and lives breaks down when it comes to time. We are on the clock when it comes to our lives. If I don’t choose, the clock still ticks and there is less of life left for the choosing. When I look back on the past 10 years, so much has happened, and yet it feels like the blink of an eye. If I try to look forward, it can be exhilarating and frightening at the same time. So what do I do?

The times in my life that I know have worked out the best, have been when I let go. Now when I say or think “let go,” I hear the voice of my friend and fellow small group leader Barbara Coleman, who says, “let go and let God.”

I come frequently to those places, those crossroads, those decision points in life where I feel too busy, too worried, and wonder what to do on a loop. And yet when I go for a long run, or pray, or hike/walk, or sit outside, I can feel something. If I let it all go, and listen and look, there is something there.

…with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:18)

I come back to the words from Ephesians and close my eyes so that the eyes of my heart can open. And when I let go of everything else, I can see.

Sometimes. I am not great at always pulling that off. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn to get there.

But I have learned what it feels like when I give myself over to it. When I submit, surrender, and trust that God is at work. Worry is replaced by peace. Confusion gives way to clarity. And smiles and laughter emanate through my whole being.

So there’s that. I just need to do it more often. And those times are when I know I am thinking the way I need to to choose my own adventures. Those that make me who I am, use my talents and desires, feel in sync with the Universe, and give back to God.

Summer as a Verb

Summer means different things to different people. If you are a kid, it means no school. If you dig the water, it means game on. If you are in Maryland, it can mean eating steamed crabs, rockfish season, river swimming, and/or lightning bugs. Maybe it means family vacations.

Winter and spring this year were fully scheduled. Events and programs at the community center; three different evening small groups at Christ Church Easton; lacrosse season and school for the girls. All great things, which drove where and when to be and what to do.

Summer right now is an opening up of the schedule. But in some ways, I can already feel this notion of chaos taking over from order, or inactivity as a response to hyperactivity. So it’s time to create fun and balance and challenge all at the same time.

Yesterday morning, I found Paul’s Letter to the Galatians staring at me:

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5, 22-25)

That is a great reminder, note to self, and guide for how to approach summer, or life in general, every day.

With all that as backdrop, I like making fun “to do” lists. Here’s one for the summer months.

1. Summer reading – read three unread/unfinished books from my bookshelf. My “to be read” stacks of books grow and books I have started or wanted to read get cast off. I started yesterday by picking back up T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” White’s wild take on the King Arthur legend, an imagination-shaping story for me as a kid, a favorite book of my brother-in-law, a book I have started and not finished. I am giving myself to the end of June. Other likely contenders are James Hillman’s “A Blue Fire,” Richard Rohr’s “The Divine Dance” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions.” Every summer should have some Vonnegut.

2. Regular running – as a 5-mile run yesterday evening can attest to, I have some work to do. I let my running slide this winter/spring, and it is one of the habits that rights my body and mind.

3. Paddleboarding – at least 50 miles of summer paddleboarding. More than doable without being a stretch goal at all. I’ve just written about stand-up paddleboarding on the Shore, I live walking distance to the water, make the miles happen.

4. It’s called Natitude – go to five Washington Nationals home games (September counts). When I worked in DC, it was a habit. The girls are Nats fans and enjoy live baseball, and we haven’t caught a Nats home game the last two seasons. Time to change that.

5. Prayer – My deepest connections and most meaningful moments are when I can feel the Holy Spirit at work, when I “let go and let God” to quote a friend and small group leader. That happens more frequently when I silence and open my mind. Making time for prayer is an integral part of being guided by the Spirit.

6. Life’s a Beach – we’ve got our annual Ocean City pilgrimage on the map for July. But Assateague Island is easy. Boat and paddleboard beach exploring. Make more time beach time.

7. Go new places – I’m going to keep this broad. It could be trails, small towns, road trips, scheduled or unscripted.

8. Grow things – summer mulching has begun. I need to plant tomatoes again and regain that connection to the earth, even potted flowers and plants and the habit of watering in the mornings while drinking coffee.

9. Make a skateboarding adventure – there are a few folks who I think will be on board with this. We’ve pondered the Western Maryland Rail Trail before. I don’t know what this might become or where, but I want to recapture the feeling skater Jason Adams talks about here.

10. Live music – summer and live music are meant to go together. In June, we’ve got Josh Ritter at the Avalon Theatre and The Specials in Baltimore on the books. The Avalon has outdoor music on Harrison Street, the community center will be having Philip Dutton and the Alligators, just to name a few.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a way to shape thinking about the summer. A way to carpe the diem. John Eldredge wrote something that resonates with me: “We are created for adventure, and if we cannot find one, we start blowing things out of proportion so it feels like we have one.”

In the case of adventure, or summer, it can also be a state of mind. Be guided by the spirit, and approach these days, weeks, and months for all that they, and we can be.

Resolve: The Everyday and the Epic

What I need for 2017 is resolve, not resolutions. The resolve to continue some of the good things that got underway in 2016, and resolve to be better about getting to some of the things I left out. Resolve to continue to be grateful, to give back, to love, to follow God’s lead, and to smile.

I started 2017 with a five mile sunrise run and then church. The girls and I finished 2016, the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s with a Star Wars marathon–episodes one through seven, Anna’s request after seeing Rogue One–and will have to see if 2017 brings us some snow to get us outside.

As 2017 gets rolling, it’s worth looking back at some of the good from the past year, and some things to resolve to get after for the coming year. We’ll make the list go to 10, since top ten lists are the rage this time of year:

2016 (the year that was)

1. 2016 was a meat-free year for me, except for fish and seafood. Fancy people call that being a pescatarian. I call it trying to be less of a hypocrite. I’ve always been bothered by truckloads of chickens or pigs crammed into cages, driving by on the highway, and the whole notion of animals being raised for the sole purpose of being food. I don’t hunt, but I happily fish, and will clean and grill/cook, so trying to make my own diet more in line with how I operate in the world. It was a resolution I made at the beginning of the year to see how long I could stick to it. Year one is under the belt.

2. We welcomed Harper to our family. You can read more about that here.  At the beginning of June, we rescued a six-ish month “Australian shepherd mix” with the help of Operation Paws for Homes, and our family and our hearts grew exponentially. One of the year’s best decisions.

3. I started writing. I have been writing/blogging for a number of years, but wasn’t making a point of really doing something with and about writing. That changed in 2016, both in starting this site, in writing a monthly article for Tidewater Times and in making a commitment to write and keep writing.

4. I let God into my life. I’ve always been a spiritually-minded person, have always been a searcher, and have always tried to live life the best I can. But 2016 was a calling and answering of a different kind. It has led to looking deeply into my heart, at life, at love, at God, and listening. It has been uncovering and recognizing something in my soul, which is in each of us, allowing the Holy Spirit and Christ to move freely and try to follow. It is not easy, I still mess up wholly, frequently, and am fully human. But I am trying to take my life, what talents I can offer, and time, to ignite and follow the passion and path that God has put in me. If you’ve been reading here, you may have noticed that. During 2016 I also found Christ Church Easton, a home church community, and have just begun my work as Assistant for Small Groups and Christian Education. I have a long way to go, but am learning and trying to make the most of every step.

2017 (the year that is beginning)

5. More silliness – it’s easy to get pulled in to high seriousness: work, deadlines, bills, money, schedules. But so many of my favorite moments are so easy to look past if I don’t make time and have the mindset. Anna running around the yard laughing with Harper chasing her; Ava dancing in the new year; leaf pile shenanigans; beach exploring and sea glass hunting; snowman building; taking and making the time to find simple reasons to laugh and smile.

6. More road trips – I wasn’t very good at this in 2016. A great Harper’s Ferry trip in April, but that isn’t enough when there are so many cool places in easy driving distance. My schedule is busier for 2017, so putting things on the calendar and making time for bits of wanderlust, from day hikes, to car camping, to skateboarding, to visiting national and state parks and historic sites. I didn’t do a good job with this in 2016, so it’s on me this year.

7. Less stuff – Watching a documentary on Netflix the other night called “Minimalism,” was a reminder that I need to own my stuff, not let my stuff own me. There wasn’t anything particularly earth-shattering, I try to keep “stuff” in check as it is, but “The Minimalists,” do a solid job of making some points that I might already know, but don’t always keep at the forefront of my thinking: “It’s not so much about financial gain as it is about financial freedom, which is the ability to wake up in the morning and spend your day as you see fit.” And “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” I want to remember in 2017, to focus less on the care and feeding of “stuff,” and more on the care and feeding of the soul.

8. More trails – Over the past 10 years of my life, trail running has given me incredible scenery, accomplishments, camaraderie, solitude, friendships, and put me in nature. I spent less time on trails in 2016 than I have in a long time. Some of that is because Sunday morning was my trail running time and that has become church time. I am glad to have church as a time for worship, reflection, and community. I also need to make other time for trail running and hiking. We pushed our Appalachian Trail across Maryland challenge into 2017. That’s one part of more trails.

9. More prayer – I try to pray every day, make a quiet time to talk to God, to show gratitude, to listen, to be still. I have a lot to learn and I know this needs to be a focus.

10. Dig deep – I made some steps in the right direction in 2016. I want 2017 to be a year for follow through, for resolve, for next steps. It is time to dig deep and keep at it. Whether in writing, in study, in leading small groups, in playing, at work, I have reached a place in life where I have a pretty good idea of what I need to be doing, what my calling might be, what I need to do for the girls, the things that make me deeply happy. Now it’s a matter of staying after it, while being mindful that things have a way of going in directions we don’t expect.

In the documentary “180 South,” Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard says, “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.” There is likely something to that.

A life well-lived is one that appreciates, finds, and embraces both the epic and the everyday. And sees that each lives in the other. There is a bit of both throughout the above list. So that’s my resolve for 2017: make room for, appreciate, and embrace the everyday and the epic. That’s an outlook for a lifetime.

Stop, Look, Listen, Believe

“Perhaps it is time to look and listen without seeing and hearing.” This has been a common theme in Father Bill Ortt’s last two sermons. It’s a message I connect with; one that resonates. The idea is to look with fresh eyes and listen with new ears, to shut off what we expect to see or hear, and really take things in. Flaubert gets it:

I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony. – Gustave Flaubert, November

But this isn’t a specialization, it’s not exclusive. Looking and listening are things any of us can do. But it is so easy not to. We are in a hurry to get to work. To get our Christmas shopping done. To get to the next meeting. To check off our to do lists. And we know people, we know what they are going to say. We have heard stories or we know their soapboxes. What can we learn?

Flaubert’s quote above is about making the time. It’s about being quiet. Looking and listening without expectation. Being alive to what is really there in front of us.

In many ways, those are the only times we are open to God–when we turn off our small minds and wants and open ourselves up to what is real and what is now.

The other morning I walked the dog along the shoreline. I could feel the cold in my bones. I dropped into a catcher’s crouch to pray at the edge of the river and took a few deep breaths. I can still feel that moment, those breaths, and the creak of my knees.

When we got back home, I picked up Mary Oliver’s “American Primitive” and read “Morning at Great Pond” for the first time.

It starts like this:
forks of light
slicking up
out of the east,
flying over you,
and what’s left of night–
its black waterfalls,
its craven doubt–
dissolves like gravel
as the sun appears
trailing clouds
of pink and green wool,
igniting the fields
turning the ponds
to plates of fire.

I know those mornings. I’ve felt them when running; I’ve seen the sun paint away the night. Great Blue Herons, ducks, geese, songbirds in motion. Looking and listening in the morning, but it opens up to more:

and you’re healed then
from the night, your heart
wants more, you’re ready
to rise and look!
to hurry anywhere!
to believe in everything.

Mary Oliver is clearly a morning person. So am I. That’s when my energy runs deepest. But looking and listening isn’t limited to the sunrise hours. God’s paintbrush reaches the west as well. In the evening, it’s just as easy to look, listen, and believe.

“Awakening to New Wonder”

God is bigger than church. Church isn’t the only place you’ll find Him. For a long stretch, church was one of the last places I looked. Nothing against it, but I felt like I connected with God better in nature than in a building.

I still talk to God more outside than I do inside. My most prayerful places are by the water. I treasure those times and those places. Yesterday, Harper and I took our dog walkabout to Wye Island, a place where I have run close to 30 miles at once, have run at night, have lost keys, hiked, reflected, prayed. Our walk didn’t disappoint, following trails, sitting, listening, reading and praying by the river; and Harper would have liked to have chased down her first buck, though I’m not sure what she’d have done with it if I had let her go.

2016-oct-wye-island-osage

I’m a slow learner, and have never been one to take anyone’s word for anything. I have to find things out for myself, experientially, even though it frequently means falling on my face and dusting myself off, eventually coming to the same realization that was suggested at the beginning.

If we only look for God in church, we are selling ourselves, and Him, way short. But I realized I was selling myself, and Him, short by choosing to only look for Him outside a church. And part of what that comes down to is misconceiving “church,” as being just a building, or a set of beliefs. And not seeing it as a people, coming together to worship, quite literally to be the body of Christ, alive in the world. I like the way Richard Rohr looks at the Trinity:

God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you, “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us, and even me.

It’s that understanding, of having God alongside us, and working through other people, and finding that, feeling it, knowing it much deeper when I started to find other people walking their own walk, struggling with their own questions, coming together to worship and to pray and to help one another. Finding church.

Yesterday sitting along the Wye River and this morning in church, I felt grateful; an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Thomas Merton explained what I felt better than I can explain it:

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything… Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. – Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

I’m a work in progress. That’s all I will ever be, trying to put one foot in front of another along the path and not be distracted chasing every other SQUIRREL! life throws at me. But gratitude and prayer are pretty good at helping sustain and focus me when I pay attention.

This morning’s sermon was about praying. Can I pray? Can I pray always? Can I pray proactively? Can I be persistent, not just praying when I am troubled, but also when and because I am grateful. The sermon closed with a prayer from Archbishop Desmond Tutu (which he adapted from Sir Francis Drake), which I felt in my bones:

desmond-tutu

Disturb us, O Lord

when we are too well pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord

when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the abundance of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord

to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.

Amen.

The Gameplan Part II: The Real Work

You’ve called yourself to action, now what are you going to do with it?

That’s the real question. And the answer has been growing in me for 44 years. It’s something that has gained momentum and traction, has surfaced at earlier parts of my life, and keeps coming back, with more force. It’s to the point now where I can feel it when I pray, when I listen, and it can overwhelm me when I don’t expect it. It’s something that is bigger than me, maybe something for which I am just a vessel.

The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. – Frederick Buechner

I’m not clairvoyant. But I try to pay attention and to be mindful when and where things keep coming up. In July, I made a conscious change to more actively follow my dreams. To live life more intentionally and closer to my heart. To commit myself to writing in ways that I hadn’t before. During the past year, but especially the last several months, I can feel a clearer voice and purpose when I write, that seems to come the more I do it. It’s moving toward something, or some way to see.

And a strange thing has happened repeatedly now when I talk to people. I get, “You’re writing a book, aren’t you?” “There’s a book coming.” “It’s time to write a book.” I didn’t think so until a couple months ago, but it has been connecting threads, uncovering itself, and coming to light. More on that another time.

buechner-quote

I have been drawn to learning. It recently came up as a primary strength of my personality. No surprise there. I’ve talked before about deciding  against going to graduate school in Duquesne University’s philosophy program, just after college. I took the more practical, sensible option of getting to work.

Years later, when the contract we were working on ended after three and a half years of working in Washington, D.C., I was at a similar crossroads. Reading and thinking and praying back then, I felt a pull to go to seminary, to delve into studying Christian theology and see where that went. It felt strange, but right, and I talked to a handful of people about it and began researching options. Then I was offered another DC job for a good paycheck, which I took, thinking it the best option for my family, and let that notion fade.

My sense is that things in our lives happen when they are ready to happen and not before. Both of those times, feeling pulled to deeper study in faith and philosophy, I wasn’t ready. It wouldn’t have been real in the way it needed. It was while working the second DC job that I lost track of what my heart and soul wanted out of life, my marriage fell apart, and ultimately so did the job. I had to hit the reset button on life. That had to happen.

That calling to continued, deeper, sustained study in faith and Christian theology is back, exponentially louder than either time before. I’ve ignored it twice before; I won’t do that again.

slide-jesusreally

I get stirred up, moved, inspired when I read Thomas Merton, Buechner, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Richard Rohr, and of late John Eldredge (which is where the image just above is from). I feel things working in me and through me when I am in church. But that isn’t enough. I have to do something with that, I have to act.

One of the things I have seen during the past year at Real Life Chapel with Pastor Frank Short, is how vital and essential small group study is. Church on Sunday is a time to recharge, to reflect, to come together, to pray. But there is no dialogue, there is no depth, it is not the time or the place for the real work to be done. That’s where smaller groups, and directed study and engaging with each other comes in.

Getting people together for some purpose seems to be something I do. A number of years ago, we had a writer’s group, which was a big part of a number of our lives for a stretch. In 2008, a few of us started the Rise Up Runners group, which led to more adventures and friendships than I could have imagined.

Life, and our personal walks of faith are best shared. We need to be encouraged, challenged, helped out, questioned by others. It’s not a safe or easy walk. There are wrong turns, bad ideas, fog, darkness. But there are also accomplishments, clues to be found and left, ways to hold each other up.

God acts in the world through people, among other ways. Through us. Finding and honoring our tribe of spiritual adventurers is key to making sure we find and keep to our path.

Now what are you going to do with it?

That’s the question my heart has been sitting with and my prayers have been in conversation with. When fire and passion and energy have built, are building, what will I do with it?

The answers that keep presenting themselves, over and again: 1) write, tell and share your story.  Dig deep, sustain it, tie the threads together, focus it. Look to examples like Buechner and Merton, that’s part of why they are there. 2) Learn, study, sustain and direct it. Follow the repeated calling to graduate study, find your teachers and mentors for that road. 3) Find and convene and honor a tribe, a small group for Christian study. Engage, laugh, celebrate, wrestle with stuff. Help each other.

Life is an adventure, at least how I want to live it. When I look back, so many things and experiences have been building in me and informing me, some I could hear, some I ignored. They are beginning to come together, and I’ve been quiet enough to listen, to hear, to feel.

It’s all led to right now. It’s where the good stuff is. Where the fun is. And where the real work begins.

A Journey with Fire

There are a few times in life where I have felt my heart and soul consumed by fire. It’s an incredible feeling. One that I am starting to feel again. It is wholly overwhelming. It’s a stirring of the soul, a call to action.

I am laid back, I tend to go with the flow and enjoy where the ride goes. That’s a tendency I like about myself, but it’s also one I can let get taken to the extreme. It’s a good thing until it becomes passive. Then it can lead to complacency. I am not a fan of complacency.

I’ve come to recognize that my whole being needs challenges; needs adventures; I need to be roused. Woken up. I’ve been feeling that in crazy ways of late. Fire is the best metaphor I can offer. It feels like flames.

Thursday was bookended by soaring thoughts. In the morning, it was from reading John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart.” Eldredge flies in the face of the notion of Christian men and women as simply “nice” and “good” people; he sees the church today as being too full of bored (and thereby boring) people and points us more toward living a life with passion, adventure, not playing it safe, and finding our true name, our calling.

The history of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey and gives him his true name.

It strikes me that it different key points in my life, books have found me that bring up and work through the warrior spirit. The year Anna was born it was Chogyam Trungpa’s “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior,” from which I have a tattoo on my upper back, and now it’s Eldredge calling me back to that energy with God. It has stoked more inner fire, seeded more prayer, and roused a renewed energy at a time when I need it.

My other Thursday bookend came from watching “The Shawshank Redemption” at the Oxford Community Center’s movie night.

shawshank-bus

I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope. – Red

The team of Andy Dufresne and Red stir my soul every time. But here we are with the journey again, at it’s beginning.

I fractured my skull during Sunday School at church when I was three years old. That should have been all the indication I needed that my journey was not going to be easy, or boring, or safe. Our walk with God is a full contact sport.

This morning’s sermon ended with a prayer from Thomas Merton, which the minister found during college. He claimed that Merton helped save his life. I feel the same way and have written plenty, and will continue to write, contemplate, and quote Merton.

thomas-merton-train-tracks

This morning’s prayer came from the book, “Thoughts in Solitude:”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not know 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 I will trust you always though I may seem to 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.

Our journey, our road is ours. It’s not like anyone else’s. It’s wired into our unique DNA, and we have the Holy Spirit in that same DNA, a compass to help us find our way. The Holy Spirit, is also that fire in our hearts, which gets stoked in each of us after our own passion, our own calling. The closer we get, the more it gets stoked, the higher and brighter it burns. We have to find what stokes us, and how to sustain it. We are given maybe a spark, which we have to help grow and light us up.

I’ve got all this dancing around in my head, walking up to communion with the girls together for the first time in our lives. I’ve got deep joy welling up, as the closing hymn begins playing.

The song? “Light the Fire in My Heart Again.”

Amen.