It’s an adventure, this uncovering and discovering direction in life and love and ministry and mission. These weeks, filled with transitions and graduations for so many, I celebrate friends and colleagues, companions and clients who are making steps in the direction of what draws them. They do so with courage, which is about acting and living with heart (French: coeur). This does not mean there is no fear felt, or that self limiting actions or beliefs that have been habitual do not drag and dog their steps (as they do for us all). But they walk the journey. And faithfulness to the journey is its own success. We look to where we are lured, and pray ‘make us wise in our ways’, Lord.
Parker Palmer’s little book Let Your Life Speak has often been a source of reflection for me. Palmer respects the hardwiring of our very being, and invites us into the art of humble attending to the mystery that is us unfolding. When we speak of vocation or call, we also often hear the quote from Frederick Buechner that tells us we are called to where our deep gladness and the world’s deep needs meet. Sebastian Moore tells us sagely that “Love is desire trying to happen” – and we can reflect on what we desire and how love draws us along the paths most aligned to the intricate uniqueness that is each of our very being-ness.
Can we believe that our very form and shape and loves and dreams – the best of us – can give us the data to determine for what giving and living we are best suited? Can we look at our values, our dreams, our hopes, and proceed on a treasure hunt that finds the gems of clear brilliance beneath them that are God’s gifts and our deepest identity, within that of simply being God’s beloved one? Can we look at our lifeway and lifework* as ways of expression and self gift that we can learn to craft with confidence?
Palmer talks in his little text, and elsewhere (see A Hidden Wholeness), of the soul being shy. We need contexts where we can listen to our own souls, where what is truest and best in us is safe to come forward, where what is feared can be heard and understood, where what is in our way can be identified, where we can turn and return, where we can sing and cry freely, where what is most real can be determined. These places are most often found in relationships – the most important one with the God who loves us and is thrilled with the work of art we are. This is a God who dances over and with us! In contrast, this is part of the reason why experiences in difficult or disastrous relationships really harm us. They make our souls go underground, and prompt us at times to live a life more safe that is not our most real one. Trust of ourselves becomes perhaps more difficult even than trust of others, for we know ourselves to be fragile.
In times of discernment we often invite one another to listen. Obedience is about having such an open ear. Such openness must sometimes be coaxed from us, for we fear. What if we cannot find where we belong? What if what we thought isn’t right? What if we make a wrong choice? What if we hurt others or get hurt? What if I’ve been fooling myself and others all along? What if I’m just not up to – the work, the life? What if I get lost forever in the wilderness or the dark, without a clue as to a path? Such questions haunt and harm us. They take us in circles that can become tornado spirals of distraction or distrust. We have to learn to shush these, to give play to the now. To trust in just this step.
Simple faithfulness to this present step, in line with Gospel learnings and values and our own paths to embodying these, is the way to the next step. We are not given to know the next step… or what would have happened if. These are mirages. The adventure of vocation and call and journey is always in this moment. I am never ready for the next moment – but I am always fine in this one.
Creation’s beauty and seasons often bring me back to this moment. The dogwood blossoms are mostly gone now, but the green leaves of spring on the tree are full of life. The tulips are past and the tomatoes not yet planted, but the azaleas are gorgeous right now. It is easy for me to let nature speak. Can I, can you, can we let our lives speak and notice what God would tell us in this moment with the same attentiveness?
Creation’s seasons are not all spring, and neither is this true in our individual and collective journeyings. The now may be full of parting or painful transition, questions or challenges, lost or changed life and baffling contradictions. In these moments too, we can bring attention and listen. Even – perhaps especially – here, we need to remember that we are safe in a relationship of love that wants us to be who and what we most truly are. Here, if we have great heart, we can learn to live the courage of being true to what our lives speak even then. Here we are taught to trust and to celebrate.
Happily, the terrain of life is varied. It unfolds quickly-slowly through the mystery of time that is chronos and kairos. We are keen observers one moment, and sleepwalkers the next. What can be our wish for our own lives and for those at particular turnings?
May we learn to lean confidently into the arms of God who is the God who invites us, in Jesus, to full and abundant life. May we experience life’s variety as adventure and exploration, knowing that – whether we feel it or not – we are never alone and always in a safe relationship where our shy souls can come forth. May we celebrate steps we see others taking with courage and faith – and our own – and support one another as sojourners and pilgrims. May we dance life’s joys and sorrows, knowing that – whether we can understand what is said or not – our lives are speaking and have meaning and are best lived in generous expenditure in love, in imitation of Jesus.
For all those in flux, in discernment, in transition – be here, walk gently, see creation, call on God-with-us, dance, listen, and let your life whisper to you. May it shout and sing and simply abide with you. May you know the company of the story that is your life’s unfolding as comfort and steadiness. Go gently in this moment, and then the next, remembering that “The Lord will bless your comings and your goings, now and forever.” (Psalms)
* Lifeway and Lifework are terms used in a chapter by James Michael Lee in a text entitled The Spirituality of the Religious Educator