A very long time ago I had a colleague who told me his dream was to be in a room with long, thick, velvet curtains and a stack of books and that there would be no timeline or expectations beyond that room. Our conversation had been around what gave us energy, what gave us peace, what brought us joy, and what leaned toward frustration. The conversation impressed itself on me, and as young as I was, I wondered what would lead someone to want to spend endless hours alone, even if it was with books, for which I too have a certain amount of passion.
When moments have occurred over the years where I have found myself overwhelmed, I’ve wondered if that was my “thick velvet curtains” moment. Perhaps it’s part of the human experience. We’re overwhelmed, stressed, insecure, wondering what’s going to happen next, and we simply want to retreat and escape to a place with no timelines and no expectations. I both get it and don’t get that picture at the same time, probably because we’re each unique.
Crowds and people are energy producing for me and silence and solitude are energy producing for me. It depends on the day and the time. Soaking in as much information as I can possible assimilate is intriguing to me, and sitting and watching a rerun of NCIS, the original version, is intriguing to me. Running til I don’t think my legs can take one more step is intoxicating for my spirit, and strolling on a sun-dappled path along a creek is intoxicating to my spirit. Singing quite loudly that I, too, have friends in low places brings me joy, and resting in the peaceful strains of Handel’s “Water Music” brings me joy. Perhaps not unlike most humans, I’m a study in contrasts.
One might think that would make us more flexible and easygoing around the daily rocketing roller-coaster ride we’re all on, and yet I haven’t found a person who has said they have reached a comfortable and secure “new normal” yet. Maybe that’s what the thick velvet curtained room with books represented to my colleague. Maybe it was a place to go, more mentally than physically, that would help him feel safe and that everything that wasn’t alright would be alright if he simply went there.
The windbreak at my parents farm is a little of that place for me. It’s where I wanted to go after a call from the Bishop many years ago that said I was leaving my appointment at Baldwin 1st. I was asked to meet with he and my DS at the time in the Episcopal office, then in Wichita, and he would tell me in person. I was so anxious to head to the farm that I forgot, and I’m not even kidding, I forgot the suitcase with my formal/professional clothes. I put it right in front of the door so I wouldn’t forget it, almost to the point where I had to step over to get to the car, which I evidently did. Halfway home I realized the suitcase was not in the car, and I had to stop and shop for a skirt, blouse, and jacket. My singular focus on getting to the farm was rooted in a sense of stability. Somehow that windbreak out on the farm gave me a sense of protection and security and a place where quiet could come. I go there in my mind now more than in-person, because virus, but I’m grateful that it’s there. The trees, the wind on one side, the protection on the other.
Our Youth ministries coordinator, Jeff Milton and I were on zoom this morning after regular zoom all-staff meeting was over. We took a bit of a break in between, and when I came back to zoom he had Ezra with him. Ezra yesterday celebrated his 6 month birthday, had been to the doc and received a magnificent report on his development and all the vitals. Jeff told me that Ezra is fairly introspective, and that he LOOOOOVES looking at trees. That he can take Ezra outside and sit down with him close to a tree and Ezra will just look and look and reach out to touch the bark and look up at the leaves. And even while we were talking, Ezra was looking out the window because Jeff said there is a big tree out there. We probably spoke for 20 minutes and Ezra did not make a peep – he simply kept looking out the window. BTW, he also seems to like guacamole (they’re beginning to introduce different tastes to him) so, ummm, yeah! It doesn’t get much better than trees and guacamole in my book.
Maybe for some it’s thick velvet curtains and piles of books, maybe for others it’s trees and a windbreak and leaf-strewn paths, for others maybe it’s sports or music or movies, and perhaps for others it’s prayer and contemplation, reflection and writing. Maybe all are sacred and all are gifts God offers us for the living of these days.
What all this is about for me is that what were fairly rare moments of anxiety in earlier chapters of my life, have become a bit less rare in these current days. Not so much virus related, more simply around the constancy of change and what seems an ever-moving target of next best steps for our faith communities. Life is not without mistakes and I believe we learn from those experiences as much if not more than our times of defined success. The consequences simply feel larger.
We must move into these opportunities for change in race relations, and doing that will come with the pain of recognizing how and where we have hurt and been hurt by one another when we are not in the same place.
We must move into these opportunities for compassion and care for families who have been and are being decimated by this virus. We can talk about co-morbidities of diabetes or asthma or obesity, and still 210,000 and increasing have died since March 11, and countless others remain in chronic illness. We must have compassion for these families regardless of whether we believe that they are all virus or not.
We must move into these opportunities to remain non-violent and diligent about everyone’s right to vote their conscious and integrity whether we agree with one another’s perspectives or are diametrically opposed. Any action or desire to suppress voting stands against the right of representation that was fought and died for at the beginning of our Republic. That is both a foundation of our shared patriotic passion as conservative and progressive and moderate and centrist and left and right and maybe even perpendicular, and it is a unifier that brings us together around the strength of every voice regardless of gender, race, or other biases that fought for and became amendments to our constitution that now rightfully stand.
And we must move into all these opportunities committing to love as Jesus loved – to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
I am starkly aware of my imperfections, and my prayer is that those imperfections do not get in the way of God’s vision for ministry in this complex chapter of history. Perhaps you feel that way as a parent or grandparent, as a friend and/or colleague, as follower of Jesus in these more murky than clear days. My go-to has rarely been retreat . . . I’m guessing that’s not much of a surprise. However, I also know that moments of meditation and reflection that take me to those “retreat” places spiritually and intellectually if not physically are more necessary now in my life than ever before. My commitment is to work for change with a loving and compassionate spirit doing my best to live and love like Jesus. My commitment is to apologize when I’ve hurt someone, and freely admit I’m wrong when I learn new things that change my perspective. My commitment is to spend time among people and in solitude, to think deeply and to veg out on re-runs when the time is right. My commitment is to sing at the top of my lungs, when no one is listening, and sometimes to listen peacefully when someone else is singing. And most of all my commitment is to do my level best to serve the God I worship, and to trust in God’s grace when my imperfections take over the day.
Today in Ezra’s honor, I’m going to sit under a tree, may it be for me a reminder of the fascination of God’s creativity and care. And then I’m going to eat some guacamole because well, guacamole! So may it be for you as well!!!