Three weeks ago, Banff National Provincial Park. My nephew, Peter, and I have been driving our way across the country and late this afternoon have stepped out on a ridge looking out over Lake Moraine. “Have you ever seen a place like this! Have you ever seen a place like this!” I tell Peter I will eventually stop saying this over and over again as I say one more time, “Have you ever seen a place like this!”
Have you ever been in, seen such a place? Had a time in your life that broke open the horizons, expanded what before you had thought were the limits of the sky?
I’ve just returned from such a time. Four months away on a sabbatical and vacation that emptied and renewed, filled and healed me. I return home, changed. As I explain to a friend, “It’s like my whole life did THIS,” as I stretch my arms wide as they can go.
And so, a question in my life: How to take all of this great expansion of vision, life, joy, experience and bring it home to the particular work, responsibilities, relationships in my everyday life.
I told my friend Mary about my homecoming question and she told me,
“It seems to me the only way to take all of THIS” – as she opens her arms wide – “and fit it into THIS” – as she brings her hands close together, “is to do THIS” – as she pivots sideways – one hand high overhead, the other reaching for the floor.
And there it is: the only way to take all of THIS expansion, growth, life into the particularity of “this” work, “these” responsibilities, “this” relationship – is to go deeper – into truth and authenticity – and lift your sights higher – out and beyond to a longer, broader vision.
A few weeks ago at our church camp at Seabeck we discussed situations that cry out for justice and peace. We talked about concerns for our planet, economy, and our nation’s democracy. Farmers in Africa, homelessness in Seattle.
On the second day, one of our speakers, Bill Grace, stood up and said,
“I have spent my life as a social activist working for justice and peace, so what I am going to say is very hard to say. And I still don’t know quite how to say it. But what I am hearing in my heart, and what my teachers are telling me, is that now is not the time to act as we have responded to such situations before. It is not the time.”
Bill went on to say he was not saying that it is the time to “do nothing” but that the “something” of what we need to do is different.
What I heard him saying is this: “We live in a time where our institutions of faith, care, and community are in a time of deep transformation. A time of great change and unraveling. When we just jump into respond to the immense issues facing us, we often fall into responses, ways of being, that are deeply part of the old stories that need to change. (Responding violently. Dividing our world into “us” versus “them”, for example.) A new way is forming but not yet here. It’s not the time to do nothing, but a time to “do” what we are doing differently – to concentrate on doing small things with great love. A time to live the new way we are seeking to be in the world.”
What Bill was saying about this particular time of history we are living in is what I’ve heard said from other historians, theologians, and wise leaders I trust. It’s what I’ve experienced in the life of the church and other institutions I care deeply about.
And I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of weeds in a field full of wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
When the farmhands notice the weeds in the field, they do what I often do when I see trouble. They ask who is to blame. They complain, “Farmer Joe, did you use good seeds?” And they seek to take matters into their own hands and pull up the weeds.
But the farmer responds, “No. Now is not the time. This is the time to wait. For in pulling up the weeds now, you would damage the wheat as well. Now is the time to wait. Wait for the time of harvest. Then pull up the weeds and harvest the wheat.”
Wait? Wait? Really?
How do you know the weeds won’t take over? How do you know its going to be alright?
I know the fear, the anxiety, I know all of it that comes when what I am called to do is something different than just “act”. And I know what happened to me on my sabbatical.
On my sabbatical I did what I said I wanted to do:
I wrote. I painted. I learned how to sail.
I went to the top of the highest mountain in New England with the worst weather in the world.
And I went up the highest mountain in the Pacific with the clearest skies.
I had time with my family.
But if you ask me, “What did you really get out of your sabbatical, what really happened for you?” I would not talk with you about what I did.
I would tell you that what happened when I put some things down: I came home believing in the resurrection more deeply in my bones than I ever have before. And by that I mean this: in the letting go, we are met. I was met.
My sabbatical was about letting go.
Letting go of my control, plans, perfection and worry.
Letting go of who I thought I was to become who I am growing to be.
Letting go, I learned again, is a road right through the heart of grief.
Learned again, that grief and anxiety are the roads that lead us into the new.
No, not an easy way. And one where we need good guides and friends along the way.
But on the other side of letting go, something is given, that could never be anticipated.
A broader vision. Skies we never could have imagined. The kind of vision we need to see it through the very real issues facing us.
And something revealed, right here at our feet, something clear, true, beautiful.
I don’t know where you are on life’s way but wherever it is, maybe it’s a time in your life as well to pivot. Time to put down some of your familiar ways and make room for something new to grow. To go a little deeper, see a little further. Be led to a place you never could have imagined, where you too can say, “Have you ever seen a place like this!”