Just before I left on my sabbatical, a note and a gift showed up in my mailbox at church.
“This compass has helped me find my way through many mountain adventures. I pass it on to you with my hope and prayer that you will find your way well through your sabbatical, and return safely home.”
On the first day of my sabbatical, I thought, “I want to do something each day to remember this time.” I remembered the compass.
From that first day on, I pulled out my compass every day and took a picture. Something that happened I wanted to remember. Took a particular moment, placed it in the care of the holding of memory and time.
Marking each day helped me see that even the hard and challenging parts of my sabbatical were a gift as well. I learned so much in both the joyous and challenging steps along the way.
The compass went many places:
Showed up with the President of Iceland,
and yes, out sailing many times.
One day in Iceland, my friend Arielle showed up with a tattoo of an ancient Icelandic compass, a vegvísir. One who wears a vegvísir, the tradition goes, will never lose their way in storms or bad weather. And when no way can be found, a way will open.
My imagination took me to Viking explorers setting sail on turbulent seas with the sign traced on their foreheads or chiseled onto their helmets. A sign, a blessing, that they too would find their way safely and well.
I almost got a vegvísir tattoo myself, and the story of why I did not, another story. But the gift I received in not getting a vegvísir tattooed on my arm was the invitation to become a vegvísir.
What if, I wondered, instead of wearing a sign, our lives became the sign? What if we lived lives of risk and trust? Showed, that the little ships that we are, are finding our way through smooth and rocky seas.
What if we lived as if it were true: that even when no way is found, we trust that way will open?
The “Way” is the ancient Christian term for followers of Jesus. And although they may never have heard of a vegvísir, they lived as ones that carried that same trust through the storm.
“Are you all settled back in after your time away?” Jerry asked me last week.
“No!”, I responded, “I actually feel quite disoriented!”
“Great!” he responded, “That’s why we need to go away – to come back disoriented. To see things in new ways. Hold on to ‘disoriented’ as long as you can!”
Jerry’s reminder, the blessing I needed.
Four months away, a long time. In these past months I have grown and changed. The communities, people in my life grown, changed as well. I come back with new eyes. Notice what I hadn’t before when I was deeply and contentedly settled into the everyday routines of my life at home.
Instead of fighting the feeling of being disoriented, at my best I’ve become curious about it. Curious about what works, fits, and what does not. Exploring new patterns and ways when some of my old familiar ways have been washed out of me.
My “new normal” as I explained to a friend this morning is “I am disoriented!”
“How long did it take you to come to that?!”, he asked.
About 52 years
Maybe it is a disorienting time in your life. Maybe circumstances in your life have changed.
Maybe a sacred space that you have counted on for stability is being remodeled – as our church sanctuary is.
Maybe you or people important in your life have grown, changed. Maybe you too are seeking to get your feet on the ground again. Maybe in all of this you are seeing, feeling, what you hadn’t noticed before.
And maybe discovering that “disoriented” is a lot more true and real than your old ways of putting everything together into the box of “Fine. Fine. Everything is just fine.” Maybe you too can’t and don’t want to put things together the same way. Want to discover more about the new ways being shown to you.
No, “disorientation”, I am learning is not a “bad” place to be.
Walking through these past four months with a compass in hand helped to orient and ground my passage through the gift of that time.
Now, I am learning to trust in a different, internal compass, which is leading me forth in trust, in faith, that even in the disorientation of today, the way is opening as I find my way back home again.