Thursday, January 29, 2015

...and the road still stretching on

It all started with a “friend request” on Facebook, followed by an invitation to join a group by my new friend. The group: Class of 1980, Highland Park High School. Suddenly unnerved, I did the math to discover that—holy cats!!!—this year is my 35th anniversary of graduating from high school! How could that even be possible? Thirty-five years? That’s enough to make me a grown up!
I joined the group, then scanned the names and pictures of the other 98 folks who have already joined; most names I recalled, and for several, I was able to fill in more details, such as classes we shared and if we had been friends then. There were a few who I knew some current details about, having found each other on facebook previously, but for most, only the names were recognizable, and I wondered: How did their lives turn out, so far? Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Do their hearts ache with regret?
HPHS Graduation, May, 1980
What shiny future did their hearts behold as they marched across that stage in their red cap and gowns that day in late May, 1980. I remember sitting on the folding chairs on the grass of the football field, as our speaker, a local successful business person (and HPHS alum) extolled the virtues of hard work and keen focus as the way to success. All of us could be successful, he said, adding, “I’m saying this to each of you: to those of you who are just barely squeaking by and to those of you who are graduating with honors.” My mind flashed back to the tumultuous senior year I had had, living in Manhattan, KS, a town 50 miles away, having only a single class at first hour (US Government) followed by a full time job, then a part time job. I thought of the many mornings I overslept and called in for myself until finally, two weeks before graduation, my school counselor put me on probation. “If you miss another day, he told me, you will not graduate, and you will have to go to summer school.”
Remarkably, I made it through the rest of the two weeks with no further absences and now was seated there on the sunny day, with the green cord on my shoulders signifying my high GPA. I turned to the girl next to me and whispered, “I did both! I barely made it with honors!” But beyond that gleeful realization,  I didn’t have a clue as to what would happen next; looking at those pictures on fb, I wondered if any of us did.
I thought about my new group last night as I listened to poet David Whyte speak at Colorado College. David is a premier poet and uses  poetry (his own and others) to talk about our lives and our world. Last night was the 5th time I had seen him and his topic was on Pilgrimages in our lives. He spoke of pilgrimage as an on-going journey, as in his poem Santiago (- David Whyte
from Pilgrim©2012 Many Rivers Press )


The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place,
no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, that called you back
to the only road in the end you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,
so that one day you realized that what you wanted
had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place
you had lived in before you began,
and that every step along the way, you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise
that first set you off and drew you on and that you were
more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:
as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city
with golden towers, and cheering crowds,
and turning the corner at what you thought was athe end
of the road, you found just a simple reflection,
and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back
and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:
like a person and a place you had sought forever,
like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;
like another life, and the road still stretching on.

It seems pilgrimage is a theme I’m meant to explore in my own life now, with the talk by David Whyte, the fb page that beckons me to consider the path taken, the path not taken, the way the path has shaped me, the way I have shaped the path. David spoke a lot about the Camino de Santiago —an ancient Catholic pilgrimage, though now modern day ecumenical one, that goes for roughly 500 miles over a variety of routes from France, Portugal, and other parts of Spain. It is a 5-7 week journey during which you walk by day and rest in inns or hostels at night; not quite as wild as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, but similar.
As luck would have it, I’m currently reading a book called, Pilgrimage, from Humbled to Healed by Sonia Choquette, that details her own experience of walking the Camino de Santiago, as a means of dealing with unexpected, multiple losses in her life and the resulting emotional chaos.
What would it mean to take on such an intentional pilgrimage? To take on an arduous journey through the French Pyrenees mountains? Or, like Cheryl Strayed, to travel alone on a trail that was 1000 miles long? What could you learn of yourself and the world around you? What would you see inside yourself, the shadows in bas relief to the vista of mountain, and trail, and town, and sea?
And what if we didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars in order to go on a pilgrimage? What if we needed only to step outside our door with a new intentionality, with the commitment to pay attention to our own path, to see what we need to see, to learn what we need to learn?
David Whyte said the first step in any pilgrimage is to be willing to give up the conversation you’ve been having with yourself. To start a new conversation with the horizon that takes off the blinders of status quo, that steps out of the deeply imbedded ruts of familiarity and complacency. He said that a pilgrimage begins when we stand where we are, and raise our eyes to a horizon not quite seen—the path itself keeps us from seeing where it might, ultimately, lead.
Camino de Santiago, Day 2: Descending from the Pyrenees

I wonder how my life would have been different if, at my high school graduation, just a couple weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I would have understood that I could choose to change the conversation I had been having with myself and with my world for as long as I could remember? What would have changed if, during key moments in my life—the death of my father and nephew, the advent of AIDS and all it took from me, the birth of my son, the expanding of my understanding through higher education, the death of my brother, the highs, the lows, the times of great joy, the times of great devastation, the times of deep uncertainty—I had taken just a moment to lift my eyes from that mile marker and dared to look out again, at an ever-changing horizon, to see if it was time to deepen the conversation or to change it? Who knows where I would be?
That I am here, in this place, in this time, is a great fortune to me and I can only surmise, looking back, that I sometimes did intuitively change the conversation, change the path, let the path change me. And I know, as I now eagerly look forward to my 35th high school reunion, that there is no there, at the end of any great pilgrimage—whether undertaken on a well worn path travelled by millions before you, or simply trod on the singular trail that holds your life—there is only the next step, the new way of moving forward.
David Whyte mentioned that there is a place that takes an additional three days hike from the “destination” of the Camino de Santiago. It’s called Finnisterre and it is at the edge of the sea. Those who choose to journey on to this place, complete three rituals once they arrive: the eating of a scallop (the emblem of the pilgrimage), the burning of something you brought along (usually letters, cards) and the leaving behind of something that had been on the journey with you.
I think these, too, are great additions to our individual pilgrimages: the eating of a food that symbolized the way, the burning of letters and words that no longer have a place in your life, and the letting go of something that held you in good stead but is no longer needed; or is reminiscent of the old conversation, when now you need to start a new one. Powerful reminders that what we once thought we couldn’t live without, can be let go, and we will find a new way to go forward into the next chapter, the new invitation, the field of freedom that will always beckon us on.
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,

no matter how, over the waves.
- David Whyte

©2012 Many Rivers Press 

A boot left at Finisterre 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

“The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence” -- T.S. Eliot

I have been feeling very disoriented for the past week. My laptop decided to crash and burn on New Year’s Eve and I have been limping along, using my old laptop while my current one is in the shop. I’m not the most disciplined at backing up my data and I haven’t even begun to see what my last restore data point is so I’m not sure how much I lost, but I for sure lost my most recent work, including notes, readings, website links, research, etc. for sermons from probably September, 2014 through at least February, 2015, as well as personal things– such as recent poetry and journal entries I’ve written.

I was telling Kat, our office administrator today, that the loss of my laptop with its current data makes me feel almost paralyzed, as if I’m not sure how to be in this world without this information. I don’t know how to get to point B because I’m not sure where point A was located.

I have all the old history archived, of course, going back to the very beginning of my time at All Souls, and I have boxes of hard copy archives as well– old sermons, notes, journal– in boxes in my garage. Of course, I haven’t gone through any of that in ages so I’m not sure why it’s important that I have it, only that I feel reassured that I can dig through the past to re-discover what I discovered then, to remember my lessons, to see mistakes I’ve made and not make them again, to rediscover moments of triumph, of epiphanies, of love given and received, joy that was shared, forgiveness that was given, and grace, too.

We need to have access to our past, I think, so that we don’t become untethered from our history, so that we can retrace our steps and find point A once again. Otherwise, we might find ourselves going around in circles, or repeating lessons we really did know once.

This is true, of course, in a broader perspective as well. As the old adage goes, those who don’t remember their past are doomed to repeat. I would add that those who don’t remember the past are also more likely to miss how it is connected to the present.

This Sunday we will be celebrating the 124th anniversary of the founding of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. As we do each Founder’s Day, we will be revisiting the history of our congregation, metaphorically opening up the old photo albums, blowing dust off the tops of boxes of memorabilia and see how we got to be where we are today, thanks to the commitment and passion and dedication of those in the past who worked hard to be a liberal religious voice in Colorado Springs, who stood arm in arm with those seeking social justice through all those times– the suffragettes, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement and the lgbt rights movement. One of our ministers, Rev. Orloff Miller, was present in Selma, AL and, along with two other white UU minsters, was with Unitarian Universalist minister, James Reebe when they were jumped by a gang of white men as they left a restaurant with some black leaders. In that attack, Rev. James Reebe was mortally wounded.

Incredibly, this March marks the 50th anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery, AL, organized and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of James Reebe and Unitarian Universalist lay leader, Viola Liuzzo, who both answered the call to go to Selma as allies to the African American community.

What have we learned since then? What are the lessons we still need to learn? How is what is happening in our present world, with black, unarmed men being killed by people in authority positions at an alarming rate, linked to that event?

It took three attempts for the march to be successful. Averaging 10 miles a day, the marchers finally left Selma on March 21, and arrived at the State Capitol on March 25. It may not seem like much distance was covered, but, in fact, it was one of the most significant marches in recent memory, measured not by miles, but by lives impacted.

This Sunday, January 11, I would like to invite those of you who are local to join me, members of the NAACP and other faith communities in seeing the movie "Selma" at the Cinemark Tinseltown theater at Circle and Lake. We will be attending the 3:50 PM matinee and then gathering afterward for a discussion. For those who live elsewhere, I encourage you to see the film with others, as well. This is one box of history that we cannot afford to let gather dust in our garages or basements or attics. This is a film, this is a moment in history that we need to re-visit now, if we are to make sense of what’s happening today, and be a part of the solution rather than the problem. As we do, we can draw inspiration and strength from our predecessors at All Souls who also bravely and passionately answered the call of their day, to make a place of justice and equity for all. Let us not grow weary in the work of love.