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Tending the Garden That is our Life

Just supposing God wrote a letter, a real letter, to us at birth? I imagine it as something like this:

My dear little one, you are coming into being. You are beginning to perceive things. This body that is now yours is wondrous. I feel such joy in anticipation of the journey that is to be yours. Yet, I also feel some trepidation – for I know of this journey. I know the dance you will forever do between comfort and discomfort, between knowing and not knowing, and the challenging decisions you will make that are of such great import. I know the needs of creatures, perhaps better than the creatures themselves. Yet, I cannot “do it,” “do life” for you. Life is your journey. How, I wonder, can I help you sense my presence with you? I cannot “make” your life “perfect.” I actually don’t even know how to define perfect, unless it is life lived in communion with me, for I am the source of all love. I wonder, how long will it take you to recognize Love, to seek it, to share it?

Just an inkling of the reality of Divine Presence, of radiant love permeating all of creation, is the beginning of a never-ending journey, one that is simultaneously towards and within God. This precious inkling is elusive. At times we question ourselves as to its reality. Is “this” really of God? Can “this” really be trusted? With whom can I even talk about “this?” Sometimes, as seekers, we assume church communities might be a safe place for asking such deep questions. Sometimes a church community can be a safe place for exploration. And, sometimes a church community is not welcoming of seekers who really question deeply.

It actually takes quite a bit of courage to authentically turn towards God (or whatever other word you might choose to use for Divine Presence). C. S. Lewis talks of being pursued by God, about reluctantly turning towards God, and about being surprised by Joy (in his book by that title).

This life long journey is not one to be embarked on alone. We need companions on this journey; we need community across time. We may need the perspective of another to help us validate our own experience and our own truth. This “other person” may or may not be someone we personally know and, for me, has often been a voice from the past, from the distant past. As I have grown to recognize the Divine within my life over time, I have needed to rely on the experiences of people from long ago to help me along the way: Brother Lawrence, Meister Eckhart, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, Paul, Jesus, the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), Howard Thurman, to name a few.

Sometimes the perspective of “other” comes unbidden and unwanted. Sometimes this necessary perspective grows and stretches us in ways that are needed, necessary for our own development. Sometimes the perspective forces us to stand up for what we know to be true—to find our courage, however small it might be in terms of a world scale, but to find our courage to stand up for what is right and true in our own life. All we can give to the world is our own truth. Of what use are we to anyone, including ourselves, if we are not living our own truth?

If ever you have known God,
you will never be quite the same.
You may look exactly the same,
but, you will know that God is with you.
You will feel deeply loved,
You will be filled with such love that it will naturally overflow.
You will know a deep peace, a meaning underneath.
From that “place” of deep peace,
You will see the world differently,
And, you will care, care deeply about and for all.
If ever you have known God you will grow in to being your true self.
You will be more yourself,
but you will never be quite the same.1

Shalem has provided the educational framework and community within which I have found support for my journey through the challenges of life in my particular time and place. We who have been blessed in this way now need to help nourish and support others who recognize their call to a contemplative grounding for their lives.

As a way of doing this, I recently became one of three co-directors of Shalem’s YALLI: Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative, a special program for young adults (approximately ages 25-40) who want help to live authentically with compassion, strength and vision and who seek a deeper spiritual foundation for their lives and work. I invite you to consider this program, either for yourself or for someone you know.  For more details, click here.

 

1 Idea loosely from “If Once You Have Slept On An Island” by Rachel Field.

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