The trouble with living the kind of fast-paced, modern, opportunity-rich lifestyle our American culture is designed to provide, is that deep living becomes almost impossible, while those who are less skilled at skiing across the surface find themselves treading water while the speed boat races on ahead.
I hear this in the voice of the middle-aged mother whose deepest spiritual thirst is to have a sit-down dinner with her family; in the timid desire of the District Lay Leader to see more United Methodists at District fellowship events; and in the exasperation expressed by a Mayor at the Governor’s Task Force on National Service with the fact that no one wants to run for his office, leaving him unable to retire and spend more time with his spouse pursuing travel and the dreams he put on hold to be of public service.
There is no time in the race to the top for a child whose family life has come unglued to mourn, rest, heal and grow. There is only a timesheet of State mandated hours in the classroom. There is no space for unscheduled and unstructured play. There is almost no patience for slow things to grow, and there is no part of an organization’s life cycle which accounts for Winter: the time of rest, death, fallowness and hibernation which allows expectation and hope to take on dimension and form.
And in the life of faith, this pace and dimensionless living leads to writing checks in lieu of stopping by to visit. It leads to an individual, internal and intellectual engagement with Christian ideas while the living, breathing, embodied and incarnated Gospel stands unrecognized among us in the pews. It also leads to a kind of greed and possessiveness when it comes to “doing good.” We want to meet all the needs ourselves or in our own way.
Partner with that ELCA church across the street to develop an after school tutoring lab? Inconceivable! Invite a group of mental health care providers from our town over for lunch so we can compare notes on services needed and barriers to those services? Forget it! And imagine inviting that schizophrenic daughter of one of our members to come take part in that conversation? That’s just plain crazy! We already know better. We know best.
Over the past week, I have seen beneath the surface, and I am telling you there is a rich and beautiful reality most of us never get to see. A pastor’s spouse from another country finding a language partner and cultural ambassador in an employee at Casey’s while the 6 to 10 other pastors’ spouses in town likely never even knew he had arrived. The systems of care that already exist that are completely unknown to pastoral leaders simply because organizations like NAMI, AmeriCorps and United Way don’t know how to connect more deeply than by dropping off a brochure.
When you put on your snorkel and mask, put your face in the water and simply look around, opportunities to connect with other people, with deeper things, emerge like phantom schools of fish. Fair warning, though, your progress toward the shore will slow considerably. Your friends on the jet skis will make it back to the resort hours before you. You may spend your entire afternoon simply contemplating the coral and may never even realize there is an octopus there.
We are not taught to tread water. We are taught that survivors swim. We are not taught to value the small kindnesses that lift our days. We are taught to scrap and fight to make sure our own dignity is never seen to suffer. We are not taught to value the time spent making a bread dough. We are taught to exert our power to buy bread that has already been made. We are not taught that really living means we accept the fact of our own dying. We are taught that real life is the consumption of sugar water and air.
Yet, that deeper life is calling, and the pursuit of that deeper life is the life of the Church. It is the vocation of students of Christ. It means we live always in a future which isn’t here, a present which never gets where we hope it is going, and a past whose perfection never actually was. It is accepting losses and limitations. It is giving up our spot in line. It is admitting we actually didn’t do it all on our own. It is deciding that our neighbors’ financial stability is more important to us than our own, and it is living as though other people’s children have a right to the same privileges as our own. It is a life which does not avoid sacrifice, yet carries compassion for those who suffer. And its satisfaction finds expression where peace, justice, and gratitude are seen to grow.