(thanks to friend, Mary Jean Adkins for this picture)
At Candler, our kind and gracious seminary professors used to call these places of the heart: “growing edges.” That was a nice way of saying “truly, you need to address this…” Whatever the “this” seems to be. Growing edges were identified as bumps in the road, places that held us back from moving on. Places that got in our way of learning or living. Growing edges. What was true back years ago at Candler, continues to be true today – my “this,” my growing edge is my resistance to change.
All change – big or small - has a way of discombobulating my spirit in ways that I truly fear that I might become lost.
Change that has been the hardest for me is the change that comes to my root system.
When changes have come to the places and to the ones who keep me tethered and balanced – when these changes come, I have felt truly lost. The deaths of my parents and loved one, the loss of a job I thought I would always have, health and living changes – all of these changes have struck deep to the root of me, to the heart of me.
Sometimes (when I’m in my more grounded place) I recognize that change most always brings with it, something new. Opportunities come with changes that weren’t there before. Possibilities come for renewal and restoration.
My life experiences, all the times of holding on and letting goA have taught me to trust what was, what is and what will be. My faith nudges me at all the best times to stay open, to keep looking. My faith grounds me and invites me to believe that something will come, a path will appear.
Perhaps our wisest teacher for living in and through change is nature’s yearly lesson that accompanies the change of seasons. Summer into fall, leaves letting go beautifully and particularly into winter, bare branches bringing buds in the spring. One leading into another. Each season for its time. And then grace comes and there is a letting go and moving on toward what will be next.
My friend MJ took this beautiful picture along the Fox River in Wisconsin last weekend. Here we are invited to journey on...on the path that is before us. Through the woods, through the cold, through the beauty into what is to be next. If we stop and dig in, if our spirits get stuck and resistant…just imagine what we might miss. Just imagine what may be up the path just a bit…left foot, right foot.
There’s a waxing moon over Paris tonight. Earlier this evening Linda and I watched a segment from 60 Minutes that reported on shootings just two nights ago. The last scene of the report was a shot of Notre Dame sounding chimes for those who were killed…and above Notre Dame was the shot of the waxing moon.
Friday night’s shooting stirred up so much for me and I imagine for many of us. As we watched there were heart-echoes of a Tuesday morning in September fourteen years ago; there were echoes of a scene from Boston where one minute runners were crossing the marathon’s finish line and the next, everyone was running for cover.
So many of us live our lives so far from violence. We get up each morning worrying about what to wear for work or getting our kids to school on time. So many of us are so privileged in our way of living our lives.
It’s easy to be fearful in these hours and days following Friday night’s shootings. It’s easy to think the worst of what could be next for anybody, for everybody. It’s so easy to give-in to the shutting down of mind and spirit.
I heard that of the many miracles of Friday night, there was one small, but magnificent one. France and Germany were playing one another in football (soccer). When the game was stopped because of the sounds of explosions, it would have been easy for chaos to break out, for neighbor to turn against neighbor. I heard that when the German fans were exiting the stadium, many of them spontaneously burst into the singing of the French national anthem.
The moon is waxing now. More light is coming. This is the time each month when we are reminded that holding on matters. During these nights we can live into knowing that soon and very soon we will be able to see, even in the dark. This is the time when we find the strength and the courage to sing our neighbor’s song. Even in what feels like whistling in the dark… how can I, how can we keep from singing?
Psalm 91: 1-2 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord,
“My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (NRSV)
Part of our healing after a deep loss is making our way back into the world. When our pain is fresh, we feel so very vulnerable. Re-entry feels like it is asking too much of us. Stepping again into the world, re-connecting after our loss can seem almost impossible.
Often this time of re-entry becomes our beginning steps toward healing. When we move back into our places of belonging, we are reminded that even after this life-changing loss, we are yet alive. We continue to live, each hour of each new day. Here in these places where we find shelter, where our stories are known, we are reminded in visible and invisible ways that we are not lost. We are reminded that life continues on.
In Psalm 91 we hear sanctuary-words. Later in this psalm we hear words of the night, times often understood to be times of fear and despair. So many tears are shed into the night. And here the psalmist comforts us: it is to this vulnerable place that the Almighty comes and provides shelter.
Though I grew up in Illinois, I’ve lived here in Atlanta long enough to now claim local sanctuary-places. One such place is Evans Fine Foods. For me, this restaurant has become a sheltering place. Transformation can happen in places where stories overlap, where there are comings and goings, where laughter can be heard just a few tables away. I tell folks I go to Evans for breakfast, for scrambled eggs and grits and that’s true. But my heart knows it’s much more than that.
More days than not I go to remember that I belong. I’m missed when I’m not there. It has come to be a place for me of holding on and letting go. Here the good and hard times find sanctuary. It is to Evans where our family and friends go after tragedy, deaths, job losses, as well as new job announcements and birthday toasts shared. It is the place where I meet others who are going through similar times. Here our part-time waitperson, full-time pastor, Martha, brings us another iced tea and reminds us that we shall get through this one, too. Most every Saturday for more years than I can count, I have gathered with good friends and sit in the corner booth (aka Booth 25). Here we listen for one another’s hearts; here we are given more than enough to believe again.
The moon and her ever-changing cycle teach us that no two nights are the same. There are changes and shifts, sometimes oh so subtle, but they are there nonetheless if we are paying attention. Re-entry invites us back into living again. These sanctuary places are where we go to experience our stories being known and held. These sanctuary places are where strangers and friends help us re-new and re-claim our tender spirits. Grits and iced tea: bread and wine.
This is Chapter 5 from my book, "Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days." I've been known to eat three or four breakfasts there a week. Some mornings I join my friend, David as he works his morning crossword puzzle and I read something fiction -- every now and then talking about the house he's working on. Some mornings I meet my spiritual director, Sister Margaret and we talk about prayer. Most every Saturday Kimberly, Ellen, Susie and I keep one another grounded and connected and whole. And some mornings I sit by myself, read my book and listen to conversations from table to table: two older gentlemen sharing stories of how they met their wives, what's wrong with the Braves and the Falcons and the Bulldogs, how many more weeks of chemo...
Recently we learned that this sanctuary place is closing. For some reason that none of us can fathom, the property owner is raising the rent to the extent that the owners, Mike and Pete aren't able to keep the doors open. Soon Evans will be no more. And my heart is tenderly breaking open. It's been a wonderful sanctuary place for me and my family and friends. I will miss it terribly. This chapter has always been about this place, this place that invites time to stand still for a bit, so our hearts can catch up...
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.