Each morning last weekend I dressed in the dark, filled my teacup, and made my way down to a lower outcropping on the shore of the Frio River where two black rockers sat and two spiders spun above. I woke up to the morning down there where it comes late, the sun having risen an hour before we begin to see its light in the canyon. Every afternoon I meandered down there as well with my book, the sounds of laughter below, the sounds of conversation above, and the same two spiders curved inward for the afternoon.
One afternoon a woman joined me, quiet, small, in her late 70s perhaps 80s. We didn’t talk and then we did, and she shared about her life, the occupation from which she’d just retired, her husband’s illness, her sister’s grief. There was so much sad and yet still so much good, but it was her retirement from a 50 year career that made her dip her head and sob. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Please don’t be,” I said. “That’s a long life of faithfulness and it must be an unspeakable grief to leave it.” Her watery eyes smiled and we talked for another hour or more. I’ll treasure that conversation a long time.
A friend of mine had a baby a few months ago and it’s been a hard transition for them. The baby is wanted, loved, prayed for, and it’s still just so hard. Another friend got married and feels surprised every day at the pieces of her that are shaved away day by day. And old friend took a job, a dream job, the kind she’s worked her whole life for, and yet taking it means leaving behind a life she has crafted and cultivated for a long time. We have been leaving our church slowly this past summer and though we know deep within us it is right and time, we feel a sadness for all the things that could have been instead. I feel as though I am standing on a threshold and not as though I am at home, that wanted things are still sometimes hard things.
I read in Mark 4 this past weekend of the parable of the sower (except, why isn’t it the parable of the seeds?), and caught myself on verse 16, “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” I thought to myself: this is what I believe about myself. I believe I am that seed, all my life, I have believed that.
I have always believed that a person who stays unchanged is faithful and a person who moves is unfaithful, and therefore because I have moved so often, I will always be found unfaithful. Someone asks me why I believe that this week and I know the answer right away, can pinpoint with startling clarity even though I have never said the words aloud before. But sometimes, she says, moving on is the right thing to do.
I believe her but I don’t believe her enough.
I have been thinking lately of all the things we lose when we move on or in or out or forward, or backward too. Little parts of us get sanded away, shaved away, chipped away, lost in the move (For instance, this morning I realized I haven’t seen a particular spatula in a few years and since spatulas aren’t things we take to potlucks or parties, I wonder: did it get lost in a move?). We don’t mean to lose them, we just do. We lose friends and homes and routines and participation and the familiarity of waking and sleeping and inhabiting the same spaces day after day after day. “All theology,” said Eugene Peterson, “is rooted in geography.” Place matters. It doesn’t matter whether it’s our locale or our rhythm or our career or our season of life or our calling or our bedroom or our favorite chair. It matters.
Wendell Berry wrote,
too difficult and rare
to think of the life of a man
grown whole in the world,
at peace and in place.”
At peace and in place—this is has felt my whole purpose in life and still absolutely elusive to me. No matter how hard I have tried to make staying equate with faithfulness, it has always seemed more faithful to actually just be listening. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. And then to know that if we live this way our lives may still look foolish to those who hate us and to those who love us.
It occurs to me this morning that wherever I have gone in my elusive search for peace and place, I find outcroppings on the shores of rivers where small older women sit down with me and we both leave the conversation having cried and that’s all. I have reams of memories just like this, snapshots of peace in a place. This too is faithfulness, I remind myself.
Perhaps a life of faithfulness is one where we walk palms up, not necessarily rooted down. Perhaps a life of faithfulness is one where we rehearse, “Not my will but thine,” more than we claim “Mine! Mine!” Perhaps a life of faithfulness is one in which every step we take is over a threshold and not ever a home until that final home. I really don’t know. I am becoming more and more aware of all the things I do not know. I am going to the opposite of school, the unschool.
And with all this unschooling and unspooling, there is a spun web of pure beauty happening too. I sense it even if I can barely see it. I know there is poetry and suppers and campfires and the crisp scent of autumn and wet grass in the early morning. I know that place is coming, the threshold is being passed through, and home is heaven but a little bit of earth too. I know the mark of a Christian is faith and I know faith is one of the hardest things for most of us to have and the only way to have it is to have it, to walk right forward into it, palms up, to be so almost unsure about it that we hesitate to call it faith except we know God is in it. And then we walk into whatever God has next for us. That’s faithfulness, I think.