Gifts and the Journey Ahead

Gifts and the Journey Ahead

GIFTS AND THE JOURNEY AHEAD

I haven’t written here in a while—primarily because most of my thoughts are questions and I feel like I have little of substance to say. Nevertheless, I wanted to take a moment share two writings that have been helpful for me personally as I’ve navigated through similar spaces of unkowning and times of questioning.

These folks have said what I want to say better than I could say it, so I’ll just let them do the saying.

A Gift
by Denise Levertov

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

 

From David Hayward’s “Questions Are the Answer”

 

Henri Nouwen On Entering the New Country
From “Inner Voice of Love”

“You have an idea of what the new country looks like. Still, you are very much at home, although not truly at peace, in the old country. You know the ways of the old country, its joys and pains, its happy and sad moments. You have spent most of your days there. Even though you know that you have not found there what your heart most desires, you remain quite attached to it. It has become part of your very bones.

Now you have come to realize that you must leave it and enter the new country, where your Beloved dwells. You know that what helped and guided you in the old country no longer works, but what else do you have to go by? You are being asked to trust that you will find what you need in the new country. That requires death of what has become so precious to you: influence, success, yes, even affection and praise.

Trust is so hard, since you have nothing to fall back on . Still, trust is what is essential. The new country is where you are called to go, and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.

It seems that you keep crossing and recrossing the border. For a while, you experience a real joy in the new country. But then you feel afraid and start longing again for all you left behind, so you go back to the old country. To your dismay, you discover that the old country has lost its charm. Risk a few more steps into the new country, trusting that each time you enter it, you will feel more comfortable and be able to stay longer.”

What do you think? Do these passages connect with you? How so? I welcome your thoughts below—or send me a note!

7 Comments

  • Lesley-Anne Evans

    March 14, 2017 at 12:04 pm Reply

    Dear quiet one, yes…and yes. The resonance with your heart thoughts are also held in mine. I just took a little reflective journey through the past 3 years of my life, wrote down what I could recall as the various vague points of departure for me, and yet still so much mystery. I too am wandering, and I don’t know if I have arrived in the new country but see it in the distance and walk toward it, most days. A new language is spoken there, I have heard it. And a new culture that draws me while causing trepidation within. But I travel on because I could no longer stay. The Levertov poem is also my experience as I’ve found myself with fellow travellers who offer their questions to me and I have nothing to say…I used to have a lot to say. So we go on, together in our wondering. Thank you for directing me to these writings today. They are, as you are, a gift.

    • Lance Baker

      March 14, 2017 at 12:37 pm Reply

      Hi Lesley-Anne, this is such a beautifully written response. “A new language is spoken there, I have heard it. And a new culture that draws me while causing trepidation within. But I travel on because I could no longer stay.” I love that. It really resonates with me.

      I’ve been undergoing training as a spiritual director and it has been teaching me to receive other’s questions as gifts—letting go of the need to say something. Part of it is a discipline (to not fill empty space with words but to allow the silence to do the heavy lifting) and it is also me coming to the realization that I don’t have all that much to say anyway. We all have to walk our own journey. It’s great to have company of course, but no one can take our steps for us.

      So yes, we go on together in our wondering.

      • Lesley-Anne Evans

        March 16, 2017 at 3:39 pm Reply

        Ah…spiritual direction…wow…I too have discovered that gift in my life, both as a recipient of it for the past 3 years, and the training in it, just in the initial steps. I am deeply drawn to where creativity and spiritual formation converge…and I do not yet know what it means. Take care.

  • PAULETTE

    March 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm Reply

    Yes, Yes. Oh, my. In a lectio divina session just yesterday our verse caused us to ponder with each other about home, real home. Henri really captures the tenuous flavor of longing for the real home (that other country) and not able to feel settled anywhere yet. I suppose Jesus felt that way during his years of ministry, longing to return home, a place where his human side had not yet experienced. He knows how we feel.

    • Lance Baker

      March 14, 2017 at 5:39 pm Reply

      My wife and I lived in central Vietnam for two years and that experience was a very literal experience of the internal experience that Nouwen describes in this passage. When we arrived everything was new. We were welcomed and hosted with the most gracious hospitality and tried as best as we could to learn the language and live in harmony with the culture—but we were always aware of the fact that we were foreigners living in a foreign land.

      We expected that much, but what we were less prepared for was the return to our homeland and the discovery that it no longer felt like home—and it still doesn’t. Home has become something in-between.

      It makes me think of unpacking a carefully packed box that contains pieces of furniture needing to be assembled. Once you take everything out it is almost impossible to put it all back in again in the same way—you just have to commit to the building process.

  • Adam Ormord

    March 16, 2017 at 2:13 pm Reply

    Just this morning I was trying to articulate this feeling I have of being in “no man’s land.” Nouwen’s words ring too true: “That requires death of what has become so precious to you: influence, success, yes, even affection and praise.” This “death” is a slow and painful process.

    • Lance Baker

      March 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm Reply

      Adam, as I read your comment I was reminded of a quote that I believe comes out of the Zen tradition:

      “At first the river is a river and the mountain is mountain. And then the river is no l longer a river and the mountain is no longer a mountain. And then later the river is a river again and the mountain is a mountain again.”

      Personally, I’ve found myself in the second sentence of that quote a lot these days…hoping to someday arrive at the third.

      Also, I think this same line of thought is captured in this great animation of the hero’s journey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhk4N9A0oCA

      I’m particularly drawn to the the “ordinary” that brackets no man’s land in the animation. Sometimes we go through so much only to rediscover what had been there all along—but it is somehow different because we are different. And there aren’t any shortcuts. We cannot rediscover what has been there all along without the journey. The journey is what transforms us. We think we just want to know the answers or to arrive in the new country, but even if we were given the answers or provided permanent access to the new country we probably would reject it because we haven’t been transformed into the person who could accept the answers or who could tolerate the new country.

      So my current thought process is this: We put one foot in front of the other and stay the course—trusting not so much in the destination but in the journey itself. The ends will take care of themselves as we tend to the means.

Leave a Reply