It has been three weeks since my vacation ended. I was walking down the hallway the other day and saw Barb Cloud and she asked me how I was doing and I said, “Well, at last I feel really back.” And she said: “Back in the old ruts, right?” And we laughed.
I like to look at them as routines of work, patterns of behavior, paths of disciplines that keep my life ordered. Can’t always be on vacation – it is in the day-to-day of reality that life is lived, and faith is honed. But it is still good to get away.
Vacations are privileges: not everyone gets one, many cannot afford one – and I try to remind myself of that always when I am away. But I am not going to feel guilty – just want to be aware and use the privilege as a way of recommitment to my work and to you. As St. Paul writes. “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” Fair enough!
I have described the Mission Trip in D.C., mentioned the airport in Baltimore on the way to Minnesota. Allow me two related memories of the beach.
Jack and I had rented a surf fishing pole. One evening and one morning we took turns wading out into the surf and casting as far as we could a line weighted by a three pound weight and baited by the thawed frozen shrimp and pieces of fish from something we had earlier caught with the thawed frozen shrimp. The three pound weight keeps the line on the sand and the bait hangs suspended in the current. When we caught the stingray it was quite exciting; makes you wonder what else is in the ocean that you cannot see when you swim. As daughter Sarah said, “I am glad Shark Week (TBS series) was the week AFTER we got home from the beach!” It was sublime!
Later that day I took a walk on the sands beside the surf and entered another time of pure wistfulness, delight in the moment, peace – I felt the shoulders drop. It was a moment of freedom – everything was loose and suspended and I was present in the current of the moment.
I wasn’t worried about anything – what as happening at church…although I probably should have been. Poor Clover who, while I was enjoying my freedom, was facing several pastoral emergencies, a server breakdown, no printer, 100 degrees + temps, and no Lynda. Hopefully Clover will return from her vacation refreshed and ready to continue her excellence among us! I wasn’t anxious about the new program year starting, or the budget, or Jack heading off to college and finances – it was all good.
On that day I was walking with freedom on my mind. Christ set us free for freedom. And I was thinking about all the things that we sometimes are burdened by and want to be free from:
Free from sickness, and the routine of sickness; freedom from a horrible job or from a loveless marriage; freedom from oppression and servitude, freedom from poverty; freedom from worry, freedom from responsibilities; free from injustice and hate, free from partisan politics, from scarcity; Set free from the internal recorded messages of guilt and obligation and unworthiness; Set free from doubt and the constant cycles of elation and anxiety. What do you want to be free from?
I was thinking also about what we are set free for: We are set free to serve others, to give generously, to see the world not with eyes of suspicion but eyes of hope. We are set free to use all the abundant gifts, to walk lightly upon the earth, set free not to judge but to include, to welcome. Set free for risk, and love and joy and fellowship and work.
That sense of freedom from and freedom for, that sense of peace, which passes all our understanding, when you are in the midst of it, it is so precious.
Is there a way to create times of freedom and peace, bring a little piece of the vacation home? Because it is crucially important that you and I take mini-vacations in the midst of our routines. It is essential to your well being to create space for silence. For Jesus it was essential to go off to the hills and pray to God, his “abba,” daddy.
When all you do is go from one task to another – it is harmful to your health. Where there is no space, no time for prayer, no time for solitude to listen, to breathe, to get grounded, it is simply too easy to go off – in any which way.
As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland , “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” The Cheshire Cat responds, “Oh, you can’t help that…we’re all mad here!”
I feel this truth in my own life, I see it so often in so many lives – I don’t know where I am going, and so all the roads are options for going nowhere… and it feels like madness. But the freedom of Christ, the peace of Christ, that alignment with Christ that is ours will light the path and show the way… not into madness but into wholeness. But, you have to slow down in order to speed up. You need to pay attention, listen, stop, BE.
Even if you don’t get away to the beach, it is of fundamental importance for you to be equipped with the disciplines of vacation: vacating space to allow the Spirit of God to fill it, to stand free.
It is necessary for the most active activist, and social agitator, and profound prophet, and parent to make time to step away – for burn-out is very real, and when you are exhausted you are of no good to anyone. There is a reason why in an airplane they tell you to put on the oxygen mask before helping others. A person always on the go, always on the edge, does not compel others nearer, rather the opposite. The “energizer bunny” type is a pain in the rear!
As I was walking down the beach that day, feeling free and having my mind set on freedom an image of a bicycle wheel came to mind. I imagined myself as one of those little sticky dots placed on the outside of the tire. As the tire rotates my dot is swept along in a constant cycle of ups and downs. And I thought about my emotional and spiritual life and how often it is just a series of ups and downs, feeling elated and then depressed, at one moment passive and another aggressive; at times the initiator and at times the receiver. It reminded me that song from Mary Chapin Carpenter of several years ago entitled “Bug.” She sang, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you are the Louisville Slugger and sometimes you’re the ball…”
How in the midst of the ups and downs, the bats and the balls the windshields and bugs, do you keep your equilibrium, your sense of peace in the midst, the grounding that carries you through, the freedom in God to move, to hear “the still, small voice of calm?” Christ set you free for freedom and Paul reminds, “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The yoke of slavery include those habits that put you in cycles of instability.
Paul writes, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” So where do you sense the Spirit of the Lord? Are you making time to align yourself to the Spirit of the Lord? Are you listening to the Spirit of the Lord? Do you take time to breathe deeply, the Spirit of the Lord – whether you are on vacation or in the midst of your routines. You see, you have to search out the Spirit, create space for the Spirit, go on vacation each day.
As we head back to school, back to the autumn routines, back to the 11:00 worship – it is all going to heat up … and what are you going to do?
Cultivate space for the Spirit of the Lord – it may mean a walk every day. It may mean listening to peaceful music. It may mean an hour of reading. It may mean baking a loaf of bread. I hope it means a cultivation of a discipline of prayer – stop doing and just be….15 minutes a day of disciplined silence (10 minutes, 5 minutes, several deep breaths) of just being is a liberating routine; expecting nothing and living frugally on surprise!
The Psalmist knows: “Be still and know that I am God” (46:10). We live at our peril if we do not heed this wisdom. NOT because God is going to punish, but rather that you will not be ready to fully respond to the freedom of Christ if you are not cultivating freedom in yourself. You can’t bring harmony to the universe if you are not in harmony with your own being.
For people of faith there can be no real outward social justice and social equity and fairness without a corresponding inward peace, inward equilibrium, inward strength.
Think of that bicycle wheel again – with that dot on the outside edge of the tire. Imagine yourself removing it and placing that sticker on the hub where all the spokes come together in the center. You arrive at the same place but as the tire goes round and round, the center stays on a parallel path to the ground.
You and I need to cultivate the center – find the freedom and the peace so that we will be enabled to love powerfully and enter more fully into this world and actually have something to say, and something to give, and something to witness to: “that peace which passes all understanding,” a peace and a freedom that will draw others as a moth is drawn to a light.
It is there for you – you just have to vacate and create space, and bring a little “vacation” home.