As I teeter on the edge of this threshold, preparing to step into something that remains unclear and uncertain, Richard Rohr’s daily reflection speaks to my heart. Just as so many of them have these past several weeks, reflecting on liminal space and trust.
Röhr says, faith is “the ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover…
“It’s a process we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow.”
Not so easy when the river is dense with fog. You are listening within and believe you are following your heart, but you’re a bit anxious of what’s in front of you. Like Röhr says, “That takes an immense confidence in God.”
Since I arrived in San Antonio I certainly have been refining that faith and confidence, along with a deeper trust in my inner knowing. I have learned — with slowly improving skill — to hold “a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension.”
It’s all part of the adventure. Of the journey of realizing a personal calling. And of realizing that “the river is God’s providential love.”
As I prepare to move on, I’d like to share images from my favorite places in San Antonio: Brackenridge and Woodlawn parks and the grounds of the Oblate School of Theology.
Faced with loud, unfamiliar noises, our imagination tends to leap into action. That’s what happened to my friend Nina.
Nina’s probably one of the funniest people and greatest storytellers I know. She’s got that Erma Bombeck kind of humor. For those too young to remember, Erma penned a funny newspaper column about suburban family life for about 30 decades, until the late 1990s. Like Erma, my friend Nina could easily be writing her own column. Lucky for me, Nina’s been supporting my journey by regularly sending along humorous emails about life back in Virginia.
But this week Nina’s intended humor turned into a different kind of — and unexpected — gift.
In her email update, she joked about how her hearing has been declining. My hearing has been declining, too, so I can relate, even though Nina’s quite a bit younger than I am. I guess that encouraged me in a weird kind of way. So, right away she peaked my interest.
“My hearing is shot,” Nina writes.
“It’s been a steady decline for 15 years. However, I REALLY thought I was ‘hearing things’ yesterday. Is it my heartbeat? Is the ringing in my ears getting worse? Am I now schizophrenic? Because I HEAR noises that are SO LOUD?”
As would happen with most of us at this point, her imagination has kicked in.
“What did I do yesterday to worsen the condition?” she muses. “Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that cheese enchilada at El Agave!!!!”
She is obviously baffled, and maybe just a tad anxious. Yet Nina ventures outside to her porch, where she is bombarded by this unidentifiable, VERY LOUD NOISE!
Thousands of swallows have alighted on the trees in her backyard. Nina relaxes and watches as the birds fly together from tree to tree, casting shadows over branches and earth. In the process, they create magnificent hues of darkness and light, like figures dancing across the sun.
“It was a little gift to me,” Nina writes.
And a very special gift to me. Because by the time I got to the end of her story, I was smiling.
Not because she had made me laugh. It was much more than that.
Those birds in flight represented a powerful metaphor: my own freedom.
Not simply because the image of birds flying symbolizes freedom. What really struck me was how the sound they had created was initially unfamiliar and somewhat scary.
Just like in my own life.
Here I am at another crossroads. With another decision to make. In about one week’s time. Living in liminal space can definitely create a little angst. And possibly lead to more risk-taking as I try to listen more deeply and follow my heart.
As a wise friend assured me, the risk involved is a small price to pay for the freedom of following our bliss.
The freedom to be who we truly are.
The freedom to live from our deepest self.
The freedom to create from a place of vulnerability and compassion.
Sometimes we can be surprised by the sound freedom makes. But if we are willing to venture out and follow the source, we may discover something breathtakingly beautiful.
Sometimes good friends remind us of what we love most. They help us get back on track. Regain focus. Most importantly, knowing us as they do, they can help reignite our passion.
That’s what my dear friend Margaret did for me recently when she connected me with her longtime friends in Austin. Many years ago she and her husband Rich were part of a close-knit, socially conscious group of friends living in Austin that came together for one purpose: to serve the poor and marginalized in society.
Now these friends were hosting the national gathering of U.S./El Salvador Sister Cities — a grassroots organization that works in partnership with rural communities in El Salvador. Knowing my interest in social justice and immigration issues, as well as my pull to Latin America, Margaret, who now lives in Arkansas, thought I’d be interested. I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
It was just what I needed.
As I listened to speakers from various U.S. states and El Salvadoran communities share stories of their efforts to support sustainable communities, conduct anti-mining campaigns to stop corporations from pursuing mining projects that destroy the environment, and protect human rights, I knew. This is where I belong.
In the middle of my note taking I wrote: “I have a passion for this!”
I realized that this is what speaks to my heart. I also realized how far away I feel from what initially got me started on this journey of the heart.
Trying to make myself fit into this ministry I’ve been assigned to in San Antonio isn’t working. It’s clear. My heart’s not in it.
During these nearly three months I’ve asked God what I need to learn in this. I’ve waited. I’ve listened within. I’ve come up against some tough stuff both inwardly and outwardly. And I’ve been learning.
So, now what?
Possibly another assignment here with the same missionary program, but with a different focus, using my writing skills.
Possibly pursue something elsewhere. Like El Paso.
I don’t know. I do know I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I found that voice in El Paso. Maybe because that’s where I found my passion too.
In less than two weeks I will need to move. One way or the other. And I don’t know where I’m going. But I feel amazingly calm, especially for someone who has spent a great deal of her life worrying. Just ask my son.
Maybe that’s because deep within my inner being there’s a greater wisdom that knows this is just another step. Another risk to be taken. On the journey to fulfilling my passion and longing for my true Source.
Sometimes that’s life’s challenge. To recognize the beauty, the sacredness, the God that is right in front of me. Has always been there. In everything. Waiting for me to notice.
Not so easy to do when the rough road blurs my vision and makes me turn inward with questions that get me stuck in my mind. Getting lost in thought puts me in a trance that prevents me from being present. Present to what’s right in front of me.
That had been happening quite a bit as I faced some tough questions and hard situations in what feels like an in-between place to somewhere else.
But a wise Sister who has been accompanying me as my spiritual companion while I’m in San Antonio helped wake me up. She did it by asking an odd question.
“Why did Jesus wait 31 years before showing up on the scene to begin his ministry?,” Sr. Brigid asked me. “What was he doing all that time?”
I had to admit I didn’t know. Nothing in Scripture I’d read ever mentioned those years between the 12-year-old Jesus who worried the heck out of his parents by staying behind in the temple to chat it up with the elders and the 31-year-old who showed up on the banks of the Jordan asking his wild-eyed cousin John to baptize him.
Sister Brigid reminded me that Scripture simply says of that time, “he grew in wisdom, age, and grace.”
Quite ordinary. Or was it?
Then she shared that “ordinary time” is her favorite liturgical season in the Church year. And that she has found it can be quite extraordinary. She suggested that I, too, begin to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary of every day living. Which is what I have been doing as I hang out in liminal space.
I have no clue how much longer I will be here. But in the process I like to think that I’ve been growing in wisdom and grace. (The growing in age part goes without saying.) I’ve certainly learned even more about the word “surrender.”
There’s a kind of calmness that comes with surrendering. With nothing left to control, you simply let go in trust. You begin to pay attention more. And you notice the beauty, the sacredness, the God that is right here…in ordinary time.
These are some of the images I’ve captured since I’ve been paying attention.
Uninterrupted sleep has become a luxury. Not that I’m a new mom or pregnant, having to wake every few hours to feed a baby or pee because of the little life growing within me. But something is growing within. Moving and stirring and calling to me.
And waking me up in the process. Whether it’s vivid dreams or the constant questioning of why I am here that jolt me into consciousness, either way, I’ve not slept well since arriving in San Antonio two months ago.
This morning I awoke at 5 a.m. and found this quote from spiritual writer Norvene Vest waiting for me in my daily reflection:
“Not only we ourselves desire life in abundance; God desires it for us as well. Not only must our eyes and ears be attentive; God’s ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ are always attentive to us…. God does not wait for us to puzzle out the way of life; God rushes in before the soul finishes its prayer to show us the way. And the way is to rejoice in this constant, loving Presence.”
Well, that’s certainly true.
I haven’t exactly “puzzled out the way” in this situation in which I find myself. Believe me, I’ve tried. Asked the tough questions and often wondered if I should move on from here. And my soul certainly hasn’t finished its prayer for guidance and clarity in this matter.
I do know that “life in abundance” is God’s desire for us. It’s not only possible, but promised. As Jesus said, “I have come to give you life, life in abundance.”
Such abundance brings joy. So, if I’m not experiencing that here, what’s missing?
I’ve discovered this is not about what’s missing. It’s more about what’s blocking.
And that, I believe, is what this experience in San Antonio is really all about — healing these blockages I’ve created over time that prevent the light of God’s Loving Presence to really shine through me.
Whether these blocks were created by past memories and their resulting defenses, my ego’s way of protecting itself, or some misconceptions, fears, or erroneous beliefs I inherited doesn’t matter. All of them keep me from realizing the truth of who I am, of the divine light that shines within me.
To heal these blocks, it seems that I have unconsciously created “the perfect storm.”
The perfect place in which to surrender. Because I’ve put myself in a situation where I have none of my usual supports, securities, structures to fall back on. I’ve given up family, friends, church community, spiritual friends, my faithful dog, work and income, all to be here — where absolutely nothing seems to be under my control.
And this is exactly where I need to be. Apparently.
Today one of the sisters I’ve befriended gave me a poem she wrote based on the Hawaiian Ho’oponopono prayer. It’s funny how sometimes Spirit fits the pieces of the puzzle together without us having to exert so much effort. Here’s an excerpt:
“Keep cleaning the glass Meet every memory or unpleasant ‘now’ With the truth of My Presence to heal it. Do not be afraid I am with you. I shine through you. You must keep yourself clear… Keep clearing out the data Of past memories or of present evils. Say to them all: ‘I am sorry… Please forgive me…I love you… Thank you.’ And live in JOY A joy no one can take from you. (By Alice Holden)
Oh, but getting that glass clean isn’t easy. It’s going to take some painful scrubbing.
And I’ve got to be willing to pass through this storm. Get out of the boat and step into the middle of the squalls. Feel the rush of wind pelt my face. Feel the fear. The pain. And whatever else surges up in the process.
Because, in the end, I know this is my true longing. It’s not really about where I serve or with whom. Ultimately, it’s about healing so that I can become one with this Love that calls me out of darkness, right into the promised abundance awaiting me. It’s about letting the Presence flow through me “as light through clear glass.”
There’s nothing easy about the passage. But I don’t want to turn back.