One day in seminary, I was lamenting to a friend, Asha – praise, petition, lament, we do a lot of that sort of thing in seminary – about my ill-spent youth and how I regretted being so fat and having been so sexually active when I was younger and having such money problems and still not understanding what it meant to “be an adult.” (Or as we might say now, “to adult.”)
She stopped me in my tracks.
She told me it sounded like I was saying I had to attain some status of virtue or experience or way of being that was other from the way I was—and am—in the world before I could move forward into the work God was calling me to. She said, “God didn’t call some slim Catharine. God called you. Just like God didn’t call Asha who wasn’t a mom. God’s calling me.”
Now, that might not be language you’re using, and that’s fine.
The point, as Asha got to, was that our whole lives point toward the moment we’re in now. Everything that has ever happened to us has led to this moment.
Even if we’re not sure what “this place” is or what we’re doing here or where we’re going, we are not alone. Not only are we accompanied by our own pasts, our own failures and shortcomings, our own hearts…
Not only are we accompanied by those who know and love us even though we are flawed and have sometimes had to feel our ways through, when we could not perceive what our next move should be…
Not only are we accompanied by the other creatures, from persistent viruses to the great blue whale, who share this gorgeous planet with us…
We are accompanied by the very Spirit that gives life to all of that. We are accompanied by the Source –that is, it is always available – of Love that always has more and more and more for us.
But if you’ve been around for a while, you’ve heard me say these things.
You’ve heard me talk about how we are all part of the Big Picture. How we are linked in beautiful chains of light and energy to all other things, an inexpressible, impossibly complex web; you’ve heard it all before.
I am still fat. And nowadays I have mobility challenges to boot, things I’m shy about, ways that make being in public really hard to manage, physically and emotionally hard.
I still find money hard to manage. I still want to spend money when I want to spend money! Darn it, money may not buy happiness, but sometimes I think if I just had one more bottle of pretty ink for my fountain pens…
I’m snippy. I’m defensive. I’m moody. I forget things – boy, howdy, do I forget things! – and I lose things (which is really just forgetting where they are).
But see, what Asha said to me is that all of that, all of every single little thing – every slight I have endured, every time I have been unkind, every unloving thing I have ever done, every way I have not taken care – these are as much a part of me as the rest.
And all of it, all of it, she said, is part of my testimony.
Our testimony is simply the story of how we came to understand ourselves in relationship with the Source of Love. How did I get here? What am I doing now? How am I striving and failing and trying again?
Testimony is no less than the story of your life, with all its confusions and mistakes and glories and delights.
And it is the story of a call. A call to be exactly yourself. Not to wait until you’re some kind of perfect version of an imagined self. But the self you are. And even the self you have been, you know that one you don’t really want people to know about?
The saying from Frederich Beuchner, so often repeated among vocation directors and ministers and seminary professors is that our vocation, our call, what we are alluringly drawn to be in this world is just this: Where our own deep joy meets the needs of the world.
It’s not that we have to tackle every single need of the world. We don’t have to have a savior complex. It’s not all ours to be. It’s also what brings us deep joy. And that deep joy comes from knowing ourselves well, from understanding our own joys and sorrows, what our secret happinesses and hopes are.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,”
Those lines of Mary Oliver’s stay with me. Whoever you are. Not the perfect version you find yourself hoping or waiting for. You have a work to do in this world, a beingness that is yours and yours alone, and you may see it reflected in the world around you, in the world with all its “forms most beautiful,” offering itself to you and your discerning mind.
Blessings to you and to your testimony, my loves. And may the days of the ancestors have been good to you –
PS – Oh! Before I forget! (Remember, I said I forget things!) December 14th, that Saturday before the winter solstice, we will observe the fifth annual Going into the Dark event. There is an Early Bird bonus for signing up on the front end, and I think we’re going to have a tremendous group this year! So check out the Going into the Dark registration link, or the email you got from me last week, and let’s get ready for the close and holy darkness!