In the spiritual tradition of the Sioux Indians there is a saying, "The longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart." I've been thinking about this a good deal as we've prepared our July Sermon Series "Quest: Travel as a Spiritual Act". To be clear, travel does not require a trip around the world or even a cross-country jaunt. One can travel within one's own community, neighborhood, or even within the walls of a single room. Physical movement is not even required. The kind of travel that is a spiritual act navigates the route from head to heart.
Our early religious training teaches us about the stories of the Bible, the tenets of our faith, and many other things we need to "know" about God. In our Protestant tradition, there is great emphasis on the intersection of orthodoxy and orthopraxy - or more simply, correct thinking or believing and correct practice or conduct. These things are foundational to our faith; but/and, at some point, we must engage the rugged, wondrous and, at times, fearsome journey from head to heart. It is along this journey that diversity of life becomes the teacher
Is Mother the only cook? No, of course not. But that truth is a learning acquired only after we venture away from the kitchen of our childhood and sample the sustenance and scope of Creation. Just as what we adventurously consume may expand our physical experience, so too can our journeys (long and short) become metaphorical quests that alter and expand our awareness of God, our understanding of Self, and our relationship to the Creator and those whom we encounter. The journey from head to heart is not an intellectual exercise; it is a spiritual act and the work of a lifetime.
Eleven years ago I intentionally embarked on a quest: travel as a spiritual act. I was a single, childless, woefully overweight for reasons within my control, unhappy person. My 40th birthday was only weeks behind me, but the life before me felt devoid of...something. Meaning, purpose, presence? None of those answers felt right, and I couldn't think or plan my way to the right place. I needed to journey to my heart. Literal travel has always been my go to way of making that journey. So I gathered the bare essentials into a small backpack, arranged a month long spiritual formation leave from my congregation and booked a ticket without making any other reservations. Italy seemed a good destination, filled with opportunities to explore the evolution of the Church and eat my fill of handmade pasta and communion over fresh breads and local wines. Most importantly, it was new. For all my childhood and adult experiences living and traveling throughout the world, I'd never been to Italy. I needed a new vista. For three weeks I moved through the countryside from town to city and back again. I sat on a bench the base of Michelangeo's David for half a day - at one point a kind employee of the Accademi Gallery approached to ask if I was alright. "No," I answered, as I shook my head as if to also say it was okay. And then I added, "but I will be."
And I was. Before I flew home a few weeks later, I spent a couple of days in southern Italy with a man who had been a casual friend my last two years of high school, but whom I had not seen since 1988. He'd gone on to become a human rights lawyer with the United Nations and made a home in Italy. We talked one night on the terrace of his house and he'd asked me what it was I wanted. I remember my answers: to feel safe being vulnerable and authentic, to lead my church from a prophetic place not out of fear or need to please, to have a partner to share life with - to love and from whom to receive love, to be a mother, to lose weight. To be content at 40 and beyond. What is stopping you? he'd asked me. All of that is within your ability to co-create with the Universe (his term for my God) - just get your head out of the way and see what happens. In that moment I tasted the wonder of another mother's cooking, and by the time I was 45 everything was different.
And now everything feels threatened. I have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy over the last 8 weeks trying to think myself out of fear and anxiety and into what I want life to be. I'm not alone in that. It seems most of the world is engaged in trying to think, plan, order itself into something that feels more familiar, happier; and a fair number of good people are behaving badly out of frustration with it all. Families, workplaces, even churches aren't immune to it. The longest journey any of us makes is from our head to our heart.
I am on that journey once again. There is so much about what my family faces that I cannot change. There are realities about how the global pandemic has forever altered public and religious life I cannot control. Everyone is afraid. Everyone wants a fix, right now.
Yesterday I asked of a wise friend who has walked this road of caregiving before me, "How did you do it?" His reply, "practice what you preach." And he was right. So I invite you to join me in trying to get our head out of the way and live from our hearts so that we allow space for the Universe...for God Incarnate in Jesus Christ...to journey with us. When I consider my life, the history of the Church, the history of the world I remember that God has never failed us. The question is always this: will we embark on the journey from our heads to our hearts in order to be co-creators with God who is always bringing forth new life?
See you Sunday as we continue our Quest.
With much love always,
aka "The Vicar"