As I was finishing my walk last Saturday morning, a skywriter was creating a message over my neighborhood. I’d never seen this happen in the moment, so I stopped and snapped photos.
It was a breezy day, so by the time the pilot got a word completely spelled out, the letters at the beginning had faded into unintelligible wisps of vapor.
In order to understand what he was writing, you needed to have seen the whole thing from the beginning.
You had to be there.
It isn’t just showing up at a certain place at a certain time a la “Be there or be square”; there’s more involved than putting in an appearance or cruising through.
It sounds deceptively simple. In practice, it’s anything but.
Especially when life lands us in places we don’t want to be anyway: stuck in traffic. Sitting in the dentist’s chair. In the middle of conflict, financial difficulties; mired in uncertainty. When our health is failing; when we’re running on empty; short on hope. All those times when it hurts too much. Walking the valley of the shadow after losing someone we love.
It’s tempting to skip over, tiptoe around, ignore, deny, run away. To really be there – to be fully present – requires us to acknowledge, to engage, to stick around.
And it isn’t a one-and-done deal.
Life does not move in an incremental, linear fashion from 1 to 100 or A to Z. It travels at its own pace, in its own time, spiraling around and circling back, rewinding, revisiting, as it (eventually) moves forward. And – for me – the uncharted ups and downs and triggers of grief add complications that can be excruciating at times.
“This? Again?!? I’ve been there. I’ve done that. How long, O Lord?!?!?!?!?!?
Covering ground I’ve been over before used to leave me frustrated and feeling like a failure – that I just didn’t get it, and perhaps never would. Otherwise, why did I go through the same things over and over and over again?
My reading this week says otherwise.
The Hidden Life Awakened, the chronicle of Betty Walthour Skinner’s spiritual journey from brokenness to wholeness, notes that “nothing is wasted or beyond God’s healing touch. Everything has Divine purpose.” The focus of the Holy One “is never on our failures, but on our potential for love, truth, trust, and wholeness.”
All the spiraling back and revisiting doesn’t mean I’m incompetent and unteachable. In fact, the opposite is true: it means I am absolutely capable of digging deeper, gaining wisdom, and there is more to learn here.
What is needed when those been-there-done-that circumstances and feelings arise yet again is not for me to berate myself over what I didn’t do, or what wasn’t or isn’t, but to be there – fully engaged and present to what is.
To pay attention to what I see and feel, to sit with what I find, to allow it to instruct, to prod, to feed, to minister to who I am, where I am, so I can continue to become who I was created to be - my most authentic self.
It is opportunity; invitation.
“You take delight, O Radiant One, in gracing me with new life!
O, Beloved, come and renew me!
Let me face my weaknesses and all that confuses me, that keeps me from joy!
O Beloved, come and renew me!”
Psalm 70, Psalms for Praying