I love swings.
I love the free abandon of swings.
To swing, you can get a push here and there, you can have people help you along, as you begin and gain momentum, but at a certain point, there is only so much someone can push you, there is only so high you can go with a helpful hand at your back, and at that point, to go higher, you must take your own initiative, and push yourself.
Alternating your body in a sideways S in back fall, and a lengthened L in forward motion, you have to pump back and forth to be able to rise higher. But as you propel yourself through shifting your weight back and forth on the swing, you reach a higher point at each apex, until your eyes are beyond the level of the structure from which the swing hangs.
It becomes much more than a seat suspended on a rope or a chain. It is a way to glide, to test what it would feel like to fly, to feel temporary moments of utter weightlessness alternated with extra force on every limb, down to your core. The swing is a way to escape, for a moment, the normal way the world works, and feel the rise and fall of your new being, carried by the dynamic of back and forth, back and forth.
I remember having to wait in line for the swings, to take turns to be able to swing on them. It always seemed that the amount of time I was in the air was minuscule in relation to how long I saw others take their turns. I don’t think that whoever was mediating was being unfair, I believe that time on the swings changes. I think that time is different when you are going back and forth on the swings, time is different as you go from weightless to heavy and back. When we swing, we are different people. It sounds silly, of course, but many things that we do change us, and when we play we are especially changed.
When we play, we can take on other ideas, we can become other people, we can discover new things about the world and about ourselves. We grow, as we play.
I still love to play on the swings. I don’t do it as often as I could, the church where I serve has a set, and they are well sunk in the ground, so I can swing as high as I want without worrying about tipping out or over. And every so often, I do go out, taking my seat, beginning to push myself back and forth, back and forth, creating an ever widening arc, playing with the joy of a child as the cumulation of my years float away on the wind.
And I swing.
About three years ago I had surgery. My foot was unable to heal itself, so I had surgery to take out pieces that didn’t belong and pin new structures so that my foot would be aligned. The cuts were each two to three inches long, and deep enough to need staples and stitches. The incisions went all the way to the bones of my foot. Healing took a long time.
While I was healing from surgery and entering into the process of physical therapy, I was taught how to care for my scars. My incision that went clear to the bone had begun to heal. The scab healed over and I stopped being worried about the wound opening up. But the scars remained. In fact, the scar sank all the way to the bones of my foot. I had scar tissue half an inch thick and two to three inches long running along my foot. The only way to care for a scar like that is to rub it. you have to carefully massage the scar, reminding the layers of skin and muscle beneath the surface that they are different, and are not designed to be cast together.
This kind of re-memorization massage is not terribly pleasant. It hurts. The skin has to be pushed in opposite directions and rubbed in circles and told to figure out that it doesn’t need all that scar tissue that built up around it to protect it. The deep tissue massage is necessary for healing. If you don’t press and prod and provoke it, then the scar tissue will prohibit further growth.
The scar on the outside remains. I can still see the individual points where the staples held my skin together. But deeper, below the surface, I can feel the individual layers move in their own way, individually and separately.
The foot is all one part, it is held together by bones and sinews and muscles and skin, but the separate parts have returned to moving in synchronous motion and yet individual action.
Scars in the Body of Christ can be the same way. When the Body of Christ is hurt, we can be tempted to wrap up the wound and ignore it until it is fully scabbed and scarred over. Once the scar is formed, it is all too easy to declare that it is no longer in need of care, rather we choose to ignore the scar because it is not causing any direct pain. But when we ignore the scar, we let it continue to sink deep into the bones of the Church. If we apply any pressure, there is an instant reaction that causes us to jerk back and continue on a path that avoids any discomfort. When we ignore the scars deep in the folds of our lives the action of those parts of us that are wounded are limited and stilting.
With our scars sinking deep and hidden by the surface we can forget that we are in need of healing. Our scars serve as a reminder of pain, but also of healing.
Healing scars is hard work. It hurts and can interfere with our routine. However, if we ever want to heal, to become more whole, we must do the hard work of re-memorization.
When we look at the wilderness around us
and the turbulent waters before us
we see danger and destruction.
We recognize the call of the Israelites
as we desire the familiar
rather than the unknown.
You call us forward on a path that we cannot see.
Cleanse us from the mud of our sins
as we journey through the waters.
Shield us from distractions that pull us
away from your path of dry ground.
Be the pillar of cloud and fire that protects us.
Soften out hearts to trust in you.
As we walk through your grace
lead us into your way of life. Amen.
For those who are looking for last minute confessional liturgy for Exodus 15, the story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea (or Reed Sea, if you are a hebrew linguist).
When I am looking for a new idea or a new way to describe an old idea, I need to go away from where all the bustle is, and I need to go to find a bit of peace.
When I am struggling with feeling dry and complacent, I need to go somewhere to clear my head. Generally I can go for a walk close to my house, or if I need to I can go take a shower, something that gets my body moving and helps to work ideas to the surface. Or, if I need to, I go to practice centering prayer, where I lie still and allow my mind to open, relax, and release into the presence of God.
Sometimes I am not searching for inspiration as much as it is placed on me. When I go to the top of the mountain, or to the shore of the ocean, or even to the edge of the local creek, I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel. I become fully present.
It seems that the common thread in all of these places and situations of inspiration is the ability to become fully present in those places and in my own body. When I am at the edge of the ocean, I can taste the salt in the air, feel the sand under my feet, hear the waves crash against the shore, and see the water continue its endless and never replicating cycle of movement. I have no choice but to sense the place of where I am, and so stand more solidly in myself, rather than have my mind flit between a hundred different places and a thousand different thoughts.
It helps if I don’t have my phone on, tethering me to everyone who has my number. Sometimes I need to get away, and be where I am, rather than wondering or worrying about this friend or that family member. I need space to remember who I am, in my own skin. When I do that, I can more ably respond to others with grace and kindness.
When I know who I am, I am better at being who I am.
I guess, in a way, that I find inspiration in places that allow me to be myself at my fullest potential. When I am not able to be myself, I end up rehashing old ideas and lack the creativity that lies silent and deep in my core. I can grow crusty with old things, but when I crack the shell of routine I am able to do more than I could ever do before.
When I go to find inspiration, I find more than that. I find joy.
The beginning of this week was filled with rain. The rain fell for the entirety of Monday, reminding me of the Kenyan rainforest and camping as a child. We kept the windows open through the day as we took our Sabbath. For a while, it felt as though we were keeping a traditional Sabbath, because all the lights were off and we only used the ambient light from the cloudy sky.
The rain fell in gentle patterns and in furious downpours. The lightning filled the sky and the thunder shook the house to its bones. The sweet smell of washed soil filled our home.
God made mud in our yard. Rivulets cascaded through the moss and formed streams of water down past the foot of our house. Water swept the dry dust of the early summer away down to join the streams downhill.
The week has since warmed and brought sweltering heat and bright sunlight to the days since. But here in the midst of the south, in the midst of the harsh summer, we received a week of cool breezes and chilly nights to remind us of the spring that has passed and the autumn that is yet to come.
With the reminders of the gentle coolness of nights of soft breezes, God granted us a space to persevere through the stifling heat of the summer sun.
Sometimes it takes a storm for me to see the calm afterwards. Sometimes it takes a storm for me to learn that I need to take shelter and find a place to weather the storm. Sometimes it takes a storm for me to understand the wonder and awe that comes from experiencing God’s presence.
Sometimes it takes a storm to wash away the dust and form the mud that creates miracles.
Sometimes all I do is stand in the storm.
… … …
When I am in the midst of difficulties, it is hard to see the gleam of God’s good work when everything is coated in a film of dust. All I can see is the dust, the dirt, the demands and burdens of the daily drudgery. Life takes a paler view when all I see is the chores of the next day or week. There is a difference between hard work and work that is hard to do. A simple task can either be the work of a moment or the work of a day, depending on the way that the task is approached.
I love to be enmeshed in work that gives me life and calls my attention. I thrive when I can see the good that comes from what I do, even if it is elusive, ambiguous, or undefined. That kind of work gives me life and joy.
But there are other times when the work before me can seem simple as ever but is as hard as pushing a ever growing stone up a mountain. I become drained merely thinking about the task before me, even before I press my shoulder to the stone to begin the climb. That kind of work leaves me numb and weary.
On occasion, it is not the work itself but the environment surrounding me. If I need to push a boulder up a mountain, it is much easier to do if the ground is firm and solid rather than loose and slick. If I cannot find a place to put my foot to support myself, all I can do is slip and tumble down to the valley again, or scrabble at roots in the crumbling soil, hoping to keep from scattering my support like so many clods of clay.
Whatever the circumstance, the work remains, so I try to take small bits of it at a time, looking at the narrow individual task, rather than be overwhelmed by the scope of the work before me. This is easier said than done, of course. I prefer to look at the wide picture, see the broad scope before me, but looking over the whole journey can stall my action and keep me from attending to the present moment.
And so I trudge on, and hope that in my continuing tenacious determination I find a new place to gain a different perspective. The mud might stick to my boots and make them a few pounds heavier, but the weight does not keep me from moving forward. I look for a stream to wash my boots, or a solid place on which to rest for a while.
My endurance grows. I become stronger as I continue to tread the path before me. The stone may not be any lighter, but I learn a new way to carry it so that it doesn’t wear me out as much.
The miracle is that sooner or later I can put it down; I no longer have to carry it. At first, without the weight of it on my shoulders I feel off balance. I forget how I held my body without the tremendous extra weight upon me. As time goes on, and as I continue to move, I remember what it felt like to not carry a burden the size of a boulder. I learn to set my feet in a new way, different than before I picked up the stone, since now I have changed from my long journey. I have grown stronger, and my new strength grants me grace.
I wish that I didn’t have to go through the hard part of the journey. I wish that I didn’t have to carry a burden in order to learn how to be strong and graceful. I wish the mud could just stay by the riverbank and off of my boots.
But the journey isn’t just about the finish. The path twists and turns and makes switchbacks so that I can learn from where I have been and prepare for where I am going. The mud is a messy reminder of the creative work of God in the midst of the harshest circumstances.
And really, truly, my path is not just about me. It is also about the people around me: those who help me bear my burdens, those who need me to help them carry theirs, and those who walk alongside me. When I find folks who can journey with me, my burden is not as heavy, and the path is not as rough.
I keep my ears open, and my eyes wide, looking for people who help me in my journey. I try not to listen too deeply to the voices that say that I cannot do it, that I will fail at whatever I try. I pay attention to the markers on the trail, listening to my fellow journeyers so that I can continue on the right path. I find shelter from the storms. But occasionally, I’ll step into the downpour, because I know that it is good to be cleansed deep into the cracks and crevices of my soul.