I’ve been home for 36 hours and still feel like my soul is away.
The children are back. The two weeks with their dad have come and gone. The trampoline is built in the backyard (my birthday gift), and as night fell like a cloak around us, the children jumped as if to reach the highest branch of the tree above it.
On Mackinac, I read Rev. Laurie Haller‘s book, Recess: Rediscovering Play and Purpose. She is a Methodist pastor who took a three-month renewal leave in 2001 to commune with God and recharge her ministry.
In short, she was burned out. So she left a huge congregation, three children, a husband, thanks to a generous grant, and communed with nature and the Lord away from home. What a gift that would be!
I can barely take a day to disengage from my career. And I feel it.
We work for a living because we have to sustain our lives. Many of us are fortunate enough to have work that is fulfilling, beautiful, inspiring. I am one of those. I seriously love my work and the people I work with and for.
And yet, when I look at the container of a single day, I see so many things smashed into its hours. The sunrise is never beautiful enough nor quiet enough because the moment I rise, I jump into the roles I play.
I strive to get work done quickly and efficiently so I can enjoy my life. But do I ever truly achieve that goal?
Spending a day with my children, I do enjoy life, but it’s always an orchestration. Do this, be here, go there, get it done.
This summer is the first summer I have no nanny. So my work time is to be done with the presence of children lurking in the corners (or sleeping late, two of them are teenagers, you know). Quick, finish, so we can play, says the voice in my head.
What the pastor in the book realizes when she disengages from her congregation, friends and family is that the world goes on without her. She realizes she has to completely empty in order to commune with God. To face her own shortcomings. To let go of control.
Early in her renewal leave, she realizes, “Every day should have action, prayer and reflection.”
She learns to fly fish and asserts, “It is people of passion who make the greatest difference in the world. They are so invested in what they are doing that God’s handiwork is written all over their lives.”
She quotes a book that talks about “the need for solitude, the importance of change in relationships and about how, in the midst of so much busy-ness, we need to discover who we truly are.”
I went on retreat. I led retreat, actually, but went away myself to do so.
I spent nearly a week on an island in Lake Huron in the north of this country, the cool summer wins blowing through my open windows day and night. Birds careened overhead. Insects abounded. The lake waters lapped continuously along their way, gentle and calm and also fervent in their mixing.
I respected the beauty all around me, knowing how permanent it was, just doing what it was meant to do, while I was the visitor. I sat in reverence for the joy of being able to retreat, being able to hold a space so sacred that others could find their beautiful voices.
I learned that we don’t listen nearly enough, nor well enough. As another person speaks, we are constantly poised to jump in with a response, another story to follow theirs, thinking we are adding when really, by not letting that person have their moment of spotlight, we are shrinking them to the brink.
“Everyone has a story,” Laurie Haller writes, “and it’s difficult to know how to help people if we don’t take time to listen to them. In a ministry of presence, words are not important.”
I learned that we are all so fragile, so vulnerable, needing desperately to be loved. All of us.
It is the rare person among us who stands proud and solid, confident and unaware of human frailty. Even those who seem to have it all so together, so solid, so inspiring, they quake under their own inner voice, their own worries and insecurities.
When I was 22, I traveled to Ireland to visit my friend Catherine. I arrived on Good Friday, a Jewish girl from the Midwest in a Catholic country on one of the holiest days of the year…for them.
I joined the McBrierty family in their church for a Taize service that Friday. Candles flickered on every surface. Quiet strains of beautiful repetitive music played again and again. Few words were said. We sat in contemplation.
When I returned home, I wrote an article about finding inspiration, connection, community in this Taize service in a Catholic church far from my Reform Jewish roots, and that was the beginning of my journey of realizing, and recording, that we are all the same. We care about, believe, and worship in such similar ways; from the heart, we are all saying the same thing, just in slightly different ways.
That has been my life’s purpose. I write to make sense of the world, to have a conversation with you, to not feel quite so alone.
Laurie Haller says, “Most of the time we are not aware of our loneliness…It is only when we embrace the ‘absolute truth’ of our aloneness that we realize we are not truly alone.”
We must face the silence and let it reflect back to us before we can inhabit confidence.
On the retreat, a glorious a woman asked for time alone with me to discuss possibilities for her own writing. We sat outside a waterside cafe. A sleek mink scuttled by under the tree. When it began to rain in big drops, we went inside to sit at a dry table, overlooking the water.
At the end of our meeting, she reached into her bag and gave me a gift. It was a candle labeled “confidence.” She thanked me for helping her find her own confidence over the last year of her renewal leave, which began with my 2014 writing retreat, and included many stops along the way of her own journey, culminating in my 2015 writing retreat.
This woman found her voice and she thanked me for helping her. I thank her for giving me the gift of her presence to find my own.
When we realize our inherent aloneness, we can then begin to open our arms to embrace the community around us. Sometimes it is surprising in its inhabitants. The people whose faces we thought we would see beaming back at us are replaced with new soul sisters and brothers who are gorgeous gifts at this point in life.
Life is a true gift. It is a journey and a challenge. We have one chance at it. The goal is to become who we are meant to be.