My wife and I got away for a couple days, and it was good to have a break from everything. Well, there was a break from everything except the traffic, which occupied my attention going away, and then again coming home. Being there was nice. The traveling left something to be desired.
But, the traveling is essential. We couldn’t get there without the traveling. So, why was I so un-attuned to that part of the trip, other than being attuned to the difficulties of traffic?
When we think about air travel, we tend to focus on crowded planes (I have never flown 1st Class), on TSA lines that sometimes are long and slow-moving, and on the food that costs too much on many airlines.
But I remember air travel as a teenager. It was new to me. Some of it was new period. I actually got to fly in a 747 within the first month that they were part of the fleet of whatever airline it was that we flew. Of course, back then the airlines all served food, full meals, and while many people complained about the food, I looked upon it as part of the great adventure.
Now to be sure, times have changed and there are certainly challenges today that didn’t exist when I was a teenager. And yet, why can’t I live the adventure of travel like I did back then? The seats may be smaller, but even if they are the same size, I am larger, and that makes things a much tighter fit. But still, even in a middle seat, with nothing more than some peanuts and a complimentary drink, I am sitting there while being at an altitude of approximately 37,000 feet. How amazing is that? How can the marvel and mystery of that elude me? Well, truly, only if I allow it to leave me cold and indifferent to the whole venture.
And there is a lesson here for me, in ways much bigger than driving in traffic or flying in an over-crowded jet. For while we may want to just get there – wherever there is – whatever status or achievement or position it is that we are striving toward – the journey to there is often more important than the destination itself.
People have said this before. I have heard it before. It is not new, and yet it is something that I need to remind myself of on a more frequent basis. Focusing on a goal is fine, but if we do not fully engage in the journey, even relish the journey, how wonderful is the goal, really?
So, I am going to re-discover the joy in driving, even in traffic. And, I am going to make sure that I am enjoying the daily journey of life, wherever I am headed.
I wonder if God ever dreamt that sacred texts would be used by people in the ways that they are so often used. It doesn’t matter whether it is the sacred Hebrew texts, or the Christian texts, or the Muslim texts, or those texts of any of the many other groups and religions. I wonder if God ever imagined that these texts would be used to promote judgment, hatred, discrimination, murder, slavery, anti-Semitism, and a host of other awful things that God, at least the God I know and relate to, would never sanction.
I know that for some people, God literally wrote these scriptures. For some others, God certainly inspired the writings. For still others, the sacred texts are the product of human beings who tried to understand God, and told the stories and laid out the laws and guidelines for living as they understood them, in relation to the ways in which they understood God.
When I grew up, I remember thinking that the first of those three propositions was true. Then I gravitated toward the second option. As I studied more, in seminary and beyond, I moved pretty much into the third category. And now, I sometimes wonder if God had anything to do with certain portions of the scriptures, at least with portions of those texts with which I am most familiar, those being from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
I do however think that the author of 1 John, in the Christian scriptures, captured some certain truth when he or she wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8 NRSV)
“Let us love one another.” Jesus of course also said that.
There are, though, often questions about what Jesus actually said. After all, things were written down long after he died and was resurrected. I am not a scholar in this area, although I have read some of the scholarly opinions on such things. But one of the criteria I use in determining the authenticity of a saying of Jesus for me, is that the harder it is for me to live out that particular teaching of his, the more authentic it is. “Love one another.” That is often a challenge. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” An even greater challenge. This is certainly a somewhat subjective criterion, but if it leads me into loving others, even loving enemies, then I feel it has put me on track with where Jesus is wanting me to go.
You likely have your own criteria for making such determinations, for deciding what God would really want you to do. Those guidelines emerge out of your own searching, out of your times of prayer and meditation. And, such personal reflection is critical.
However, the next time you are engaging with the sacred texts of your tradition, ask yourself, “Is what is written really reflective of who God is, and what God asks of us?” The answer to that question may make all the difference in the world.
Many years ago I attended a workshop about storytelling. The leader of the workshop had spent many years learning stories, primarily folk tales, and had in the process made them his own. After I had returned home from the workshop, I went about learning a couple of the stories that he had shared. I worked at learning them well, and I shared them in worship settings. It was a challenging but also a fun process. And yet, even though I had learned and told the stories, I knew that they were not mine in the way that they were a part of the storyteller who led the workshop.
That storyteller had become a part of the stories, just as they had become a part of him. And in those qualities lay the great power of the experience, for him and for his listeners.
We don’t usually tell too many folk tales today, but I listen and watch for some of those same storytelling qualities in movies, on television, and in theatre. Actors and actresses sometimes so embody the characters they are portraying that we walk away knowing that we have encountered that character and the actor or actress has been lost to view. At other times, of course, either the characters or those portraying them are uninspired, and we notice the difference.
But the life of the characters begins with the writer or writers who bring them into existence and fill them with life. Those writers who are truly accomplished do that with such skill that we sometimes know the characters better than we know ourselves, for we have been invited into their lives and we feel a part of them.
Yet, we each have one character who has been entrusted to us to develop and fill with life, and that is our self. We are the weavers of our own story. We are the ones who choose daily how life will unfold for our self, how obstacles will be approached, how joys will be celebrated. If we are honest with our self, we can open up the depth of our being so as to share it with others and to honor it fully by living life fully.
And, just as the most creative writers catch our attention and enfold us into their stories, so too our own creativity will bring richness and joy to the story that we are weaving. May we each use every ounce of creativity that we have within us in order that we might develop an amazing story, and a story that invites others into discovery as well.
The book club at my church just finished reading a biography about Marie Curie, most often known as Madame Curie. The book was entitled, Obsessive Genius. It was written by an historian, who researched Marie’s life in depth, which including being granted access to family papers that most people would not be able to read for themselves.
There was another, longer biography, written by Marie’s younger daughter, Eve, that we could have chosen, but we went with the one mentioned above. I imagine that the one written by Eve Curie has a rather different perspective than the one that we read, quite possibly a much more personally involved look at the life of Madame Curie.
That is one of the things that is interesting about biographies in general. They not only tell the story of a person’s life, but they reflect choices and biases of an author, if in no other way than by what the author chooses to include and what he or she chooses to leave unsaid.
Even autobiographies are open to such biases. After all, such works are a compendium of experiences, interpretations, relationships and an outlook on life. But in no case will every moment of every day be included. None of us would want to read something that exhaustive, nor, if we were the writer, would we want to dwell in such exhausting detail. But, if we were to write down our own story, we too would make choices about what to include and what to omit.
That all being said, reading biographies becomes, I believe, an excursion not only into the life story of another person, but also an examination of our own priorities, biases and dreams.
As I read Obsessive Genius, I was struck by several themes that ran through the life of Marie Curie. One of those themes, reflected in the title of the book, was her apparently obsessive nature about her work. She was driven, such that she often ate little, didn’t take care of herself as she might have, and even neglected her children. She worked tirelessly, with great commitment and energy, to accomplish the work that she saw before her.
As I read of this, which was a consistent part of her life, I thought about my own commitment to my work, and to other things in my life. Though I don’t choose to be obsessive like she was, I have to ask myself about my level of commitment to various parts of my life. Do I give my all to fulfill my calling, to love my wife, to nurture relationships with family and friends, to pursue a love of writing, to do all the things that I want and need to do? Am I committed to these people and projects? Do I give my energy, and feel energized by doing so?
Those are my questions, prompted by this one biography alone. As I read another biography, it will, I am sure, lead me into more introspection. And that is a gift, for we are truly all connected to one another, in more ways than we realize or expect.
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