Surprised by Life: Old First E-pistle 03.29.12

Surprised by Life: Old First E-pistle 03.29.12

There’s a phenomenon that continues to surprise me as much as it interests me: the disconnect between the trip and its completion. Or… how going some place is often not adequate preparation for arriving there!

In both literal and figurative terms, one can travel quite deliberately — for a real distance and a significant period of time — and still be unimaginably startled by one’s arrival: unprepared for what one encounters at one’s destination. Or even where one’s destination turns out to be.

I can think of a whole lot of examples from my own life. How after looking forward to my sabbatical away in Managua for so long, once I was there, I couldn’t quite believe it. Or the summer I spent in college, living in a rustic hut at the top of the Swiss Alps haying, milking cows and making cheese. I could add to my list, finding myself a father in my early 20s. Getting divorced. Or landing happily back in a parish when I was almost 50!

In the most physical instances of this phenomenon, it’s why I prefer long train trips to flying. The hours of rail travel– and the recurrent station stops being announced– help me stay in closer connection to where I am and where I am headed, geographically and emotionally. For me, boarding a plane in one place and next disembarking to a completely different location or even part of the globe — with only the hermetically-sealed timelessness above all recognizable landmarks passing in between — is too disorienting. If I have to fly, I don’t mind making connections and changing planes at intermediate airports. Even though almost indistinguishable, those airports create some inherent location- and progress-tracking.

Perhaps, this the source of my almost morbid curiosity about where life will lead. In early midlife (old enough for the dawning recognition of mortality!), it occurred to me that I had already “ended up” all sorts of places and had any number of experiences I neither expected, nor, quite honestly, arrived at on my own accord. In the face of this late 30‘s revelation, there arose, rather than a fear of powerlessness or a dread of not being in control, instead a longing and interest in finding out how my life was taking me. An appreciation of “the long and winding road!” Where WILL I end up?

Thank God, my approach to life is with an equanimity of faithful trust. (Or knock on wood, I’ve not yet known suffering I’ve found unbearable!) I do feel open to what lies ahead, even the surprises, knowing some of them will be less than happy.

What’s got me thinking of all this now? This holy season’s faith stories depict similar experiences:

The Israelites fleeing Egypt in hopes of the promised land. I asked in a sermon recently, “considering all the signs, wonders and miracles they passed through, what must the Israelites’ imaginations have been promising them?” But the escapees ended up, rather than immediately in any Promised Land, lost in the wilderness! I wonder if our Jewish neighbors are sometimes surprised, when Passover gets here, what it turns out to be really like?

Likewise, Jesus’ disciples who have been walking with him to Jerusalem. He’s been telling them what was going to happen. But all that last week long, they are totally surprised and often taken off guard by what occurs.

So too for us as we move into the final 8 holy days leading up to Easter. We’ve been attentive, trying to stay close to the holy story and strengthen our connections with Jesus all through Lent. And yet, the experiences and emotions of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter can surprise us just the same.

That’s what church is supposed to do: knock us a little off guard and undercut our self-assurance so we can be impressed by God’s grace… our eyes opened to a new day; our lives, to a new way.

Life’s sort of like that too, huh? And that’s what Resurrection is.

See you in church,


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