When I decided that Sundays in Lent were the only days I would write here on my personal blog, I thought I was giving myself a break. I’m still writing every day, but during Lent this year, I’m writing daily on the faith formation blog for my church. That’s new. This blog…small points of light…started in Lent, and it has been my safe space for several years of Lenten reflections, during what has been a particularly growth-filled time of my spiritual journey. I’m still keeping the discipline of daily writing, but I am becoming aware that the experience is different when I’m doing it intentionally for others. It’s still “me” of course, but it’s different to write as a member of an existing community instead of an individual. So, we’re three weeks in and I have a confession: moving away from this particular writing space is harder than I realized. I realize this personal blog space is a home that I have built, and I find myself joyfully returning here each week.
That realization led me to thoughtfully consider my Lenten weekly theme Rebuild in a deeply personal way. You see, “rebuilding” is not “building.” When we are building, we are starting something brand new. We have the safety-net of knowing that we are starting fresh, and we have no where to go but up. Progress is guaranteed, at least at the start. I started this blog on a whim, with no expectations and no followers. It’s grown into something I treasure. When we are re-building, it’s a different story entirely. We have already done the building once, but something went awry. Maybe progress halted, unexpectedly. Perhaps our building wasn’t as structurally sound as we hoped. Maybe it was an outside force and fury that knocked us down. Maybe what we built didn’t end up being big enough, or strong enough, or didn’t meet the need we thought it would. Rebuilding means that we have gone through that painful process of realizing failure, loss, inadequacy. It means we have been broken down, stripped of our facade, and disappointed. We are left with the pieces, and with the lessons. But, in spite of all that, all hope is not lost. We can step humbly into grace, and rebuild.
Rebuilding is a pretty significant metaphor for me right now.
I’m travelling this week to visit a Seminary where I hope to be investing a significant amount of my time, energy, and intention over the next several years. It would be tempting…very tempting…to wrap all that is happening in my life neatly into a package of “new” and suspend disbelief so I could talk about all these emerging opportunities as something brand new in my life, being freshly built from square one. But that wouldn’t be the whole story. I’m not building. I’m rebuilding.
My first attempt at building this particular vocational path didn’t really get much past the foundation. I spent hours on end sitting amid stacks of theology books, Old Testament and New Testament scholars expounding on topics that were compelling, sometimes infuriating, and always drawing me in deeper. I managed to find the writers on the “fringe” of that time…the progressive theologians, the feminists, the liberation theology emerging from historic oppression. I wanted so much to learn, but I was in the wrong zone and I didn’t meet the qualifications. I’m going to chalk that building failure up to a metaphor of having dug a deep foundation and then being denied a building permit. I could have fought it, but I didn’t. I was defeated, and I was done. I walked away and figured out how to occupy a different structure in another location which could house my intellectual and vocational calling. It’s been a wonderful place to reside, truly. But that deeply dug foundation has kept calling to me.
The second attempt was technically more like “squatting” than building. The fact is, I have logged a lot of hours staying on the grounds of Seminary. In my case, this was because my former spouse’s mother was following a mid-life call to ordained ministry. I was wrapped into their family system all the while we were dating, and throughout our engagement and early marriage. I spent a lot of time as a guest-in-residence. I spent numerous weekends in their family apartment at seminary, pitched in as musician at the small rural churches where she served, offered advice and support during clinical pastoral education, hung out with seminarians and clergy, talking through the organizational, political, and theological issues of “doing church.” Mind you, all this was happening while I was flatly and vehemently not doing church myself. I was a squatter. I was “spiritual but not religious” and a quickly emerging professional social worker who had a definitive line drawn between professional values and personal faith. I had no interest in formally building…it was definitely squatter’s rights that landed me a place hanging out with the people I did, having the conversations I did, and eventually connecting the dots between how clergy-minded people moved through the world in ways shockingly similar to my own. Every time I got close to the reality of that later part, I would enact the other side of my squatter’s rights and get out, fleeing back to open-air spaces where I was free to think and believe outside the structures that felt so oppressive to me.
But, life keeps moving forward. A foundation once dug continued to call to me and left me with unanswered questions. My time squatting reminded me that the choice to belong was mine to take, or to leave. My path eventually brought me back to a new faith community, to seeing the possibility of structures that made my soul sing instead of oppressing my spirit. I had to ask myself a very difficult question: was I now being limited by my own structure, as lovely as it was? And it became clear that the answer was Yes. And my answer to the call to rebuild in grace was also Yes.
So, this week, I am venturing back into the construction zone. I am about to embark into true, humble, authentic rebuilding. I have gathered together the pieces I had once cast aside, and I have visited the foundation that I had once dug and have even expanded on it to accommodate new growth. I have added a whole array of building materials brought along with me from what has been a rich and rewarding twenty-something years as a social work practitioner and academic. I have found the zone where I know I should be building, and I am surrounded with those who want to support my journey. I even have a building permit this time, thanks be to God. I am so deeply committed to rebuilding from a foundation of strength, from having stripped things down and examined the materials, the instructions, and the inspiration for something truly magnificent to emerge. But, I also carry my lessons. I am rebuilding.
But, there is one more incredibly important thing. This work, this construction…I know this time that it is both mine…and not mine. This re-building is a greater vision, one in which I’ve been able to see coming together from the miracles of daily ordinary, from the small points of light that still glimmered on my path. Before I lift a hand to pick up the first brick…or book…I know unquestionably that this re-building belongs to God. It will take shape from all of these materials, and lessons, and supporters. Rebuilding is a lesson in trust.
I also know that whatever emerges will be filled with places for the small points of light to shine brightly through.
And I will be joyfully writing about them here.