This past week, I drove through a place I used to go every few days in the spring and early summer. It's one of the fastest growing interstate exchanges around here, evidence of the reality that you can never have enough low-rise office buildings or Holiday Inns. Twenty-five years ago, just beginning to go forth and multiply in the form of concrete, it was an open area of countryside with woods and fields flowing into an wide valley. Springing from one small gulley was an enormous sycamore tree, and settled in the center of the tree was an enormous nest occupied by a pair of red-tailed hawks each spring. I would drive out there after work on a summer evening, wearing a lawyer dress and running shoes, park in the back of the deserted Holiday Inn construction site, walk across a dry cracked-clay field torn apart by bulldozers as parent hawks soared and shrieked over my head, and disappear into the woods, where I knew there was a vantage point offering a perfect blind from which to watch the young. The parents would forget all about me, and I could crouch out there for an hour and watch their family life unfold. I haven't had much reason to drive in that direction for a number of years but, when I do, I always wonder: what happened to the chicks of those years? Where have they found nesting spots? Bank branch buildings do not suffice. A place I have been, in body and spirit: at home with the red-tails.
I was driving that way this week to attend a meeting. I am a member of a small group in our Presbytery that has begun meeting to develop and practice ways to talk with each other across chasms of great difference of viewpoint. The Prebyterian Church, like others in the mainline, is beset by controversy over whether gay and lesbian individuals may be called to ordained ministry. In response to the clear differences of opinion bubbling to the surface, we are trying to approach our relationships with dialogue rather than anger and recrimination. The group emerged out of the conversations of two of our pastors over the past several years -- two people who could not be further apart on the issue in question but who have come to deeply care for and respect one another as they have met for lunch month after month. If they can do it, the sense goes, then so can we all -- but it's a long and difficult piece of work which we have barely begun. Another place that I go.
As I prepare to go to seminary, it becomes increasingly clear that opportunities for travel to places like Europe and the West Coast are diminishingly rapidly where I'm concerned. The money and time crunch is making itself dramatically apparent. (Let's not even talk about the two hours the roofing guy spent here yesterday, measuring and photographing this gutter and that with a somber look in his eyes. Or was that the look of a fortune being unearthed?) Just as my friends are doing things like buying time-shares on the Cape (yes, I read that entry and yes, I turned various shades of green), and making plans to visit a child studying in Cairo, and returning from Italy and Ireland, I am thinking that local interstate exchanges may be my new habitat.
"Radical dispossession" was the term my spiritual director used when I pointed out, in a rather lengthy diatribe, that my life was changing in ways too big and too all-encompassing for me to maintain a handle on. I know that he wasn't referring to the material aspects of my life, like trips and time-shares, houses and gutters. Those are merely symbolic of something else changing so emphatically that I can barely keep up. The entire orientation of my existence is shifting.
As I talked with my brother a couple of days ago, I realized that I have packed a lot of living into what I insist upon referring to as the first half of my life. (My grandmother having reached 100 years of age, I tend to see the half-lives of human beings as rather lengthy.) I have wrapped my arms around women giving birth and sat with my step-mother as she died, and participated in many of life's most joyous and most desperate events in between. I am beginning to understand that ministry may well take me, in a new capacity, to many of those kinds of thin places, rather than the ones populated by nesting hawks or Celtic crosses. I am going to go to meetings where people try to find ways to stay together as church even as they acknowledge that they are separated by inner conviction, and to homes and restaurants and hospitals and other places where people who are not my beloved friends and family members need the presence of someone who might, just possibly, help them recognize the Presence of Another.
Oh, the places I might go. . . .