Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who Have We Become?

Questions for the reader are in a different font, and resources are listed at the bottom

This is the third blog post for the Companions on the Inner Way summer retreat. 

You can find the first here: Blogging for Companions on the Inner Way: It’s Not About Me. 

And the second here: Seeking Home: Where Do We Come From? 

The fourth blog is here: UnBelonging

Here is the fifth: Exile and Belonging

And the sixth: Beloved

Here is an afternoon Lake Tahoe photo for you.

We left off yesterday during the afternoon break, the only time I can realistically write a blog post. After time to pray, relax, enjoy Lake Tahoe, or work (me), we reconvened with worship. The preacher was Jenna Meyers, on staff at Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, which houses Companions. She preached about Elijah.

As Jenna says, stories help us peek below the surface of what is ordinary. Elijah’s encounter with the angel who feeds him after he prepares himself for death is full of ordinary things that do the extraordinary: a jar of water, a bush, a cake. He has enough for forty days.

The preacher shared that ever since she moved away from home, her mother has sent her full birthday cakes made from scratch, complete with candles to light and blow out. This cake might seem ordinary, but in times of feeling homesick, it reminded her where she belonged. The chocolate from her mother’s cupboard, water from Denver, baked in the family oven. A simple, ordinary object can become overlaid with memories and tap into a deep well of perseverance.

What ordinary object reminds you of where you belong? What ordinary thing helps you through difficult times?

After dinner, we met in our Lectio Divina groups. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the practice of Lectio Divina, it is a way of reading the Scriptures while allowing lots of space for the Spirit to speak. Or maybe a way to let the Spirit sneak through the cracks of our lives and holler, “Gotcha!”

The Scripture for reflection was Deuteronomy 26:1-2. I’m not really into colonialism, which of course is what I heard immediately in this passage, but I focused on the word “ground.” I’m having issues with ground right now. Ever since leaving Chicago five years ago, I’ve felt like I’m merely floating along the top of where I live. I find good restaurants, good friends and neighbors, and nice places to hang out, along with a good church, but I’m less good about digging in and getting invested in the place. Learning the politics of Atlanta was very challenging, and trying to care about Louisville, where I have lived for just a year, is really hard for me.

This group gathering lasted 90 minutes, but it didn’t feel like too long, because we had space in the middle to go off and consider the scripture and the question, and the intimacy of the conversation was a gift.

Also, I did art. Check me out! I did art!

The top photo is supposed to be Kentucky, where I live. I’m the round tree and spouse is the palm tree. Maybe. I kept working with the same scratch-off piece of paper, and so the second is Kentucky’s Cumberland Falls at night with a moonbow, one of two waterfalls with moonbows in the world. I think I’m going to try to get connected to the ground where I actually live, not the ground where I wish I lived. As I told my group, I maybe shouldn’t be following the baseball in Seattle and the politics in Chicago and whatever else is going on in New York. I just need to figure out Louisville.

Last night was the first compline service, which I love. Yeah, I love sitting in a dark room lit only by candles, with song and silence and scripture and prayer.

(It occurs to me that my stuff with maybe sucking at spirituality isn’t a lack of knowledge, or even of practice. It’s that I just don’t really engage in it in my usual life. And because I have no choice this week, I’m finding that it is comfortable. I slip right back into it, and find meaning in it.)

Speaker Enuma Okoro set the theme for this morning: “Who Have We Become?” What are the key experiences that shape our sense of self and belonging? She then asked participants why we were drawn by the topic of home and belonging.

Answers varied, of course. Belonging can be anywhere, for someone whose home is always shifting. Some find home in community, in church, in self, in another person, with God. For some it is a landscape, or a childhood home, or a way of being. As we move more and more in our society, how do we maintain a space where we are nourished? When we are nourished, we are able to go out and nourish others. Sometimes there is a need to let go of old homes and old belongings that no longer fit us or are safe for us.

Enuma spoke about the key moments in our lives that shift the understanding of self. She thinks of them as doorways. Donald Miller calls them “story turns.” We were asked to think about those story turns that impact how we interpret our own lives/selves. Perhaps it is a loss of some kind that alters who we are becoming and where we belong.

To illustrate story turns, we looked at Joseph’s story in Genesis 39 through 41. A major story turn is when Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. We practiced reading parts of Joseph’s story out loud and suggesting potential titles of the story turns. We also looked at how many of his story turns might have started out positive or negative, but were the opposite in hindsight after knowing his life story.

The following exercises come from Donald Miller's excellent work. (You can find out more about his work here: http://storylineblog.com/). His book is listed at the bottom of the blog post.

An exercise: Think about the story turns in your own lives. Write down one for each age increment:
Give each story turn a title, assign it “positive” or “negative,” and give it a description.

We turned the journal of the exercise above into a timeline. On the top of the timeline: titles of positive story turns. On the bottom, titles of negative story turns.

In your story turns, what are the themes that have emerged from your life? Have negative stories been redeemed?

I won’t post mine here, because it needs more work. But I found something interesting… even the negative story turns had been redeemed one way or another (and probably thanks to all the therapy). I was able to grow in my sense of self. And the positive story turns were about growing in love. For instance, the story turn in the 21 to 25 range was the delightful discovery that the world is a lovely and big place, and so is the church. I was one of the Presbyterian representatives to a small World Council of Churches consultation of only women, and there I learned to not worry about the demise of denominations (honey, there are so many Christians all over the world), and I found there is so much more to learn. Learning is a beautiful thing.

I wasn’t able to come up with a story turn for my current age, which is perhaps because I have no distance, and distance helps us see ourselves more clearly.

The homework assignment is as follows:
Give yourselves five minutes on a timer. Write “I have come from…” and write until the time is up. Re-set the timer for five minutes and write “I am going to…” and write until the timer is up. Do you notice anything that helps you understand where home is, has been, could be?

We ended the morning with soul collage work. The prompts for our collage were the following: Acknowledge our lives are intricate. Don’t think. Just gather what grabs you.

Here is my collage, entitled: “Loved and Freed: But I Sure Do Work My Ass Off.” Includes empty space for growth.

We shared our collages with a conversation partner. We began with “I am the one who…” And when we had no more to say, our partners said, “And then?” to keep us talking. Try it. It’s a neat exercise.

Some book resources for you

Donald Miller's book is Storyline

by Elizabeth Liebert

Just now published!

by Elizabeth Liebert

by Howard Rice

by Marjorie Thompson


  1. This is awesome, thanks for blogging! Really cool to read along.

  2. Who have I become? An exile whose home is no longer the place where s/he grew up and who is in search of a new home which cannot be found on the ground where s/he is transplanted. Belonging, un-beloning, and re-belonging, this sequence I got to notice while reading this reflection. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Not everyone experiences it as dramatically as you have, although I see the shades of this in the lives of many people. I always think that being an immigrant or refugee or becoming diasporic becomes an exercise in making a home in new places, over and over again. And just when you think you've done it, someone reminds you that it is not complete. Prayers for you.