As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9: 1-4)
These first weeks of shelter-in-place have been punctuated with quiet upheaval, pressing uncertainty and expanded anxiety for many of us. Items have shifted in flight and now seems like a wise time to try and make some sense of what’s happened as well as what is ahead for us. I can’t claim a special insight into a global landscape. But I can offer what I’m learning as I look around my particular locale as well as my school in Ada, Michigan called Journey Academy. Hoping to be of use, I share this with my Journey Academy Family as well as others intersecting with us on their own journeys. I sense this is an opportunity where we might become better connected as we tell our stories to each other. As William Stafford exhorted us in his poetry, we need these stories to make it home.
For this season, I’m imagining stories housed on the Journey Academy blog. If some of these spur sense-making for you, I want to invite you to reflect in the comments as well. And if some of these jottings lead you to consider joining the Journey story with us as intercessors, partners, volunteers or families, may we all find ways to “do the works of Him who sent [us].”
This week after Spring Break, we invited heroes (a.k.a. students) to begin to pay attention to their surroundings. We want them to see, to observe and to look at creation around them. I often return to the ninth chapter of the gospel of John when I consider the act of seeing. Ruth Haley Barton helpfully makes this comment about John’s narrative.
The bulk of this lengthy chapter is about all the characters in the story who witness the healing but fail to recognize the work of God in their midst. For all sorts of reasons, they all have trouble discerning what is really going on. This is often our struggle as well. (Ruth Haley Barton)
So many of us are needing this gift of discernment in a season of pandemic. For myself, I need to discern responses to questions like
- What is wise?
- How should we practice caution?
- What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy?
- What is chaff?
In their current quest, the heroes at Journey are attempting to discern their surroundings. They are identifying their own questions. I want to invite you to consider this same practice of discernment.
One of the distinctives of Journey Academy is a foundational practice of curiosity. It is a timely disposition for this moment. At Journey, we are looking courageously for powerful questions to guide our quests. We are entrepreneurs looking to innovate and respond to challenges. We are discerning our callings as we look to change the world. In a world animated by a culture of distraction and fear, we want to notice and be present with wonder.
I try to practice curiosity as I look around my house, I ask the question, ‘what is happening here?’ I notice the tension of navigating the work of leading the Journey Academy as well as the work of directing my children’s own learning at home. As a younger man, I might have sought to reach some sort of Atticus Finch level of multi-task and burly achievement. At the age of fifty-three, I now try to look with grace at what I can do in an altered learning landscape with two surly teenagers disinclined to social distancing and remote learning. In this time of restriction and boundary, I’m finally calibrating my expectations more accurately in what can be done and when can it be done. I am learning to be a little more gentle on myself; and all it took was a pandemic.
Sheltering-in-place is swimming in familiar waters for an introvert like me. Yet at the same time, it has heightened my desire for connection. Out for a walk, I allow myself to be drawn into six-foot conversations with random passers-by. As the heroes engage in their Ecology quest, we are witnessing their desire for connection on platforms like Google Hangout and See-Saw as they share their questions and discoveries. My own Zoom calls and hangouts have an intentionality to them driven by my curiosity to find out “what is this season of change like for you?” And as we process our practices like prayer walks or playing Euchre after dinner, this curiosity informs my own way of navigating this season. In recent months, auto-pilot seemed to guide my days. Now, I find myself aware and reflective in new dimensions with curiosity keeping me buoyant amidst the waves.
For the heroes and guides at Journey, they report busyness, to be sure. Yet at the same time, there is room for discovery. Days do seem crowded in my house as well. My nine-year-old whose internal clock, set before we adopted him, has him up consistently at 5:30a, regularly pushes my mornings into start mode well before the coffee kicks in. After making breakfast, mornings are filled with weekly goal-setting and check-ins with my children, asking questions about what they’re reading, monitoring their progress on various learning platforms, teaching them spiritual practices like breath prayers, as well as reflecting on what they’re creating in maker space time, while afternoons move from Zoom call to Google Meet with various email epistles in-between.
With the seeming on-slaught, there seems to be a new space as things are reconfigured in my schedule. I find thirty minutes in the morning for walking instead of commuting. And in the evening instead of rushing to the next choir concert or hustling to get youngers to bed so they can wake up on time, I often discover an additional thirty minutes to walk. An Achilles injury over Christmas slowed my usual runs to walks. Now I can’t imagine doing without this daily walking rhythm.
In the expanse of these walks, my friend Aubree even told me that the motion of my arms during walking helps my brain process all of this uncertain season. I find that the Holy Spirit can help me work through the knot of emotions from recent conflicts. I find that Luke 24 and the road to Emmaus can work it’s way into my heart and mind. I find that I have room to imagine how the day is going to go with home learning as well as how the meeting with my Journey guides is going to go in the afternoon. Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese theologian writes in Three Mile an Hour God
Love has its speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour.
Three miles an hour, by the way, is the speed of walking. In the spaces that I discover in this season, it seems as if the suggested pace is three miles an hour.
As I look, as I am curious and as I discover, I am recognizing one more practice for this season. The heroes share this same practice as they recognize what is important in their surroundings. As I listen to the global and national statistics of fatalities and as I reckon with my respiratory history and immunocompromised state, I pause and consider priorities.
I’ll admit that fear does fill me as I think about grocery items that I’ve forgotten on this last run to Aldi. I never remember everything. But now I wonder will my mortal Lotto ball pop up with this return for Kombucha? Most times though, I find this awareness of mortality tethering my connection to this present moment. The way Jenn’s hand fills mine. The belly laughter that fills Ezra. The way that Viv curls up on my lap in the morning with sleepy eyes and a warm nightie. The gleam that victoriously shines from John as he lays down his last Uno card. The country song that pours forth from Bea as she makes brownies. I hold these moments, recognizing the gifts; open handedly. And as I name these treasures, I know they are flowers eventually fading. I hold lightly, recognizing a freedom in knowing these treasures while acknowledging this pandemic or some future one may be my call homeward. Still. I have her hand. Now. And I thank Him.
Returning to the heroes’ call to discern, I recall we are learning at Journey that seeing is the act of first glance, observing is noting characteristics and detail and looking is connecting experience and noting patterns. The heroes have just learned this from my dear friend Eun Sub Cho, director of the Wonder Academy at The Potter’s House. He gave a talk to the heroes via video. You can access that here. With his passion for ecology as well as teaching, he taught them how to pay attention to their surroundings. Here’s the hard copy of his talk as well.
I want to invite you to join the heroes in seeing, observing and looking in this season of upheaval and anxiety. Be curious, discover and prioritize. And when you look, I pray that you see the Light of the World. He’s there; those countless Euchre hands of connection point to Him; that snow and evening light covering the fallen tree fallen in the pond reveals Him; our three mile an hour journeys lead to Him. Fear not. Look.