Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.
Many, many years ago, when Sherod’s life had just about fallen apart, I got a note from him telling me he was at a friend’s house, went to get something out of the fridge and saw a magnet with that phrase that was so popular at the time: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” that had made clear the finality of the changes that had happened in his life and also promised so much. It is cliched and over-used; it is also an affirmation of great hope for me this morning.
Yesterday turned out to be pretty hard, not because it was the end of 2013 but because it was my last day as full-time priest-in-charge of the combined ministries of St Ambrose, El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos, and the New River Academy. I will stay on for a while longer in a part-time capacity but only to try to keep these fragile ministries propped up long enough for others to discern the way forward. It was the proverbial fork in the path and already, what I do is look back.
Sherod, Maria and I had decided to go to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks yesterday after I finished my work for the day. It was your typical upbeat Disney production but it pointed to something I realized I needed to name for myself. In the movie, the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers, is portrayed having lived and worked much of her life in the unredeemed space of grief and trauma caused by her father’s alcoholism and death. There is a great deal about my work in the past 7 years that fills me with joy. And perhaps that is why the ways in which it went astray in these past couple of years are very painful to consider. Unredeemed is a good way of describing how it all appears right now.
There are two temptations for me in this space. I want to believe that I can engineer the redemption myself. If I can just put some pieces together, if I can think hard enough, plan well enough, stretch far enough, I can ensure that even without me, these ministries that I care deeply about will go forward. Of course, that just leads to one dead end after another. The other is more overtly bleak. It is to give into despair, anger and bitterness. Over these past weeks I have poked and prodded and dissected implacably and the only thing that comes of that effort is blame. There have been days when it felt like there was a circular firing squad in my head. Neither temptations accomplishes what I so desperately need–some kind of sense that even the worst of our human failings can be redeemed.
It was liberating to realize and accept that for right now, I am in that unredeemed time. Even more liberating to accept that if there will be redemption it will not be of my doing. Already at the movies, something started insinuating itself to me from my time on retreat at Tahoe. I came home and pulled up the first fundraising video I ever prepared as a handful of us were getting started with the new ministry we called El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos. Then I sat for a while with the Lukan resurrection narrative of the Road to Emmaus. I am so much in the place the two disciples found themselves in–walking, yes, getting on with life, for sure, and at the same time, revisiting and reviewing the events that had turned their world upside down. There’s a “both/and” to be found in this passage. Be too quick to gloss over something wretched that has happened, bury it and deny it, and we will never even realize redemption was needed. Dwell on the awfulness and our eyes are kept from recognizing redemption even when it our Redeemer is standing right in front of us. Either way, redemption is not mine to deliver. I can only hope for it and do my best to make myself available to my life which is where redemption will find me.
I went out and walked last night, my last ramble for 2013. I found myself texting all the members of the staff I have been so privileged to work with. Then I texted some of the folks who have been so extraordinarily generous and committed to that ministry we had together. I called one of my very dearest friends and left Facebook messages a couple of others. I got back home and called my dad. Sherod, Maria and I laughed and giggled for a while longer, drank some delectable Veuve Clicquot and by 10:30 lights were out in our home. I dimly recall hearing fireworks at midnight.
And now, today: this is the first day of the rest of my life.