the presence of faith (& the faith of presence) on life’s journey

Life's a journeyI awoke this morning thinking: Life is a journey.

How’s that for a trite-ism? Or is it a truism?

A saying becomes trite through repetition, and, in that, over time, garners the character of “the wisdom of the ages.” So, I think, life as journey – for generations, proclaimed by prophets, taught by sages, rhapsodized by poets, contemplated by philosophers – is nearly an eternal metaphor, resounding with both ancient and contemporaneous rings of truth.

Some consider the start of the journey most important. Others, the destination. Still others, the steps along the way. Perhaps any of us, given the varieties and junctures of our human experience, might hold each, all, or other views of the quintessential elements of our journeys.

As I cannot recall much of my beginning and have yet to see my end, as I travel it is essential, on occasion, to stop and look around. What do I see?

As I age (as I have aged!), there are moments when it’s difficult to see beyond my limitations. My increasing slowness of step, dimness of vision, and hardness of hearing are like proverbial “trees” that occupy my attention making it hard to behold the fullest sweep of my life’s “forest.”

And looking back, I think of past prospects squandered. Moments indelibly printed on my memory at which, when coming to mind, often unbidden, I cringe, wishing vainly, “If only I could do that over.”

And looking around, I think of (or more honestly stated, I fear) the loss of potential opportunities beyond my grasp because of the sin of ageism. It’s a grievous thing to feel vital (my physicality has diminished, but my mind remains sharp, indeed, sharper, at least for now) with the gifts of understanding and wisdom gained by experience and reflection only to be viewed as old. In this, I think of the possibilities, the probabilities of facing chronic illness and growing disability.

Here I admit my envy of young people, possessing the boundless potentiality of elastic muscles and expanding minds, largely untested worldviews and evolving wills, and far horizons, faintly glimpsed, of the hard edges of existence where faith finds limits and life its finitude.

I also envy Moses. Although he saw, but could not enter the Promised Land – a metaphor for that awful experience of not tasting the long hungered fruit of journey’s end – even at the moment of his death at 120 years, his sight was unimpaired, his vigor unabated. My hero! My chosen better answer to that terrible question: As you age, would you rather be of sound body and broken mind or sound mind and broken body? I want to be like Moses, sound in body and mind until my last breath on my final day. I want to fulfill the promise of a friend’s prayer on his wedding day: “May I live as long as I want to live and may I want to live as long as I do live.”

Still, once I name this my heart’s longing, I immediately face afresh the realization that no matter what I want, I must deal with what is, much of it beyond my control. Whatever course I wish my life’s journey to take, I must walk the path on which I find myself; one on which most of the twists and turns are not (and have not been, thus I presume will not be) within my power to design or determine. And although conventional wisdom advises that even when circumstances overwhelm my strength, I can control my response (the making lemonade out of lemons approach), in my experience many have been the difficult instances when the last thing within my power was my reaction to my situation. In life’s painful poetic “fell clutch of circumstance”, I have known my feelings to run rampant, flying from one anxious arc to another and my thoughts disordered, contrary and conflicting, crashing one into another.

I also confess that in the midst life’s storms, I’ve not always found great solace in prayer, at least not the sort that appeals to a higher power to do something. Although Basic Theology 101 counsels that God may not remove life’s crises, but strengthens us to endure and prayer may not change things, but can change the one who prays, there are times when I am a biblical literalist. When calamities threaten to swamp my life’s boat, I want Jesus to wake up and do something, to still the storm, both the threat without and my terror within.

This said, as a life-long student of the Bible, I do draw from its pages understanding and wisdom that is sustaining bread for my journey.

During the storm, Jesus, before being awaken (I imagine rudely) by his disciples, was sound asleep. A posture of rest and of trust.

Many years ago, on a flight to Atlanta to attend a conference, I sat next to the late, great Quintin Ebenezer Primo, Jr., one of my earliest mentors and then Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago. The skies were turbulent. The flight, rocky. I, who hated flying (still do!), was terrified. Bishop Primo, his arms folded in peaceful repose, was fast asleep. At one point, he stirred, looked into my fearful eyes, saying, “Have faith,” and then returned to sleep. I marveled at his trust, his confidence. Later, I asked him how he could be calm in the storm’s midst, fully expecting him to tell me about his faith in God. What he did say was like (but something more real to me than) that. He spoke of life; knowing that he was alive and would not be forever. Therefore, he, daily aware of his being from the moment of birth and acknowledging his non-being at some future inevitable moment of his death, could enter with joy every moment given to him in between.

I’ve not known anyone quite like Bishop Primo. Someone who – while looking back, did not fix his gaze longingly on some past milestone on his journey, and looking forward, did not stare aimlessly into distant, yet unattained and perhaps never to be reached horizons – was so abundantly present.

Perhaps being present is what it is to have faith. A faith that, like bread, sustains me for life’s journey, come what may.

2 thoughts on “the presence of faith (& the faith of presence) on life’s journey

  1. Amazing story Paul!!! I’ve heard you tell the story of Bishop Primo, and it’s a fabulously faithful!! As we are all getting older, life can be quite the journey for sure. Ageism is scary …. and ageism and racism together can be devastating. I don’t think the ageism thing has hurt me yet, but it’ may be coming. I was afraid of letting my gray hair grow out because of my fear of being judged solely on my age. But after a St. Mark’s class, I decided I’d be the authentic person I was meant to be. My almost white hair has been a blessing in many ways. People seem to respect me more. Something I hadn’t expected.

    I truly understand what you mean about prayer. It hasn’t always been helpful to me over the years, I too have wanted Jesus to get up and do something when I’ve prayed, to no avail, concerning my own health, and the health and subsequent deaths of my loved ones. One of the major regrets I have about your leaving, is that I’ve never done Bible study with you (I mean in-depth as opposed to a few verses in a class) because I agree that Bible verses can be most comforting. You’d be amazing to study with and I’m sorry I never took advantage of it. I need to definitely get into my Bible more. If there were only more hours in the day.

    So here’s how I look to the future. I believe it’s going to be bright!! I take one day at a time as you know, and as much as possible try to embrace whatever comes! As we as a family embark on a new series of adventures in our RV, I can’t wait to experience all that awaits us. We’ve already seen a bear!! Who knows what’s next!! While I’m not retiring as you are, I’m doing all kinds of things in my vocation I’ve never done before!! I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, and am flying by the seat of my pants but having a ball!! I’m probably not going to get rich, but I do know I’ll be having fun!! And I have an abundance of faith too! Thankfully, I learned many years to live only in the present. Though we will miss you terribly, we can’t wait to spend some extended time with our Abernathy family in SC! Family, Faith and Fun in our future ….. what could be better??


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