Saturday, September 29, 2018

the time of scattering stones

It is always difficult in the midst of seasons of the heart and not the sun, to remember that they are only temporary. We never seem to forget that autumn is a ephemeral arrangement of nature. But we expect our hearts to remain constant, and a sudden dip in pressure or rise in temperature causes great panic: what if this is the way we live now? What if it is always spring and summer never comes? What if we will be perpetually living in the grey of November—never quite winter and well past autumn.

This past season—summer—contained many seasons in it and was both an overwhelming season unto itself. It has been a time of being scattered—of being rooted nowhere—not in South Bend, or Minneapolis, or New York. It is a time of shipping boxes to multiple addresses regularly. It is a time of great movement, indecision, and searching for Lime Bikes on the regular. It has been a season of making plans on the fly and of changing them just as quickly. Prayer has been plastic, decisions have been decided in split-seconds, whatever stones I have held have certainly quickly been scattered.

There are times the scrappiness, the pieced-together sensation of this summer has been demoralizing and dismaying. But there are times—small moments of delusion or clarity—when the scattered nature of this season has brought great joy.

I guess it must have been in August—the real thick of summer—when I gave up trying to have the answers. I set aside my hubris-driven quest to ensure that every action taken was in accord with the divine command theory I have always secretly believed (it is hard for that Presbyterian blood to dilute itself). And simply sought after not what is correct, but simply what is good. Because I suppose what you learn when you are living life out of a suitcase and on the go is that you can always change directions. This is not to relativize the importance of decisions—each one is an indelible mark that cannot be erased, but rather must be folded into the new thing being made.

Decisions can be paralyzing, and when the series of them you made goes wrong, you can sometimes be tempted to find the hero's flaw within yourselves that caused them to go wrong. Tragic nature is a comforting trope, because it offers the fantasy that if there were some crack within ourselves we'd mended already, we'd never have gotten into this mess.

But tragedy is not responsibility. Responsibility says: well I suppose this is what I've made. And then asks the vital second question: now what should I do with it?

Scattering stones is not irresponsibility. It is not indecision and it is not flirtation over commitment. Scattering stones is not lack of vision. It is not grasping at straws (there is a season for that, although may it be blessedly short). Rather, scattering stones, seems to me, to be boldly and tentatively trying out new futures, testing plans, abandoning them, stretching the muscle of imagination until it is as supple as it is strong, testing its limits and pushing it past them.

I have scattered many stones, not quite sure what the stones being scattered were becoming. They have not yet risen into an edifice, certainly not yet a study structure, but maybe they are the beginnings of foundations.

Maybe, just maybe, in another season—perhaps in the one just beyond the next equinox or solstice—these stones, scattered without calculation, but with great hope, will form themselves into a pattern. Perhaps their scattered nature will resolve itself into coherence, becoming the basis for something beautiful. Perhaps. But that is a hope and task for a new season. Perhaps all this scattering will not reap cold and barren rock—but a home.

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