Friday, June 16, 2006

The Odyssey: Journey to Ithaca

Trips rarely begin in the way we plan them. Corey and I planned to leave Boston at about 8:00 this morning but then we stalled a few times and finally got going around 9:30. As we drove through the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts and then into New York I was amazed at the bright sunshine, the blue sky, and the luscious green grass and trees that dot the rolling hills and valleys. We passed farms and I recognized a yearning deep inside myself for the pastoral life depicted so poetically in las novellas pastoriles of the Golden Age of Spain. The black pavement stretched out before us and I was reminded of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus about whom I wrote in my term paper for New Testament Introduction this past spring. It was a reminder that life is more about the journey than it is about the destination, for we find Christ in both places.

On the other hand, my destination was forefront in my thinking as I am going to be ordained to the diaconate tomorrow afternoon. I was not just travelling to Ithaca to enjoy the sunshine, skies and trees, which mediate God's presence as surely as bread, wine and oil, but I traveled knowing that my destination is a place brimming with potential for a deeply existential encounter with the glorious, albeit also ambiguous, divine mystery. The scenery declared the glory of God while the knot in my stomach served as a persistent reminder of the ambivalence that is inherent to an encounter amongst the finite and the infinite. I watched the road stretched out before me and listened as pistons fired, powering the wheels to pound the pavement, moving me inexorably forward toward my destination. I may have been driving the car, (or the jeep as the case may be), but I certainly had no more control over its destination than Jonah did in his oft told tale of misfortune meteing out divine providence. In The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto described the divine as ultimate source of being, the "mysterium tremendum et fascinans," which fills the finite beings who encounter her? him? it? with both wonder and dread, giving new and profound meaning to the word "awful." And yet, in my experience, the fear that accompanies this experience is always overcome by the divine lure: "Holy Spirit, you always lead us forward. Forgive us for holding back." (from the Lindisfarne Community's A Way of Living).

When we entered Ithaca I felt a sense of homecoming, although surely not as profound as that of Odysseus, as my senses were inundated with the sights, sounds and smells of the city I left over 10 months ago to attend seminary at Boston University. I spent four years of my life in Ithaca; walking the streets, eating in the restaurants, studying at Ithaca College, and making friends, some of whom will remain with me as tangible presences in my life while others have even already moved on but have left their mark and so also remain. It was here that God gripped my life, taking hold of the faith formed in the fires of youth growing up in suburban Washington DC in the care of two loving parents and my wonderful family at Hughes United Methodist Church, and binding it fast to a course I never could have expected and cannot claim to fully understand, even now. It was here that I encountered the Protestant Community at Ithaca College who forced me to rethink my narrow conceptions of God and Christianity. It was here that I met Allison Stokes, the Protestant Chaplain, who nurtured and encouraged me as I groped about for a faith I could call my own. And perhaps most importantly, it was here that I found a deep sense of abiding peace, joy, and love in the Lindisfarne Community, a sense I am convinced reflects the mutual indwelling of the triune God and that I knew from the first time I walked into Andy and Jane's house (my abbot and abbess).

And the Holy Spirit led me onward toward Casowasco, a United Methodist Church camp a number of miles north of Ithaca; perhaps 60 stadia, the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus? We made a few wrong turns along the way, a common occurance on the spiritual path that is also prevalent in more mundane journeys, but we eventually made it to the camp. I found my way into Galilee cottage and was greeted by my parents and members of the Lindisfarne Community. They helped me carry my bags in, (many more than others brought as this is the first part of a more extended journey for me), and then we had dinner at the Emmaus Commons, an especially apt name given my thoughts about the Emmaus Road story throughout the day. After dinner we met for prayer and commissioning back at the cottage. We professed two members, Kara and Sam, installed a new prior and prioress, John and Chris, and the Lindisfarne Community commissioned me for my travels, especially for my work with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia. We also prayed for healing for Renee's back and my Dad's foot. It provided a sense of confidence and comfort, perhaps the eudaimonia Andy is so fond of talking about, that my parents have been able to dive in so deeply and so quickly into the spiritual well that I have come to draw upon. The irenic sense from Andy and Jane's house had been established here at the Cottage; a reminder that the peace of God follows wherever God's people may go, whether to Emmaus or to Ithaca.

No comments: