I will admit that this new year is already kicking my butt. I know that sounds rude, and, to tell you truth, it feels rude.
I have one more year in my 60s. One.More.Year.
And I’m feeling it.
My husband has already moved through that milestone. And he’s feeling it, too.
We’re tired, cranky at times, worry too much over our old, dementing moms and our beautiful, energetic grandchildren, and our joints ache almost all the time.
Yet, here I sit, staring out at the brilliant noonday sun on a winter day, grateful right into every aching bone for the life I’ve lived, the gifts I’ve enjoyed, the things I’ve learned.
Yes, these joints hurt. But this heart and soul are still beating, still singing. I am grateful to be here, inhabiting this space for however long the Lord grants it.
And in between the groans and sighs, I’ve been listening. Paying attention. Reading. Learning.
Case in point.
This week, I took a walk on the bluffs near the University of California, Santa Barbara. I love that walk, the glorious views in every direction, the energy of a university campus beating its way underground clear out to Coal Oil Point, where the surfers hang ten.
So I took my very fancy new point-and-shoot camera and I walked. And I watched the surfers as they inhabited that immense sea.
Who knew that surfers could be such powerful teachers?? Here’s a little of what I learned on Tuesday afternoon:
To be a surfer requires dedication. These kids ride their bikes out the long, dusty pathway, holding their boards — holding their boards — close to their bodies.
To be a surfer requires community. You will never see a lone ranger, waiting for the next set. Always, always, they do this thing together. Yes, their rides are individual, but the waiting? The learning from the water? The ebb and flow? This, they do together.
To be a surfer requires patience, long stretches of sitting, watching, sensing, obeying the rhythm of the water. In between the thrilling stuff is a whole lot of boring stuff, but all of it is what makes an expert out of a beginner.
To be a surfer requires flexibility, and a willingness to go with the flow. From straddling to crouching to half-standing, to a full-out-stand-up-look-at-this, you’ve got to be willing to change your position on a dime. Take a gander at these:
If we want to learn —
we’ve got to get wet,
we’ve got to find a tribe,
we’ve got to be willing to wait out the lulls,
and we’ve got to move with the rhythm of the water.
I’ve been following Jesus all my life, cannot remember a moment when I didn’t know him. And still, I fall off that board, miss the cues, lose the rhythm. I’m not there yet — not exactly a beginner, but not quite an expert, either.
All along the way, I have managed to learn a few things, Some of them are painful, painful enough to leave scars. And though I would never seek it out, I’ve lived long enough to know that pain can be a place of profound growth, even of transformation.
Every surfer worth his or her salt has endured bruising, battering, humiliation and defeat. But the ones who choose to learn from all of that are the ones who become adept, adaptable, creative and committed. In short, the ones who yield to the mystery of it all, and accept that an occasional punch to the gut is part of the process — these are the ones who catch the waves, time after time.
This cross stands at the edge of the cliff that sits between the two primary surfing coves along the Coal Oil Point Reserve. It is glorious and sturdy, withstanding wind and weather for as long as I’ve been living. I like the juxtaposition of sturdiness and wildness that I find in this place, the unpredictable mingling of formed and unformed, hand-created and God-created.
It reminds me of life – this crazy mix of goodness and grief, beauty and horror, healing and brokenness that makes our four-score-and ten (if we’re lucky) the rich and remarkable thing that it is.
I am quickly approaching that number, on my way to three score and ten very soon now. Over the years that have been granted me, I have never been able to settle for the quick and easy. Don’t offer me truisms, cliches, pat answers or formulas, please. I’d rather hear a different way of asking the question! Because, here’s the truth of it: I am a person who loves the questions; I believe they are worth the patient work of exploration, prayer and lived experience that can sometimes lead to answers. In fact, I believe that my word for 2014, obedient, is as much about asking the right questions as it is about finding answers.
For as long as I pastored, there was a beautiful calligraphic print that hung in or near my various offices. It contains these words, written by Rainer Maria Rilke in his small book, “Letters to a Young Poet.” This is a truth I believe; this is a truth I try to live:
“You are so young, you have not even begun,
and I would like to beg you, dear one, as well as I can,
to have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves,
like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue.
Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you because you could not live them.
It is a matter of living everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then, gradually,
without noticing it, one distant day,
live right into the answers.“
I would like to invite you to spend some time living the questions, beginning next Friday, January 17th. I’ll start us off with some reflections on a question that I’ve lived with for a while. And we’ll do that every Friday until there are no more questions to be asked.
Although I’ve got a list of about a dozen that I’ve discerned from my own life experience and from much of what I read on the internet, I am open to suggestions. Please leave them in the comments or email me directly at dtrautwein at gmail dot com.
Also? YOU are invited to link up your own reflections — either on the question that I raise or on another one that you’ve been living for a while. PLEASE NOTE that this is not an invitation to extended theological debate. There are lots of places to go if that’s what you hunger for. What I’m looking for are stories, experiences, concerns, points of conflict — anything that sets you down the road of wondering about the life of faith.
I think we’ll come closer to living an answer if we tell our stories and if we live our questions. Next Friday’s question set?
Why is there so much talk about ‘obedience?’
Does following Jesus mean I have to give up having fun?
Then, beginning the following Tuesday, January 21st, we’ll try our hand at discovering how we are living the answers. I will do some personal reflecting on truths I’ve been living into — perhaps connected to the question of the previous week, perhaps not. Sometimes I’ll look to scripture for help, sometimes to life, sometimes to both. And I can tell you right now, that some weeks there will be no ‘answer,’ just an encouragement to live with the un-knowing, to explore the mystery . . . to wait for the wave.
I have no idea if this will work or not! It is an experiment, one that I think is worth the risk. I hope you will, too.
I’m willing to get wet, are you?
I’m looking for my tribe, will you be a part?
I’m okay with the lulls, especially if I’ve got company.
And I’m willing to move with the rhythm of The Water.
So . . . let’s do a little surfing, shall we?