May 03 2008

Just an Ordinary Extraordinary Afternoon

As We Build the Beloved Community …  

Just an Ordinary Extraordinary Afternoon 

In mid April, my clergy group, the Sparks for Growth, spent our spring retreat on the Monterey Peninsula. We “Sparklers,” as we affectionately call each other, fill each of our two-day retreats with worship, check-in, and a varying program that allows us to dive deeply into some aspect of our congregational and ministerial lives. We learn from each other and from other teachers, and then we bring these learnings back to you. Knowing that at this April retreat many of us might feel just a wee bit weary, our “program” this time was a spacious afternoon to use as we wanted—to walk on the beach or into town, to nap, to read, but most of all, to contemplate two big questions: What is the purpose of my life? And how do I express this purpose through my ministry?          

Well! I had planned an invigorating walk along the coast, journal in hand, to be capped by an afternoon coffee in Pacific Grove. But lo and behold, I was too tired to battle the strong winds that day, so I drove partway to town. “No pushing,” I promised myself. In a sandy turnout, I parked the car and lay down on a bench where I could feel the sun warming my face. With my eyes closed, I could hear, to my right, the waves breaking offshore. To my left, I could hear the wind rustling through bushes, trees, and ice plant, and sometimes I could hear the thwack of a golf ball from the 18th tee of the Pacific Grove Golf Course, which reminded me sweetly of my spouse. I lay there just listening and drifting, for half an hour.          

Later, I had walked only a few blocks toward town when I heard that inner voice say again, “No pushing!” So I turned back toward the car, and instantly my still-weary body was so grateful that I began to talk to the animals—to squirrels darting in and out of holes in the cliff, to birds drifting by. This talking-out-loud to animals is a longtime habit of mine and always a sure sign that spontaneity and joy are returning.

Still, the wind was fierce, a force to reckon with. On impulse I spread my arms out like wings, which somehow felt more natural than plodding along with my arms by my side. The ocean beckoned, so I climbed up on a rocky outcropping and spread my arms again. The wind blew me backward, made me hop on the rock. And suddenly, I knew with my whole being what it must feel like to be a bird! I could sense how, if I had feathers and a slightly different shape, the wind would lift me off the ground. I understood the kind of buffeting that birds must feel, the strength of the wind coursing along their bodies. It was a moment of transcendence.          

Just then, as if to say “yes” to my imaginary flight, a flock of pelicans rose from below the cliff, flying close by, at my level, as though to welcome me into their formation. I laughed and thanked them—and then clambered down to my car.           

So, what learnings do I bring back to you from this retreat? First, if we will listen to our bodies’ needs, often we will find our joy again, with “no pushing.” And if we will open ourselves to this world, we may sense our place in the interconnected web in ways we might never have imagined. What did I discover about my purpose in life? Ah, that’s a subject for another column—but it’s a great question, isn’t it? May you feel the wind beneath your wings as you consider it!

Warmly,
Nancy

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