The Place Just Right

I have to say that I’m really looking forward to summer this year. It will arrive at 9:24 pm this Tuesday to be exact… but who’s counting. After the winter we have had—yes, I know that a lot of folks in a lot of places would be glad to trade our winter, even this relatively hard one—but still, it has been a hard winter. I’m really looking forward to summer.

And the weather may not be the only thing. Since the election in November—remember that there was an election in November. I have been trying to get back to normal… and by that I mean around my news intake normal. I’ve needed to try to be more disciplined with my news intake. You see my spirit can only stand to listen to some of the voices in the news for short periods of time, and not more.

I used to be a journalist and I have generally thrived on keeping up with news. At times I would probably rate somewhere in the mild to moderate junkie division. but not so much anymore. Yes, I recognize a need to try to stay informed, but I also recognize that too much can be bad, certainly for the spirit… and so I have needed to give myself permission to not take in too much.

All of this, for me, is a work in progress. I’m still figuring it out.

But maybe that’s why summer is feeling especially important this year.

So yes, summer is about warmer days and beautiful long evenings. But there’s more than that. There’s the slower pace. Think about the chance to be outside, maybe to work in the garden. Maybe to go to a baseball game or a soccer game. Think about how summer might be a chance to find ourselves in some different and wonderful place, and what that might mean for us. Think about all the possibility.

Words of Walt Whitman:

Afoot and light hearted, I take to the open road. healthy, free, the world before me. Henceforth I ask not good fortune—I myself am good fortune. Strong and content, I travel the open road.

We are offered a particular opportunity at this time of year, I think. It is a chance to break out of the usual patterns. We are outdoors more. There are all kinds of things going on around that don’t happen at other times of the year. There is something about a warm day that asks us to slow down and see the world in little different way.

The important thing may not be so much to travel somewhere as it is to get out of those familiar patterns… to change our perspective a bit. it helps to see where we are in a new way.

I think getting out of what’s familiar is good for the spiritual journey.

Some of us will have the privilege of taking road trips. We will get into the car, maybe the camper and go and be in the out of doors or to some great park. The road trip is a chance to be with the people we love, to do things we long to do and to have adventures we will talk about for a long time.

This being Father’s Day weekend I’ve had a road trip story about my own father in my mind. Now in my family we didn’t have a lot of road trips. My parents were cheese makers which meant that they never took a day off. You see the milk had to be used while it was fresh which meant that they didn’t take weekends off, let along weeks at a time to go somewhere. They made cheese every single day. This story happened before I was born. It was 1952 and Wisconsin was in the Rose Bowl. My father was huge fan and he and my mother, along with uncle Howard and aunt Lenice, decided they would go to the game. They would drive from Wisconsin to California. Plans were made to cover the cheesemaking operation. And off they all went to what was the trip of their lifetimes. Basically I think they drove to California from Wisconsin, went to the game and then drove back. They couldn’t be gone too long.

I can look back of the photos of my parents on that trip and there they are in California, in front of the Chevrolet, amid the palm trees and cactuses and they do indeed look like they were in an exotic place, away from what was known to them.

And maybe that is why they would talk about that trip for so many years to come.

Now I have to say that this trip strikes me as anything but ideal. I have an image of that great American road trip that is really pretty pressured and not all that fun.

And yet that may not be the point. The point, I think, is to imagine how it is we can put ourselves on that metaphorical open road, with the chance to meet other travelers. A chance to get away from what is most familiar and habitual. It may even be that we can get into a rut sometimes. We have to push ourselves to get out of those familiar places.

The writer M Scott Peck wrote: “Part of (human nature) is to want to stay where we are, to not seek out new and challenging experience, to remain in our ruts of the accustomed. To venture forth, on the other hand, to deliberately encounter the different and foreign and unexpected as we do when we travel, no matter how gently, seems a part of a grand life wish and a strange yearning to enlarge the scope of our minds.”

Peck says that as we take risks and go beyond what is comfortable we find ourselves on “a journey toward holiness.”

Now it is easy at this point to go to the exotic places we find ourselves going. But that is not necessarily what we need to do. It may be that we don’t need to travel all that far from where we are. If you are a city person it might be someplace a little ways out of town in the country or maybe a different part of town.

The point may not so much be where or how far—but the mindfulness that comes when we challenge ourselves to get out of what is familiar. When we try to make for ourselves some space—from what it is that may be most familiar.

Let me tell you about another kind of journey. Today is pride Sunday and as we do every year our church will be in the parade, visible and proud. Many years ago now, I had never attended a gay pride parade. I had thought about going, but never seemed to be that close to one. And well, when you are in the closet there is both a desire to go and a tremendous fear. Well, it so happened I was now living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and as you might expect they have a rather large parade there each year.

I found myself filled with a combination of excitement and trepidation. I didn’t know what it would be like. So I take the train into San Francisco from where I lived in Berkeley. I emerge from the station into the crowds and immediately knew that I probably wouldn’t see life in quite the same way ever again.

The parade started with the usual Lesbian Motorcycle Contingent, better known as the Dykes on Bikes. I had never seen such a site. Here were hundreds upon hundreds of women on their motorcycles leading the way. Many of them bare-breasted, their cycles were dressed up in all kinds of ways. The contingent seemed to go on for miles and miles. I found my mouth wide open in amazement.

It was definitely one of those “I’m not in Wisconsin anymore” experiences.

They were followed by contingent after contingent, from the gay stockbrokers to the gay computer nerds and from the gray haired and purple haired. People of all shapes and sizes. Everyone was there. There are lots of people there to cheer and take in the sights. It appears to be a wonderful cross section of the community, not just the queer folks. Something about seeing moms and dads with kids in strollers that made the event all the more amazing.

Seeing this from the sidewalk was deeply transformational for me as a not-so-long-ago-out-of-the-closet gay man. Suddenly I saw myself, in relationship to the larger world by being in this place at this time. I was not the outsider but the insider. This was a place where I was welcome.

It took a while to get to this place, but now that I was here, and I would forever be different. I would forever have a different sense of myself in the world. I didn’t see myself as other outside of the circle as much as a part of some larger whole.

The spirit asks us to be open, and available for its promptings. To follow that yearning to be opened. But sometimes we have to first of all make space. We have to take a step in the right direction.

In this case, the most important part of the process was getting myself to the parade.

Our quest for meaning takes us to places we don’t expect. We go from what is familiar to what is unfamiliar, from something that feels comfortable and safe to a place where we’re not so sure. But we need to allow ourselves to go to places where our assumptions get challenged. It is here where we are opened to see things, and ourselves, in new ways. It may be in response to the world around us that we find the stirrings of some new direction. it may be in response to a sense that where we have been doesn’t work for us to way it used to work and we want to go in some different direction.

Whatever that might be we enter a liminal space, a space where we are not in our usual surroundings, but in something different. We connect with others in that space and somehow see things differently. We come back to where we have been with a different perspective. Things look different are we are different. It doesn’t mean we have to go far away to discover something. It may be the lesson presents itself right where we are.

There is a Chasidic story about the child of a rabbi who used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were dangerous. The father did not know what lurked there.

He decided to discuss the matter with his child. One day he took him aside and said, “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder why do you go there?”
The boy said to his father, “I go there to find God.”
“That is a very good thing,” the father replied gently. “I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?”
“Yes,” the boy answered, “but I’m not the same everywhere.”
There is much in our world today that can feel anything but grounded, anything but spiritually nourishing. if we are going to be in the world… do work for justice, to try to offer love and compassion to a world so very much in need of it… if we are going to do that we have try to find for ourselves those places, those people, that nourish us, who ground us, to keep us centered.
But there are those times when things are out of balance and we need to pay attention to that that out of balance location means to us. We have to figure out what that new place of balance, that new place of equilibrium is for us.
That place of balance includes the times and the ways that we choose to take in the news of the world. Our job, I think, is to be present both with the world as it is and as it ought to be. Part of that grounding is to move with that awareness of how the would ought to be and to be seeking out ways that we can part of making that world so. What are the ways that we are being asked to change, to grow, to listen, to learn?

The spiritual quest constantly asks us who it is we are in relation to the holy. How is it that we choose to be? That is one of the eternal questions and we live in times when we have our share of distractions. But the first part is the willingness to make space in our lives. To put ourselves in situations that may not be altogether comfortable. To see ourselves over and over again as learners. To see within ourselves possibility.

Words of Whitman:

To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it.

To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you—

To know the universe itself as a road—as many roads—as roads for traveling souls.

May the spaciousness of this summer time offer each of us whatever it is we need—quiet, adventure, change of pace, simply a good place to sit. But no matter where we find ourselves, may we be open to mystery and wonder. May we be open to what the journey holds. And may it carry us to places we didn’t expect to go.


Let us pray:

God who is mystery and promise, be with us on the journey. Help is to take risks, help us to grow, help us to love, help us to imagine. As we live our lives, may mindful of the steps along the way as much as the place we are headed. Remind us that we are not alone on the journey, but surrounded by fellow pilgrims, longing to know the fullness of life. We pray mindful of all that we hold sacred. Bless us on our way. Amen.

Benediction: The part about it being more about the journey and not the destination, well I think that is really true. May your journey lead you to some unexpected places. May you be surprised and may you be blessed. Go in love and in peace. Amen.