Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday Reflection for Retreat #5 in Chinauta, Colombia

I did not anticipate the frequency and intensity of transitions that would happen within our term of MCC. I was well aware of the bigger transitions we would be making as a family: selling most of what we own, quitting our jobs, moving away from friends, trying to find a way to fit in a new culture, beginning a new job and a new school. These were the expected ones.

But there have been so many more. In the last year of our time together, we have said goodbye to 10 people on our team. We have also experienced co-workers in our work setting who come and go. We experience changes in programming, funding, vision of our organizations. We work within a context of death and transition. We come from and go to settings with varied social expectations, languages, and contexts. It is common for many of us to travel within our time here, making a change to varying climates, lands, and cultural expectations. And now we are in the process of ending our time with the first round of SEEDers. Soon after this we will take a deep breath, and welcome in those who are new. Not long after that others will go.

Each of us welcomes or dreads these changes to different degrees. Some of us take a long time and resist the feelings of uncertainty and lack of control that comes with a transition. Others seem to float through them with ease. Our responses to these spaces in time depend on so many factors, including our exposure to previous transitions, our personalities, our life stage, and the support networks that accompany us. There is so much that has been written on this subject and so much still yet to be discovered. William Bridges talks about transition as a process of three stages: the ending or letting go of something; the middle space of confusion and disequilibrium; and the beginning of something new.

The Ending.
Endings come to us with different significance. Scholars argue that when we have chosen a transition, the pain and turmoil of these endings are minimized, and when we have not, they are exaggerated. And while it feels a lot more exciting to talk about new beginnings, we are challenged to confront these endings, and honor them before we are able to move forward. We do this through ritual, journalling, blogging, talking with friends, and find appropriate ways to grieve. Each of us will have our own natural tendencies for doing this in different manners, some internally, and some externally.

Mary, the mother of Jesus faced a tremendous transition during this Advent season. In my opinion, the bible minimizes the surprise and anxiety that might have come from the announcement from the angel Gabriel that she was to give birth to Jesus Christ. Surely, she had other plans for her life in that moment, and considering that she was very young, she may have mourned the loss of her own childhood.

Our responses to endings also depend greatly on the cultural influences around us. I often find myself inpatient for conversations to come to a end in a context where my Colombian counterparts could keep talking and visiting for a very long time. We view these endings from mental, physical, cultural, and spiritual lenses, and each of these shape our ability to understand what it is that we are letting go. And sometimes we don’t.

The middle
In this period of confusion and letting go, we have unsettled hearts. This could be a fleeting moment, or for some can last for years. There is a lingering sentiment of feeling lost and confused, and we often delve into the depth of feeling hopeless. We begin to question who we are. This time period can create conflicts and changes in our roles and relationships with loved ones. Our ability to move through this depends greatly on our how we understand and approach both the beginnings and the endings.

When we arrived in Colombia, we left a quiet, calm town of 3000 people to enter into the darkness of a city of 8 million people, loud noises, traffic, and confusion. Lydia describes how she felt in this moment by looking at a lot of electric lights and blinking your eyes rapidly. The sensory confusion itself was enough, not to mention the emotional factors involved.

Our ability to create spaces of care and protection for ourselves in this time is critical to our ability to process these changes. Our reliance and faith in God can work as a strategy to carry us through in order to greet the newness to come.

Mary moved through this middle time with incredible grace and hope, as she sings in Luke Chapter 1:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

She has the incredible ability, not only to face this challenge with dignity and positive energy, but also with the ability to think outside of herself. Her faith, in this context, transcends the loss she may have felt with the news of the changes to come in her life. This is a faith that carries her through the uncertainty of this change.

The New Beginnings
Newness brings anticipation and excitement. In this retreat, we have welcomed so much newness. We have the joy and coziness of baby Alana; We happily greet Roberto and Gloria, and we look forward to the arrival of Fabian as well.

New friends, new traditions, new activities of daily living all help bring us a fresh perspective which can illuminate so many aspects of our lives.

The newness that Mary carried with her radically changed the world, and this story radically changed the thoughts and behaviors of billions of people. Could she have understood the expanse of this newness? She welcomed the newness with grace.

As this process unfolds, we come to some new understandings. Peter Senge wrote about this in his book, “The art and practice of learning in an open organization.”
"Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning."

Transition is pervasive. It is a part of every aspect of our being. It is reflected in the natural process of leaves coming, falling, and growing new again. We find it when we get sick and then feel better again. We can experience it in the form of a new spiritual awakening, a deepening social or political awareness, in the transformation of our own values, in the touch points of developmental change we all experience. But it cannot be avoided.

There is a period of time during a woman’s labor which is also called “transition.” It is typically the time that is most painful, most intensive, and is categorized by the comments given by the mother like “I am done.” “ I can’t do this anymore.” When I came to these moments in all three of my births, I decided that I could not and would not do it anymore. I literally decided to get up and walk away. Luckily for me, my talented and experienced labor coaches knew better, and gently guided me back into the room, reminding me that what was to come could not be avoided.

Instead of avoiding these intense times of uncertainty, of the feeling of a broken connection of knowing ourselves, we need to just be with it, be present, be in the moment. We will not like them, and we likely cannot change them. We need to sink into those moments and claim them as part of who we are, a necessary part of the process , and an uncomfortable, though critical moment of self-discovery. And like Mary, we can rest there gracefully, knowing that God is with us.

As the prophet Joshua reminds us “There is no place where the divine is not present.”

If we envision this process of transition as something circular with the endings and beginnings falling into each other, the center is that place of most discomfort. And as we enter into the season of Advent and consider the coming of Christ, we also know that the center of this circle (while difficult, painful, and frustrating at times) is also the center that offers hope, coming from a community of faith. We rest in this place.

As Tao Te Ching wrote:
“We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood into a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.”

Pema Chordrom writes that each moment that we live is its very own transition. Each breath, each movement of our body encompasses the elements of transition: a beginning, a moment of tension, and an ending. We can practice our process of transition in little moments, or in significant life changes. For all of us right now, in some way, this very moment marks some sort of transition: The anticipation of an ending; a new job; a change in relationship; turning in a major school project; letting go of a loved one; the anticipation of Christ’s coming; our thoughts about what we will eat for lunch and what games we will play this afternoon; the newness of a baby…..the long period of feeling lost, powerlessness and the breaking of life’s continuity and stability as we know it.

It is important that we approach these changes with a heart filled with gratitude, and an ability to look outward to our community, and the challenges we face, as Mary did.
What is the gift you can give this season to your community? How is God working in your community, and how can you join in more effectively? How can you start the new year, the Advent season with a heart for service and grace, with a receptiveness to be open to God's leading and to give of ourselves, in spite of the difficult transitions we all are facing and will face.

In whatever form, we are all in transition. Each of us will leave something in this moment and also take something with us. I would like to take the next few minutes to reflect on these. While I play some music with Neil, my hope is that you can spend a few minutes thinking about words that describe what you will leave and what you will take with you in this transition. I know it is hard, but I want you to leave it to one word for each one. One word for what you take, and one word for what you leave. When these two words become clear to you, I invite you to choose two seeds and write one word on each seed. Leave one in the basket, and take the other with you. Do this in silence. Hold it during times of prayer and times of remembrance, as a way to honor the possibilities that are held in the moment of each transition to come. And may God be with you as you rest in this space of letting go, of uncertainty and confusion, and of the precious beginnings of something new.