July 26, 2020
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” ~ John 7:37-38
John and I watched the documentary about Congressman Lewis, called John Lewis: Good Trouble. It was inspiring and informative. Lewis had a great sense of humor, in addition to tremendous courage and passion. There was a scene where he was walking up the steps to the Capitol with his chief of staff, Michael, and he was teasing Michael about baptism. He said, “you were sprinkled; I was dunked.” Michael responded with “are you saying you’re more baptized than I am?”
It was a joke, of course, but in combination with the weather this week, it got me thinking about sprinkling, deluge, and immersion. For over a week, storm clouds have been building up over the La Platas, but at our house, we only got a light sprinkling of rain here and there. It was a bit tantalizing, because the sky looked like rain, and there was lightning, and we could even see dark grey lines of water coming down, but out of reach. Then, on Thursday night, a real rain started pouring down.
It was like everything changed. The earth soaked it up eagerly. The mountains disappeared behind heavy clouds.
And since then, we’ve been having hard rains on and off. Last night the sound of it pounding on the roof woke me up, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. Sometimes a sprinkle is not enough, and we long for more, and then when it comes, we aren’t ready, we aren’t open enough to take it in. Annie Dillard says, “Experiencing the present is being emptied and hollow. You catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” I have always loved that image of so much grace pouring on us, as we struggle to open ourselves enough to catch a few drops.
How do we turn our cups upwards to catch the grace that God showers on us?
One thing I’ve found is that if I can take the pressure off of myself—the burden of expectation that I will make things turn out a certain way, that there is only one version of success, and that I am required to make reality match that predetermined vision, — then I become free to see opportunities, more than problems. Before the pandemic started, I was in a very stressful mode of relating to my work. It seemed that there were problems, and that I was responsible for solving them. Certain things that one of my teammates had done did not fit my vision of how we were supposed to be. This seemed like it had created multiple problems that I didn’t know how to solve and didn’t want to address. I felt a heavy weight on my shoulders.
Then, as I started to see news reports about the coronavirus, and people changing plans, something important shifted in my perspective. I felt a responsibility to lead my organization, but no longer in a heavy, problem-oriented way. Instead, I found the opportunity to make good decisions. I consulted our Medical Direction Committee, and we decided to cancel our upcoming volunteer programs for the health and safety of our community partners as much as that of our volunteers. Many plans changed, and that opened up opportunities to collaborate in new ways. We had conversations with our staff teams in Ecuador and Mali and listened to what they were hearing from community members. Together, we found ways to support the communities’ efforts to mitigate the effects of the lockdown in Ecuador and to prevent the spread of the virus in Mali. I also saw an opportunity to connect with our supporters in the U.S., while many were staying home, and we launched a series of Virtual Ventures to share about recent projects and cultural experiences in Mali and Ecuador. Although from one perspective, the pandemic is a much, much larger problem than those I was facing earlier in the year, my outlook shifted, and I have been able to see opportunities. In this way, I have been opened to experience God’s grace in so many ways, from the chance to strengthen relationships via Zoom to the generosity of so many donors who are happy to help others, to new collaborations and new projects.
What problems are weighing you down? Can you move a little bit to the left or to the right, and see opportunities in their midst?
I believe that God is always showering us with blessings, but so often I am closed and unable to receive them. Sometimes a small shift in perspective allows me to turn my cup upwards and be filled by them.
And, for me, immersion in moving water has always symbolized being in a state of grace. Most years, at this time of the summer, I would be in Quebec, jumping into a hole in a waterfall that we call “the cauldron.” There, I feel the living water all around me, and know that I live in a stream of grace. That physical experience represents, for me, the joy of immersing myself completely in the dynamic process of responding to the opportunities around me, of living out my role in the world. The challenge is to immerse myself in this work daily, opening myself to the grace cascading around me, so that it may flow through me as well.
Gertrude of Helfta gave us this prayer:
In the presence of your love,
I ask that you unite my work
With your great work,
And bring it to fulfillment.
Just as a drop of water,
Poured into a river,
Becomes one with the flowing waters,
So may all I do
Become part of all you do.
So that those
With whom I live and work
May also be drawn to your love.