A week ago, I'd have already been on the road for 2 hours. This morning, similarly, I've been awake for awhile, but I've been grading. However, my mind wanders back to my time away at Mepkin Abbey.
We gathered to talk about the power of story. We talked about the types of stories we might tell, and we focused on these four: Hope, Exile, Repentance, and Home. Our leader pointed out that almost any story can be framed as a story of one of these elements. And since it was a retreat at a monastery, we focused on how religious traditions, particularly Christians, have seen these elements in telling our stories of the larger faith.
I thought we'd be writing our stories, but we told our stories--one of our retreat leaders modeled the process by telling by telling his story as we moved through each module. We discussed, and then we broke into groups: first pairs, then a group of 3, then 5, and then for our final gathering, we stayed as a large group and each person took a turn. It was a great way to help us get to know each other.
During the retreat, the topic of exile was the element that most moved me to take notes. I have always had this sense of exile--that I'm displaced somehow, never really home, never finding my larger tribe. I've always seen this feeling/condition as one that needed fixing--and as soon as possible. As we discussed exile, I had a moment of insight: what if this feeling of exile is the norm? Or what if it's actually a preferable state? After all, when we're in a state of exile, we remember our true home (God or Heaven or something better, if you're not inclined to use religious terms).
We are to live our lives fully while holding onto them lightly. Think about what this means:
--If we're in exile, we don't need to hoard anything. We might as well use it.
--Exile re-orients us away from our things and illusions about our lives and towards what really matters.
--If we didn't end up in exile, we might forget we need God.
--When we're displaced, we're more in tune with the moment.
We talked about this idea in spiritual terms, that our true community (church, God, social justice co-workers, etc.) may not be the larger community (the U.S., the world). But I also see this dynamic in places where we might not expect it to be at work; for example, how do we deal with the fact that we may feel in exile at places where we'd expect to feel at home, say, at church?
I wrote an e-mail to a friend upon my return. She responded: "I know, however, that I would have been abjectly unhappy if I had stayed in the village where my cousin still lives today. So, what to do: follow your dream of the big world, or then regret having lost your home for the rest of your life."
She's hit on an essential question: how do we remain faithful as we live our lives as resident aliens? The answer to that question is as varied as humanity itself. More to come!
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