Snippets from Seattle

It’s very early in the morning. The sun is rising and starting to stream in the window of my hotel room. I am in Seattle, a city that is new to me. I was supposed to be on a flight home early today, but it got cancelled and shifted in such a way that while I will be on a plane this afternoon, it won’t get me to Toronto until tomorrow. And so, I have some time to begin unpacking what the last few days have been like.

A conference called Inhabit by the Parish Collective is what brought me here, a gathering of people that are exploring what it means to be church in the (your) neighbourhood, with an emphasis on the sharing of stories to build communal imagination. As one who strongly believes in the power of narrative, I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about The Dale. For me this always means centering the people of our community in the story and bringing to life what journeying together means for us, in all of its messiness and beauty. 

My emotions felt much like that throughout the conference: messy and somehow beautiful. I arrived into the space kind of giddy with expectation. Like so many, this was my first trip of this kind since before the pandemic and I felt really excited to be with people. I also arrived rather tender. There is a lot of big transition in my life that is still very fresh and will take time to navigate and settle. Entering any space as your full self is vulnerable. If I was going to embrace this experience as I hoped, it meant being willing to experience a real variety of things, including fun, seriousness, quick hello’s, deep conversation, questioning, laughter, early mornings, late nights, and tears. 

Anyone who knows me (or even sometimes who has just met me) will attest to how easily I cry. Though this is true, I was taken aback by the force and frequency of my tears while here. Sometimes it was a song or a story. Most often it was in conversation, either while a person attentively listened or shared back with me their own challenges. There was a relatively brief group exercise that we were invited to do which led to a disarming moment of connection. A lot of people offered me unprompted words of encouragement that were exactly what I needed and shockingly on point. I am prayerfully working through all of this. 

I find that when I am attentive to my sadness, it actually opens the door for great joy. Inhabit was that too. We got to walk the city and eat meals together, share cab rides and drink coffee. There was much stimulating conversation about faith, church, psychology, neighbourhood, equity, along with so many other things. I had a variety of encounters with people living outside, made friends with two little girls at a dance competition in the same hotel I was staying at who invited me to watch their routine (I sadly couldn’t), and met someone who goes to my cousin’s church- reminding me yet again that the world can actually be surprisingly small. 

It was amazing to be in Seattle with a group of Canadians who are my beloved friends and encouraging to connect with other folks from up north, expanding the circle. Our group knows how to party, and so we brought that energy too. I am also grateful to have been embraced by so many people from the US. This was a special few days. Though I am admittedly exhausted in this moment, the energy percolating is real. The processing has just begun. 

Processing in Solitude

I am outside of the city, alone. Due to the generosity of some dear friends, I am staying in a cabin by a lake, a perfect spot to seek the solitude that I need. It is quiet. The sun is slowly setting, making the water glisten and sparkle with the last of its light. Every once in a while, I hear the hum of hummingbirds and the groan of frogs. 

This is not the first time I have been here. I am reminded of this as I scan the guest book that I have repeatedly inscribed. More often than not I expect to spend at least some of each visit journaling, praying, and working things out that have been huddling in my heart. I am not usually at a loss for words. In fact, I can be spinning with them: writing in a flurry, talking out loud to myself and to God, catching thoughts as they swirl around my head. 

For the last number of days I have been struck by this: I have no idea what to say. I’m surprised that I am even compelled to sit and type right now. Since mid-March life has looked extraordinarily different. As I got in the van to drive here, I kept thinking, “now I will finally begin to process 2020.” That thought now makes me smirk. But maybe it shouldn’t. 

Processing can take on various forms. Just because I find myself mute doesn’t mean I’m not working things out. I think I’m listening- to the wind, the grasshoppers, the sound of the clock on the wall, and the water as it laps against the shore. I have always loved John O’Donahue’s turn of phrase, “the great poise of the trees” and so I’m considering it as I stare at the trunks that sprout out of the ground and reach up to the sky. I am reading a book a day, voraciously interested in other people’s words. 

There is something comforting about being in a place where it is easy to feel connected to the earth just doing its thing. The sun rises in the east, slowly moves across the sky until it sets in the west. Whether I’m watching or not, dragonflies zoom through the air, chipmunks scurry along the ground, and minnows glide through the water. While sitting in a kayak today, just watching my surroundings, a figurative dam opened in my heart and I began to weep. 

For those who know me, tears typically come quickly and easily, though strangely not to the same degree over the last number of months. As someone who has experienced repeated crisis, I kind of know how to “manage” it. I do what needs to be done because it has to get done. What I can forget in the middle of it is to slow down, to stop. Scripture invites me to be still and know that God is God, both because of and in spite of whatever circumstances I find myself in. 

It is dark now. The stars are making an appearance. I hear a trio of loons. I will read a little more, and then turn in for the night. The weight of everything going on in the world remains heavy. There is much to process, learn, and go and do. I trust the words will come. But first I will sit, enveloped in silence.