I once spent the greater part of a long weekend on a mountainside with a group of strangers. Our gathering served as introduction to a two-year experiment in human relations with a storied history, complicated present, and uncertain future. We couldn’t have known at the time what our journey together would hold. The deep contradictions that tested the limits of who we were trying to be had yet to surface. Selected to represent difference itself, we sat in a large circle where we heard invitations to create beauty and to heal the brokenness of community. Hours turned into days as we listened to one another share our stories. Where are you from? And who are your people?
Traversing new grounds unawares, it was not always clear whether we were making molds or breaking them. Several years have passed and I am still sitting with all we plowed under in our efforts to sow something worth harvesting. What, then, remains to be gleaned? Looking back, I remember the holiness of sacred promises made. Some we kept. Others proved aspirational. I wonder what we might say to one another were we to begin again. What do we know now that we couldn’t know before?
Hindsight can be telling, especially when we remember to go back for one another. With stories reverberating and histories repeating—and her stories, too—I am mining the many journeys launched that first weekend for something honoring of the complexities and contradictions through which we come to know ourselves as part of something both beautiful and broken. If one circle begets another, and even if it doesn’t, I wonder about the people and places that carry us from one chapter to the next. What if it takes all of us—even those we leave behind, even those who leave us—to live into something we can only become together?
Being human takes both nature and nurture. It is also an embodied practice that sometimes yields more humane versions of ourselves. Claiming humanity can require the willing suspension of all kinds of things: belief. perfection. greatness. But what happens when we entrust others with our basic assumptions about who we are? Whose humanity emerges when we share our greatest fears and deepest truths? What kind of generous hearing can we afford? And can we learn to distinguish commitment from confession, abdication from absolution?
As I turn to tables set for a new group of folks hoping to find in one another the courage to court ambiguity, I return to my own journey. What I remember is not always mine, but when I get quiet enough to hear my own still-small voice, I find more than myself. What if liberation requires the kind of deep listening through which reckoning and reflection make way for all the rest? When I remember all the way back to that first weekend on the mountain, I can count the people and promises we left behind. Centers, then, do not hold. But circles are no panacea either. I wonder who we might be if we sacrificed winning and losing in favor of one another? What if we reclaimed a value system that celebrates service over status? What if we remembered mutuality and meaning over and against more, and more, and more?
Going back for one another, for brothers and sisters and friends and strangers, too, changes things—including ourselves. Why invite a group of strangers to close in without closing ranks? What does it take to hold space for others to hold their own? As I look back on a journey others began this fall, I am reminded of the distance between intention and impact, between remembering and forgetting. What am I missing? And who is already falling through the cracks? What will this new group circling up decipher and discern on its own?
Translation is no small task. Nor transcription. It bears repeating that language is not always legible beyond our own ear shot. And so, as the legacy of one circle shapes the contours of the next, I wonder: What are we passing down and up and over and on from generation to generation? In whose image are we creating one another? And how much time and space can we give and take in worlds both unraveling and revealing?
If today is made up of moments and movements, what comes next? Time is ticking, and some have been counting down longer than others as the long arc of a steep learning curve just keeps coming. With teachings before us and behind us, one thing is certain: mine is not necessarily yours, and ours is always precious. Birthright, then, is bigger than me and you. It shapes circles and communities and countries alike. What of these gospels that preach prosperity over dreams and destinies? Not all growth is made equal. There is always more to remember. To hear. To feel. There is so much more. And then there’s enough.
As seasons and years come to their close, I’m looking for purchase measured in practices of sacred sufficiency that leave enough for you and for me. Will I get off the ladder—again and again—to bless the always-already worthy? This work of valuing differently honors difference itself. It also requires more than heads and hearts. It wants for our hands. Learning and unlearning, then, takes all of us. What our minds cannot yet know, the nose might sniff out. What the heart is not yet ready to hear is already aching in our bones. With lives on the line, I hold to this truth: that time, too, has a teaching. What does your here and now require? Mine wants for a new trinity—yours, mine, ours.
January 6, 2021