I love to walk or run in the woods with our yellow lab, Howie. Watching him crash through the underbrush and along the trails, chasing after some scent oblivious to me is one of my great delights. Whenever I’m in the woods, I can feel my inner mapmaker imprinting the winding paths into my being. It isn’t a skill I have cultivated, it is simply the way I’m built. One day I was reflecting on this inner mapmaker and enjoying the late afternoon, when I realized with a start that I had gotten myself lost.
It was getting late enough, and I had run long enough that I wasn’t too thrilled about getting myself turned around. I wandered for awhile then called Jim to let him know I was a bit turned around and would be delayed getting back home. I confess it took a little risk, acknowledging I was lost in the first place. We chatted until I had found my way, and I realized it was rather nice to have his companionship while I was ‘lost,’ even though, practically speaking, there wasn’t much he could do to help me. I did also check my phone gps in this process, although the trails themselves don’t appear, and I was thankful for all those who make available shared wisdom.
All of that got me thinking about our spiritual journeys. In the Episcopal tradition, we are not given the answers. Instead, we are given room, both the responsibility and the authority, to explore what we believe. Sometimes those explorations are solo ventures. We are the ones who are walking the winding paths, seeing the sights and hearing the coyotes sounding notes of alarm a little too close for comfort. At the same time, we are given the wonderful gift of community, others with whom we share the journey who update the collective maps on the satellite or provide the counterweight to our wanderings.
In fact, Diana Butler Bass, in her most recent book points out a fairly significant shift in the faith lives of people living today. In the middle of the last century, Bass points out, people determined what to believe, which told them how to behave and, therefore, where they belonged, in that order. Today, by contrast, the trend has shifted considerably. Most people first and foremost are looking to belong, and once they feel a part of the community, they then begin exploring what practices they might engage, which shapes their behavior and, in turn, influences not what, but how, they believe.
Most of us simply don’t want to be told to color within the lines or be handed down a tract outlining what we should believe or think or do. A list of rules or statements doesn’t draw us in nor sustain us. What most of us yearn for, whether we’re part of a religious organization or not, is a community with whom to journey.
I love the story in John’s Gospel about Jesus and the woman at the well. She was pretty lost in her life, and Jesus met her just where she was, at the well, alone, in the heat of the day. By having a real connection, an open and real conversation wherein vulnerability and failure and brokenness was met with love, the woman found her way home. And the result was immediate. She reached out to others-even those with whom she had known alienation and judgment-inviting them into community as well.