Perhaps it was the trip to England and Wales. Perhaps it was a book a friend recommended. Perhaps it’s the leaves turning as they always do this time of year. Perhaps its the line from the psalms that keeps rumbling in my head: “One day tells its tale to the next.” This set of convergences–convergences of past and future meeting in the present moment–has drawn my attention to the way the cloth of the future is woven from threads spun in the past.
Families divided in the Great Wave of immigration and children separated by divorce reuniting on a beach in Wales or in a museum in London. Discovering the threads that link them together, the threads they share. A love of history. A shared expression. A memory. The color blue. A way of looking at the world. Threads spun in the past being woven into the fabric of the future.
In her book, The Third Chapter, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, looks at howpeople in the third chapter of their life, create a new version of themselves. After exploring third chapters in the lives of men and women who, upon or just before retirement, entered into a time marked by new learning and new ways of navigating in worlds either similar to or radically different from the worlds in which they had worked. Lawrence-Lightfoot characterizes these third chapters as ones of generatively, of giving forward chiefly characterized by learning and giving. “For women and men in the Third Chapter, the process of learning something new feels both familiar and strange, exciting and terrifying, mature and childlike, both in character and out of body, like returning home and setting out on an adventure to an unknown destination.”(11) Kind of like faith journeys–both of individuals and of communities. Journeys in which people–collectively and individually–step out into the unknown.
In his long poem, “For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”, W. H. Auden writes:
He is the way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek him in the land of anxiety.
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the life.
Love him in the land of the flesh.
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
I don’t think people step into the unknown without holding on–even ever so lightly–to a rope linking them to their past. Our past provides the foundations for the future. We know this from our lives–both individually and collectively. And we know this from the world in which we live and move and have our being.
Ten days ago, I was in York, England, in one of the greatest cathedrals inEngland. That cathedral–powered by electricity, promoted on the internet, served by a woman dean heralded by some as the woman most likely to be the first woman bishop in the Church of England–rests on Roman ruins, Norman foundations, middle Gothic and high Gothic columns and vaults. Some of the glass in the windows is over a thousand-years-old. People have worshipped in that space for 1500 years. York Minster (which is what the Church of England calls churches that are a center for neighboring churches) gives living witness to futures unfolding on the foundations of the past.
Futures unfolding on the foundations of the past–One day telling its tale to the next and in the telling the building of new lives.