Last week, I took a few days to be alone, hike, read, and reflect. My heart had become a clamorous echo chamber; I needed quiet solitude and the sweet music of wind in the trees, water flowing and falling over rocks, the rumble of an occasional thunderstorm, and birdsong and cricket chirps.
For about 72 hours, I was beyond the reach of my mobile network and had only intermittent access to the internet. When I could get online, I made and allowed myself not to read the Washington Post or the New York Times. I also had a welcome break from Chief Executive tweet-mania, a respite from fake news about supposed fake news.
I reread some of Wendell Berry’s “Sabbath poems” and listened to Audrey Assad, Mavis Staples, and John Mayer.
This interlude of relative silence came at the right time: just after an appointment with my oncologist (more tests needed to investigate pain) which coincided with my vivid remembering of hard days of treatment at Duke three years ago and just before the rush of meetings which precedes the start of the new academic year at Mars Hill.
The awareness which gently and repeatedly washed over me was, “Life is gift and my response may, can, and should be gift-giving.”
The first two years of my having Multiple Myeloma were so challenging that I didn’t expect to be alive now. That I am is sheer and surprising gift to me.
I have opportunities to preach and teach in churches, most especially, these days, on a regular basis in a west Asheville congregation. There were seasons, not so long ago, when I felt the real possibility that the last sermon I preached was the last I’d ever preach.
After more than thirty-five years on a vocational journey and career path (the tensions and convergences of vocation and career are subjects for another set of reflections), I have new work to do.
I get to teach and learn with almost no thought about networking for the next position, resume-building, and career planning. After all, I’d be eligible for retirement before I’d qualify for tenure!
I have colleagues whom I respect, whose interests and intelligence intrigue me, and whose friendship enriches me.
My students invite me into their dreams, fears, and hopes in a way that humbles me.
My family and friends are flesh-and-blood signs and sacraments of the Love’s good and glad presence.
It’s all gift.
And, my calling is to lavish gift-giving—to share freely and fully whatever I manage to harvest. There’s no need now for barns and bins, for storing up for another day, or for worrying about markets and prices. “Freely you have received,” Paul said, “freely give.”
These days, I aspire, in every dimension of life, to this the wisdom Annie Dillard offered to writers:
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. . . something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water . . .The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes” (The Writing Life, pp. 78-79).