Poetry has long been a staple in my life. It’s always been a medium of exploring, articulating, and even coming to understand my deepest questions. Poetry has given me a way to examine what the theologian Paul Tillich called “questions of ultimate concern.” Here’s one of my favorite William Stafford poems, “The Way It Is.” It is from a collection of his poetry also entitled, “The Way It Is.”
This poem was written shortly before Stafford’s death. It is a traveling companion that I have revisited at different times and places in my life, and it’s always sparked something powerful in me.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
We all have mysterious threads in our lives. Sometimes the thread is a religious or existential question that fascinates us. Sometimes it’s a longing for marriage, or family, or children? Sometimes it’s a specific career aspiration? Sometimes it’s an experience in our lives? A longing to travel to specific place? Sometimes the thread is related to some facet of our identity that’s being revealed or explored. As we move through our lives, we might have several threads?
In my own life, exploring religious identity has been one of my most joyous threads. From early beginnings in evangelical christian environments, to exploration of moderate mainline protestant traditions, to progressive christian traditions, to unitarian, to jewish, to Islamic, to earth based religions, and to eastern religions. The metaphor I like to use for faith is the metaphor of a sturdy tree. My roots are planted deep in christian soil, and they form the source, the basis for the trunk of my tree. This is fixed. It’s immovable. It anchors me to a particular philosophical tradition, and a particular meta-narrative. However, the branches of my tree are continuously growing up and out. The branches sway and bend and flex and dance with other trees. They dance with each other. They dance in the wind. They dance with the world around them. They grow. They play. They explore. They are forever shedding dying leaves, and sprouting new leaves in the spring time. The cycle of birth/awakening, growth/change, maturity, death, and birth yet again is a continuous cycle for my tree. This identity in my always in motion. Always fluid. Always expanding. The more I learn, the more exciting it is and the more fascinated I become. Following this thread is the work of my lifetime.
Creativity is another thread in my life. In fact, one of the most potent and meaning rich names that I know for the Divine is the title “Creator.” We imagine the Divine as one who creates. As we scan this big, wide, beautiful world–there’s no shortage of creativity. Creativity is happening all around us, always, and everywhere. Every sunset since the dawning of time has brought a different color palette and a slightly different arrangement of clouds. This ongoing act of creation has been taking place for more than a billion years. The poet in Genesis says that God spoke light into being and saw that the light was very good. God separated the light from the darkness, and suddenly there was day and night. Indeed, it is good. This ongoing act of creation is a golden hum that’s woven into the fabric of our universe.
As people who have been made in the image of God we too have been endowed with this remarkable gift of creativity. We have divine fingerprints on our lives, and creativity is our birthright. We have been invited, and even called to engage in the act of creating, creativity, and creation. There is no such thing as a person who isn’t creative. I truly believe this. There are only people who have not discovered their uniquely God-given creativity–yet. This is also related to sense of religious/vocational identity for me. As a leader and as a pastor, I can think of nothing more satisfying to me than inviting people to wake up to themselves, to believe in their own creative potential, and to release them to live into their creative gifts and make the world more beautiful.
And finally, sexual identity has been a long and winding thread in my life. The movement from a straight sexual identity to a bisexual sexual identity has been about an awakening to and an expansion of love in my life. To the many people I had the potential to love. To the many people I have in fact loved. To the infinite possibilities that exist for love. To the manifold beautiful and diverse kinds of love. Straight became too small and too constricting a container to hold the vast and spacious and infinite possibility that exist in this world. I identify with the technical term “bisexual” but underneath that label what I really identify with is an unfettered freedom to love. To love across categories. To love across social class. To love across race. To love across gender. To love across virtually any identity category. I do not abide borders and boundaries and walls of separation for love. I want to love with a holy and disruptive grace.
There’s a beautiful prayer in the book of Ephesians chapter 3, and the book’s author attributes this prayer to Paul (attribution was a common practice). The author offers this prayer for the community. And the prayer reminds the community how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ. Limitless. Infinite. Unbounded. Unpredictable. Uncontainable. Untamable. Love that surpasses knowledge. Love unexplainable. God loves us this way. The prayer further invites people to be filled to the full measure of God’s love and reminds us that with the power of this kind of transformative love at work in us, we can do more than we’ve ever dreamed, hoped, imagined, or dared would be possible. This is the benediction I use most often in churches.
These three threads have something else in common. They all require vulnerability. Vulnerability is intimately connected to spiritual growth and maturity. Vulnerability sits at the heart of creativity. It requires courage and vulnerability to engage a journey of self exploration or self discovery. Vulnerability yields growth, change, and fluid/forward movement in our lives.
Holding onto your thread doesn’t make life easy. It doesn’t make life unfold according to your agenda. Your best laid plans may not happen on the timetable that you’ve set for yourself. Life has its own secret schedule. But I resonate with Stafford. When you hold onto your thread, you do find your strength. You do find your voice. You will find your way through. Anchored to your thread, you won’t get lost. You’ll have the courage to plumb the depths of your own heart, to explore the outer reaches and unknown places in your life. You’ll have the resilience to pass through the suffering spaces in your life. You’ll uncover the growth and the wisdom that sits beneath all this. You’ll start asking really good questions. And you’ll have the humility to become receptive to the wisdom that your own questions will give you.
Each of you is pursuing your sacred thread. Don’t ever let go. I’m cheering for you.
I’d love to hear from you.
What are the sacred threads in your lives?
What practices do you engage to become fully present to the still small voice?