405. …the swing back around again
During my last year in grad school, I was given the honor of being one of the speakers at the annual Spring Banquet. The theme of the banquet was Swing: There and Back Again and I was tasked with giving a five minute story, poem, song, or other sort of presentation.
Here’s what I shared.
I don’t know if any of you saw it, but a couple months ago, about halfway through the lenten season, I sent in a prayer request to the weekly Community Prayer Letter. In part, it read:
…as I work (frantically) to finish work for my last year as an MDiv, I find myself looking back and realizing that my first few years in grad school were spent identifying, dismantling, and debunking theologies, relational patterns, and paradigms that had been so harmful for so long. I also look back and see that the past year or so has been a time of rebuilding and repair.
It’s like I’ve spent much of my life as an airplane that’s been weighed down by baggage and faulty engines. And now much of the baggage is gone and the engine has been radically rebuilt and I’m looking at this thing wondering if it’s actually going to fly.
One thing that I forgot to mention in that prayer request: it often feels like my airplane and its rebuilt engine is held together with little more than duct tape and twist ties.
That process of dismantling and rebuilding, I’m sure many of you know and can relate, is not a linear one. It’s cyclical. You lose some old, foundational idea, and then you feel lost for a while. But then you find something new and that seems solid and so you use it as a new conceptual framework to help you navigate and make sense of life. But then a reading assignment, a point in a class lecture, a comment on a paper from a professor, a question from a friend – something reveals some fatal flaw in this new idea and then there you go again, floating away, untethered.
It’s like being on a playground swing. When things make sense, when our theologies and psychologies are working, it’s like swinging forward – there’s the rush of wind in your face and the thrill of ascent. But then you reach the end of your arc and soon you’re hurling backwards, away from the familiar, into the unseen, unknown.
Part of the fun of playground swings is the rhythmic regularity of it all – back and forth, back and forth. We can trust and enjoy the backwards arc because we know that before long, we’ll be swinging forwards again.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t have such a sense of rhythm. In my time in grad school, there have been a number of disruptions, a number of times when I’ve been in the terrifying backswing. And because there is no rhythmic regularity to the swings of life, I never knew when or even if I’d ever find a way forward again.
And here’s a bittersweet bit of truth that I’ve picked up along the way: some backswings never bring us back.
But here I am and here many of us are – looking at some crazy airplane that we hope will fly – whether that be flying through the next school year or flying into a new career. And we look at the duct tape and the twist ties and we wonder if they will hold. And we’re right to be wary, if not outright terrified, because at the end of the day, flight worthiness isn’t tested on the ground. It’s tested up in the air.
There’s a lyric from a Tori Amos song that goes:
Is there trouble ahead
for you the acrobat?
I won’t push you
unless you have a net
And I think of the faculty and the staff here and how I believe they push us as hard as they do because they know that we do have a net. We have the grace of God to catch us when our engine coughs out a piston or when our tail falls off mid maneuver. They push because they trust God’s grace for us, but more importantly, they push us because they believe we can fly.
And so here’s to flight, here’s to trust, here’s to falling, here’s to grace and to the swing back around again.