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Let’s Talk: About Being Human

Photo of Daniel Ross-Jones by Railroad CreekLast time I wrote to you all in this space I was getting ready for my sabbatical. I shared with you an excitement about exploring spaciousness during my time away; space to reflect, reset, and reframe.

I’ll be honest to my truth: going into my sabbatical I was beyond burned out. It is easy to blame the coronavirus pandemic for this burnout, and yet that wasn’t all of it. I was already drained going into 2020. Just making it to sabbatical in the summer of 2021 with everything that happened in between was its own miracle.

One of my sacred places and spaces is Holden Village, a former copper mining town turned Christian retreat center in the Cascades of north central Washington.

Holdenites don’t simply stumble into Holden. It takes the better part of a day just to get into the village. No roads connect Holden to the outside world. There’s no cell phone signal, no televisions – and definitely no wi-fi.

For me, one of Holden’s greatest treasures is how it immerses me so fully in the finite and infinite beauty of being human.

I sat along the creek downstream from the village center one morning, and as I did I began to think of Mary Oliver’s famous question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?” Many times in my life it has prompted me to movement. It’s compelled me into action, the kind of challenge that calls me to lean into dreams and possibilities. It has felt to me an invitation to the limitless and infinite beauty of being human.

In this moment by the creek, however, her words invited me into a different kind of reflection. Instead of infinite possibilities I reflected on my own limitations, grounding myself with a kind of realism and acknowledgment of my own mortality.

At first, I chalked this up to so much existential angst of acknowledging my own middle-agedness and the statistical reality of having reached the midpoint of my own life expectancy. As my thoughts kept coming back to this theme, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being reminded that a life fully lived is beautiful precisely because it is finite.

My two favorite liturgical celebrations in our Christian calendar begin and end the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday and the Easter Vigil truly carry me through each year. I need the reminder of my humanity, the acknowledgement that I exist and I experience only but a small, tiny fraction of the whole of the universe. And yet the whole is so much more beautiful, possible, and creative than I could ever imagine.

As my time at Holden was toward the end of my sabbatical, my mind led me to reflect on what my sabbatical was teaching me for my vocation and particular role as Associate Conference Minister, and what Spirit was nudging me to hold to in this next season of leadership.

The strongest theme I kept coming back to is this: No matter how well we equip and resource ourselves, the time since March 2020 has challenged us more than any other time in our shared lives. We cannot continue to operate without acknowledging that none of us is at 100% and none of us is designed to continuously, indefinitely operate at 100%.

Neither I, nor anyone else, is superhuman – being human is more than enough. While I think the pandemic has provided many reminders of this, the constant quest for a “return to normalcy” leads me to think we haven’t quite accepted it within ourselves.

When I’m working on strategic planning with churches and other groups, I’ll often invite the question, “What is being given up so that this goal can become a reality?”

Restored by a time of sabbatical rest, I’m giving up meeting superhuman expectations, and challenging myself to check the superhuman expectations I encounter in the systems and structures of our churches.

Because being fully human – fully, finitely human – is infinitely beautiful.


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