This week I have risk on my mind. I’ve never been a big one for it. As a child, I was in awe of my older sister Joy. Mom would tell us things like: “Don’t climb on the rocks.” (We lived on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.) And: “Don’t go near that abandoned house.” My sister always would do it — no matter the risk. And she’d always have wonderful tales of it all to tell. Me? I was too afraid. I’m not really sure of what. Maybe that we’d get hurt. Or get in trouble. Or maybe I was just one of those born with that innate sense of not taking the risk of breaking the rules. My sister never seemed to be stopped by it all. Me? It seemed I didn’t have enough courage to take such risks.
My aversion to risk has remained. I realize some may look at my life and think: but you’ve traveled abroad numerous times in your young life and many of those times alone — everywhere from Jamaica to Pakistan to South Africa to Estonia to Honduras to the Holy Land. You’ve stepped out of the expected box of going to college near home. (I was one of two in my high school class to go to college out-of-state.) Though you didn’t know many girls doing it, you studied things like Hebrew and Greek while earning a Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degree. On your own, you’ve bought and sold a home — more than once. And you’ve settled in a part of the country no one you knew as a child EVER even dreamed of visiting. I guess one might say I’ve taken risk after risk after risk. Perhaps I was too young at the time to know I was doing it. Or maybe then it was easier to focus on what I was gaining without thought of anything being lost.
Just a few months ago when I left the perceived job security of an installed pastoral position in order to explore the perceived lack of job security in interim ministry, my Spiritual Director shared words with me that included this: “Awaken your spirit to adventure; hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk” (from “For a New Beginning,” by John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us). These seem like words to describe my sister — not me. Though, I’m pretty sure my spirit needs these words more than hers does! After all, I was the one a few years ago who undertook a daily practice of courage for Barbara Brown Taylor’s doctoral class called The Embodied Word. Every day for a month, I had to do at least one new thing or one thing I was afraid to do. My list included everything from seeing a sci-fi movie, to going through a drive through, to playing my violin in front of about 400 people. Out of that experience of practicing courage, grew a new ministry of taking children from one side of the tracks to be with children on the other — a Practice of Encounter to see how community might grow. I’m left to wonder: will I ever be the kind of person who has learned to find ease in risk?
O’Donohue’s words in “For a New Beginning” end with: “Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, For your soul senses the world that awaits you” (Ibid.). That’s the thing with risk: not risk of staying off the rocks along the shore of Lake Michigan or watching a movie genre you never before considered. But risk of allowing life to unfold as it will. We have no idea what tomorrow holds. We can’t know where the journey will take us or how it all will work its way out. We can awaken our souls to the adventure of it all. Let life bring the great gifts it will; hold on to the hand of dear family and friends as it brings challenges to hard to face alone. Something more awaits. Something yet unseen. Ahh. Can we relax into it and let it be? For, one step at a time, the only way for us to get there is to risk.
What about you? What’s your experience of risk?
And what do you think of O’Donohue’s words?
“For a New Beginning”
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of a beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
~ by John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us