April 3, 2011
In a recent visit to the Kansas farmstead where I grew up, I was given a photo of the old farmhouse in which I lived from birth to young adulthood.
The picture showed a decaying wooden structure that echoed the stark reality of a Wyeth landscape. Wind and weather had obliterated all evidences of paint; windows were uneven; some panes were broken. The doors were crooked and the roof was patched. There were no trees and no grass—just the hard, barren ground that in summer was sun-baked too hot for bare feet and in winter was swept by snow and wind and frozen iron hard.
I could trace a portion of the path worn smooth by feet carrying water from the well to the kitchen. The corner of the porch was hidden by shadow in the photo, but I remembered that a can of kerosene was kept there. One of my assigned chores was to fill the oil lamps with kerosene each evening before dark.
At the edge of the picture I could identify the patch of cement that served as a roof for the storm cave. On hot summer nights my sister and I would lie on the cement (it felt cooler than any place in the house) and watch the stars in the summer sky.
At first glance the photo triggered a sense of shock. The picture recorded accurately both that house as it was, and the world in which that house stood as it too had been. I remembered both with an immediate awareness that powerfully merged past and present.
The shock did not lie in the revisited reality of the “then,” or in the reality of the “now” with which that “then” connected. The shock lay in a sudden sense of the length of the journey between that then and the present now, and the infinite incremental changes through which “then” (who I was) has become “now” (who I am).
Change whether in therapy or in spiritual formation confronts us inevitably with the enigma of choice. We choose—indeed we must choose—and change flows from those choices. But choice as we make it is not all the story.
Change comes too through the world around us and its resulting impact. This change comes in ways that sometimes shapes our lives without registering in our conscious awareness.
On those quiet summer nights, lying on the cooling cement slab I looked up into the vast starry universe of the galaxies that stretched beyond my knowledge and my reach. I did not choose those stars, the measureless distances of the Milky Way, or the eerie flickering mystery of the Northern Lights.
Remembering today things that without my choice have none-the-less shaped my life and the person I have become.
What in your world today is shaping the person you are becoming?
See you next week.