Ten years ago, Mary went on a pilgrimage to the island of Iona. She didn’t know anybody else who was going, she just knew she needed to go. Everyone on this pilgrimage was assigned a role through which they would use their gifts to bless the rest of the community.
Mary was to be the bard. She was to bring poems, prayers, and stories, and share them at appropriate moments during their travels so that the thin spaces would shimmer a little more brightly.
If you know Mary, that is a perfect role for her.
So she gathered, wrote, prayed, and prepared. When she arrived, she realized that there were also two other bards, both significantly older and more educated than her (she was 29 at the time).
You know that moment when you are all dressed up and you realize you’re not going anywhere?
Well, that’s not what Mary experienced.
Both of the older bards saw Mary. They noticed her emerging gifts, and they created space for her. They stepped back and let Mary carry most of the weight of being the bard. They did this because they had eyes to see someone who was truly on a pilgrimage.
Can you imagine that kind of grace?
I want to be the kind of person who sees people who on are the verge of growing and becoming, and who moves aside. I want to create space for them, rather than demand it for myself.
So how does that work?
This summer, birds came and built a nest above one of the windows on our front porch.
Normally, I do not think of myself as a terrible person. But when I first saw that nest beginning to take shape, I grabbed a ladder and some gloves, and took it down. I didn’t want a messy bird’s nest on our front porch. But these birds were built of stubborn stock. So they began building their nest again.
And I took it down again.
When they began building it the third time, I let it happen. I figured they deserved it. Plus, Mary was less than excited that I had taken it down in the first place.
“I keep imagining that mother bird, circling and circling, when she’s ready to lay those eggs!”
So we watched that little community of birds work tirelessly to create space. Here’s the inescapable truth: When you see the potential for new life emerging, or when you see someone truly on a pilgrimage, you may be invited to create space for that new life to grow. If you choose to do it, it is some of the most satisfying work you’ll ever do.
There is a couple in our lives, slightly older than us, who do this so well. Their home is a sanctuary for those on pilgrimage, and they are always creating space for people to grow and become. They can see those on a pilgrimage because they themselves are on a pilgrimage. The road that you travel can teach you to see the other travelers, if you are looking.
But when those birds were born, it got messy.
In theory, everybody likes organic and messy, until a pile begins to form, and someone needs to clean it up. I have found it to be messy when new life is growing.
Recently we spent most of the day with our slightly older friends on their boat. After a long, fun day, we walked by a playground which had been half-flooded from powerful storms the night before. Our boys immediately wanted IN THAT WATER. Mary and I hesitated; we knew it would mean cleaning and drying and messy and HASSLE, and it was already late. Thankfully, we created space for our boys to get messy. And it was a beautiful moment.
When those birds got ready to fly the nest, it got really sad. Some of them made it, and some of them didn’t. There they were, sitting on the concrete pad, and they looked like they had no idea what to do. And the mamas and daddies weren’t anywhere around. One of them died. For days, we had post it notes up on the door that led to the garage, reminding us to WATCH FOR THE BIRDS ON THE DRIVEWAY!
Here’a another inescapable truth: If you want new life to grow, you have to let it grow. Sometimes, it can be unbelievably painful to watch. Some of them won’t make it. But you can’t step in every time it looks like failure is about to happen.
I happen to be on a pilgrimage myself. And the road has taught me to see some younger travelers who are also on a pilgrimage. These men and women are passionate and full of life. I have great hope in the future because of them, especially the future of the church. I do not know what it will look like in 30 years (I only know that it will look different, it must look different), but I’m not worried.
Don’t read the books that tell you to be worried that the church must change now, or it will DIE. What must be done is to look up from your own pilgrimage (HINT: it helps to be on one), and then to see the younger ones who are also on that road. Make space for them. Move aside for them. Let them be messy. Let them fail.
Create space for them, walk with them in their messes, and believe in them.
That is what is necessary for our future to be very bright. We can do this.
We must do this.