I was touched by all the well wishes I received from people at SLC my last Sunday there before sabbatical. But the one that came most often was this – “Be careful.” I assume they were probably referring to the fact that, unlike normal pastors who have spa days or take up gardening or a cooking class, I plan to spend part of my sabbatical doing some crazy bike rides and backpack trips. For those who know me very well, telling me to be careful usually has the opposite effect. My mother knows this well. So I got a kick out of these parting words from many.
But then I started to think…being careful is really what this sabbatical is all about. If you are going to go on a long bike race/tour, how do you be careful? You train. You ride, you climb, you cross train in ways that increase in intensity and distance. And how you train can be just as important as that you train. Just showing up on the day of the ride would be the real danger. If you are disappearing into the woods for a week, how do you be careful? You plan ahead, you pack light but ready for the worst case. You talk to people in the know. You invite a friend. If you just bound up to any old trail with a fishing pole and a sleeping bag, that’s dangerous.
But here’s the $62 question…how do you be careful with your faith? I’ve had the chance in the last three weeks to do a fair amount of reading, some visits with young adults, and I am currently in the midst of visiting professors, family, and other faith formation folks in the Midwest. We’re talking about taking care of our faith and the faith of others. The funny thing is, a lot of our conversation sounds a bit like training for something big. How we do this journey is changing, and how we approach it is just as important as that we do it. A lot of our assumptions are up for grabs; a lot is being questioned; a lot is changing. And in the midst of it all, there is a great hunger for the holy, a great desire to train and to work toward meaning and purpose with increasing intensity and depth. Of course this requires accompaniment – community that is open to those who are seeking and happy to accompany them on the journey, with both an open mind to a new perspective and a grounding in the sacred. This requires the right equipment as well – scripture, relevant tradition, presence, ritual. How are we careful with our faith? By practicing it, by opening ourselves to new questions, and by accompanying one another along the way. Life can be confusing, rapidly changing, and sometimes, downright dangerous. We’re part of a beautiful and gracious story that actually has an impact. To show up to life without a sense of how faith matters might be the biggest danger of all. Be careful!