To Begin

Beginnings are hard.

These three words have been dwelling in the back of my brain, popping to the fore like clockwork, since one of my very first classes during my very first semester in seminary. Dr. Carol Bechtel, our Old Testament professor, gave us words for what I’m assuming all of us first year students were feeling. Yes. Beginning. That’s what this is. And it’s hard. 

I began this – my 7th semester of seminary – with more exhaustion than anxiety. After so much practice at beginning semesters, my “beginnings are hard” mantra didn’t make its usual appearance. But as I set out to define this directed study, to identify a why, a focus, a method… There it was: The tension and discomfort in beginning.

The last few weeks have been seeking to answer the question Where on earth do I begin? It’s funny to think about it now, realizing that the question holds the answer: on earth. This is where God began you and I and the fish and the birds and the waters and sky and and and! This is where we begin.

We are irreversibly, inextricably,  and inevitably connected to the earth and all of its inhabitants. And this fact is in no way dependent upon whether or not we acknowledge such a thing as true.  We forget, but our forgetting what we are doesn’t change what we are. We are creatures.

What I’m assuming about many of you reading this is that you have sensed this to be true, that you have seen our earth and its creatures used and abused and it has seemed to you a great injustice. You have understood your life to be somehow connected to the life of the earth. But if you’re like me, this feeling of injustice has never been quite enough to actually begin. Why? For two reasons:  1) There is an overwhelming amount of things wrong, the problem is convoluted and there is no obvious step one because every aspect feels equally urgent. Thinking on these things leads us to an incredible amount of intersections: it’s social, economic, biological, ecological, and on and on it goes. We freeze in the face of such a web of problems. And 2) this sense of connection to creation is up against our cultural narrative that tells us we are autonomous and superior beings.  Any act that attempts to gain consciousness of our creaturehood and earthen connections, no matter how small, is subverting what is normal, usual, convenient. Beginning is hard.

So, to begin. Throughout the semester you will notice Genesis 1-2:3 as our guide. Creation grounding us in creation, asking questions of us as we ask questions of it. We will think and discuss and wonder. But we will also aim to actualize. To consider but not to touch the ground would be a mistake. Look for ideas of ways to begin tangible practices here on the blog, and please-please-please share your own current (or hope-to) practices of touching the ground.

We are going to begin, and we’re going to do it together.  It’s not just too hard alone, it’s ridiculous alone. My first week of thinking on these things was spent alone in my room trying to engage the ideas of connection, and then I had a hearty laugh at myself. That’s just like me. That’s just like us. Thankfully it’s never too late to get out of my bedroom, to ask you to kneel down to the earth with me, to ask its forgiveness together, to repent together.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.
-Mary Oliver
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