How Everything Matters

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

This is what I want to try to say:

How everything, everything matters
How each choice of each moment
Supports or suppresses the creation
Of the kin-dom of God

How the spiritual life is about
A heart in tune with the
Constant dynamic reality
Of the presence of the Holy
In all things
At all times

How the vision is always larger
Than the task and the “how” of the task
Helps or hinders the vision
Accomplishment redefined
In the moment-to-moment making
(And receiving)
Of the kin-dom we seek

How the future we strain to see exists right now
In these concrete details, realities, bodies before us
How the future is not manufactured but discovered
In the places we are in and
In the people we choose to love in these places

How a heart fully awake is a heart at prayer
How love, no matter how foolish, is the best strategy
How the inefficient way is sometimes most efficient
When the aim is alignment
With the “slow work”* of God

How everything, everything matters

*Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The “Real” World

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The summer is winding down. The mosquito bites on my ankles have waned in their itching intensity. As family camps and youth camps have begun drawing toward closure, we are left with our reflections on this peculiar communal practice of going into the wilderness together to draw closer to our God and remember our belonging to one another.

It is not unusual to feel a strange dissonance in these early stages of entering back into normal daily rhythms. It may still be beyond articulation, but what one senses in the soul is a restlessness with the way things are compared to the glimpse of the way things were in a more relationally, spiritually grounded way of being. Many will have just experienced the holy relief of pure acceptance for the first time. The desire to hold on to those moments of God-presence and radical inclusion is surely an understandable feeling.

Every year, I notice something interesting as we dialogue with each other about the initial strangeness of re-entry. It has to do with what is really real. Comments will range from, “time to go back to the real world” to “camp is the real world and everything else is fake.” I find myself increasingly troubled by both ends of the “real world” spectrum and how we attempt to make meaning of these transformational moments in our lives. Isn’t all of it real?

Without integration, the experiences we’ve had lose their transformational potential in our lives and the world. The mystics throughout the centuries demonstrate that genuine spiritual experience is not meant to occur in isolation but always has real-life implications. To so quickly label one experience real and the other somehow less real is to diminish the potential for both experiences to impact each other. If this is all God’s world and God’s Spirit is incarnate everywhere within it, then all that is required of us is our attention in whatever place we are in to discover it!

Perhaps in places like youth camp and SPEC and Reunion (family camp), we find ourselves more diligently practicing attention to God’s Spirit through regular personal and communal spiritual practices like worship and prayer and shared meals and time for holy conversations. The time, which seems to be so scarce in other moments of our lives, is suddenly set-aside in abundance for this exact purpose. Does this make the other times any less real? No! Every moment, every minute is an invitation to dwell deeply in the reality of God no matter where we are or what is on our daily agenda.

In Heart of Flesh, Joan Chittister challenges us to see more clearly the link between our spirituality and the culture surrounding us. “The spiritual life, because it must be lived in the present to be real, is anything but esoteric and abstract. Culture and spirituality, in fact, are of a piece. Culture creates the framework within which the spiritual life comes to be and grow. Some people, of course, look to spirituality for refuge from the real world… But a life that takes us out of life is no life at all.”

An authentic spiritual life allows the deep roots of experiences like camp to shape the way we see the whole real world around us on a daily basis. We are not called to reject this world as some half-truth giving it our half-heartedness while counting down the days until we can escape again. We are called to draw from the reservoir within us of stargazing around the campfire and prayers for healing and inspiring messages of justice and the dream of being one in Christ to influence every detail of our daily actions. We are called now to embrace everything and everyone as real and as revelation of God’s real presence… even what we don’t want to see or accept.

The dream of shalom that has grown as a foundation in the soul does not remove us from the real but prompts us toward deeper engagement as we encounter injustice and separation of many kinds and feel that dissonant nudge reminding us of another way that can be real if we have courage enough to live its truth. We can’t forget that hungry children are also real and so are warzones and long lines on city streets waiting for the homeless shelter to open. If our spirituality is not also for these real spaces and only takes place occasionally in seclusion, we may need to ask some hard questions of ourselves.

Yet, what is also real is the power of invitation to a common table, a holy conversation, to the church which can become that place in our lives that mends the wear and tear in our shalom dream from its weeklong living. What remains real is the radical acceptance you found (even when you feel rejected) and the belonging you felt (even when you feel alone) and the relationship with the Holy that came to you with an embrace you craved (even when it’s hard to feel at times). You can trust in the realness of these things too. You can live their realness everyday and strive to make them real also for those who have never sat around a campfire singing “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.”

I would like to suggest that this year we embrace all of it as real, all of it as space for holy encounter! The fact that these incredible experiences we’ve had are real means that they can happen and become real again anywhere and anytime we open our hearts to the reality of God’s presence wherever we are!

TO BE REAL

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Let it be what it is
Don’t rush to fix it
Maybe just try to give it a name
Hold it with honesty
And the assurance of grace
Resist the urgency claim
Find rest in the inefficient

This isn’t about progress
Stand still for a while
Just long enough in one place
To sink in deep

The journey inviting us
May be the one we hadn’t thought to take
That beckons beneath our feet
Beneath the layers of protest in the soul
Over productivity and time

Rest into a different rhythm
A downward way
And forget all thoughts
Just for a while
Of moving forward

Exactly here
Is where the Spirit is speaking
Not in some future moment
But in this one
Let it say what it needs to say
About what is forming within you
And taking a shape you cannot yet see

Let what is real in you be real
And trust for a while
That it will lead to a place deeper
Where beneath the swells
Of whatever feelings emerge
Is a holy source of life
That is about more than
Merely making it through
Or suffocating politeness
Or the need to make it sound ok

Let it be what it is
Just for a while
Just long enough
To really see
What is really real
To practice being brave
To let what feels important
Find its way to the surface
Breaching in the soul
To breathe
To live