Mission accomplished, I arrived at my gate well in time for a toast to success: a parting shot of the Italian elixir known as coffee. I didn’t lose my documents, found the bathroom in time, and no fingernail died in the process. Bonus: a seat next to the coveted tech chargers; I could unfurl my technology without fear of running out of power on the 8 hr. return flight.
In an hour or so I would know if flying standby would work or leave me scrambling for a hotel (Lord have mercy). An hour to begin to decant the experience of 3.5 months in this crazy culture, lived with 50 people of 12 nationalities (nuanced by multiplied layers of personal, family and religious cultures). 3.5 months does not seem sufficient to unpack all that happened, but one can make a beginning. This is the Road Back.
About a month ago, I taught our students about this stage in the Hero’s Journey. A threshold time, a vulnerable time, it requires a death to self. It tests the Hero: did he or she truly transform, or just have an adventure? Did we transform, or just have some fun in Italy? Did I? What did I need to die to? Can the Hero (me) return home with the lessons learned, or will those lessons get swallowed up in the challenges of re-entry?
What did I need to die to? I pondered the questions I had so recently asked others, and started jotting down lessons learned:
- Community: I discovered its power in a new way, with its invitation to trust it to accomplish what I can’t accomplish alone—an old lesson, newly absorbed. Countless times, concerned about reaching a particular person in difficulty, I learned that others in the community got there first, and all was well. I marveled to watch the synchronicity of gifts in action, each one helping to meet the needs of another. The community thrived;
- Limits: some new, discouraging ones were generally related to the aging process; others, also related to the aging process, were more positive. Fierce even--to protect new horizons and freedoms gained by experience and ‘mileage.’ I want to ‘act my age’ and not try to keep up with younger ones; but I also have some work to do. How do I re-pace myself to do that work, and finish the race set before me? There are things I could do 5 years ago that I can no longer do; but I can also do things now that I couldn’t have done 5 years ago. How can I leverage and protect what I know now for a new season of ministry?
- Enlarging: related to the above, I felt a new call to “enlarge the place of my tent” (Isa. 54:3) and think bigger. There is more to Incarnate than Incarnate, which includes reproducing a model of community, leadership and spiritual life that is becoming increasingly rare, and much needed. We are not just teaching artists how to be missionaries, how to articulate their faith in a foreign context, deepen their spiritual life, or understand the theological underpinnings of their call and gift. We are teaching them (and the Italians) about community, worship, revival; about transformation, the renewing of the mind, and healing for the wounded heart.
But my hour is up and my name is called—I'm on! I swiftly pack up my technology, and claim the coveted boarding pass. I didn’t score business class, and haven’t finished compiling my ‘lessons learned,’ but happily settle into Zone 2, seat 21H. I have 8 more hours aboard Delta’s Flight 445 to New York to decant.