Finding the Right Words
We’d driven almost 3,000 miles, from the northern Midwest to the southwestern tip of the U.S. and were making our way home last month before I confessed that I hadn’t yet found the right words to describe the extraordinary landscape we were passing through. Expansive wasn’t big enough. Astonishing wasn’t specific enough. Thrilling didn’t do justice to my conflicted experience of speeding through the steep mountain passes – my heart gripped in a vice of fear even while awe dilated my senses wide open.
The truth is, I am a flatlander, born in and shaped by the verdant farmlands and forested lakelands of the upper Midwest. In a normal summer spent at home, I have countless words ready at hand for saying it’s humid, muggy, sweltering, damp, soupy, steamy, sticky, or just plain old close. But last month, on that distant drive through the deserts and mountains, new synapses were firing in my brain as I scrambled for language big and beautifully barren enough for the vast arid terrain stretched out all around us.
This search for the right words reminds me of how challenging it can be to find adequate language for faith – so expansive it stretches from horizon to horizon, and beyond; and still it rushes in so close we know it best, though often namelessly, from the inside out. Also, like the desert hawk and tumbleweed, faith is not meant to stand still. To be boxed, shelved, stacked, stored – contained in any single vocabulary or grammar. It is made of time, relationship and movement. More than a static noun laid down in the dictionary, I experience faith as a current, connecting, charging, enlivening, transforming. It is known to make leaps. It has the power to span otherwise unbridgeable gaps. It will travel the distance when needed.
Where is faith moving in your life now? What does it connect you to, and how are you carrying its charge? What are the verbs you might use to describe faith’s power and presence as you have experienced it? In the cynicism of our times, faith can feel like an unfamiliar terrain we visit from time to time but have trouble naming and claiming as our home. What expansive understandings and relationships might it be inviting you to explore today?
Only after we’d returned from our travels, did the mountains and deserts begin appearing in my dreams. At night, the panoramic landscapes are still unfolding inside me. Their 360-degree vistas – invitations into infinity – keep demanding that I unlace my heart. Open it farther. Make more room for wider definitions and more diverse understandings of home and homeland. Can my fears give way to awe and wonder? And awe and wonder make way for a greater love?
If you wish to consider the landscape of faith, inside and all around you, re-read the italicized questions above and begin writing with these words, following wherever they may lead:
This leap of faith I am asked to take today . . . .