Breath of the Spirit: The Wonder of One More Step
When the Scriptures speak of faith as the Letter to the Hebrews does today, it is almost habit to think of “what” we are supposed to believe, as if having faith means believing in the “right” things. But Jesus casts faith in a very different light, instead inviting us to trust, and see the beauty in, what is right in front of us. In a world that can feel overwhelming in its negativity, Jesus asks for a mysticism of the present moment, and the wonder of taking one more step.
August 7, 2022: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
The Wonder of One More Step
A reflection by Jeff Vomund
“The road is dark but wonderful,” is a phrase I learned in a similarly titled book on Christian mysticism that I read about 15 years ago. I loved the phrase and the book, but sometimes, if I’m honest, the road just seems dark.
And by “sometimes,” I mean “now.”
At times on that dark road, the shadows surround me as if in an embrace. Th dark and the aloneness hides and protects me. But these days, the shadows threaten me with what lies behind them and with what may lie ahead...I am unsure how to support a friend through their struggles. I feel disconnected from myself. I do not know how to move forward in my job. I feel unable to support my parents in their aging. I am baffled at how I might better support my partner...So much darkness, so little wonderful.
I wonder if the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was feeling some of this unwonderful darkness when they wrote this section of their letter, a demanding diatribe that we must trust in God as our forebears did. It’s just the kind of unremitting certainty makes me want to forego Sunday morning preaching for reruns of Harry Potter on cable TV. I want to inform the author of Hebrews that trusting God isn’t really the issue, it’s trusting myself that’s the problem. God’s goodness is fine and all, but what am I to do to help my friends, or better the world, or help myself?
Hebrews locates this call to trust in a desire for “a better homeland, a heavenly one.” I also find this to be cold comfort. How does this trust in an eternal Disneyworld, to which I am promised a future ticket, help me when I am unsure of how I might get to Florida? How does the promise of a New Jerusalem with streets paved in gold help me walk this path without stumbling?
As is so often the case, I find some light in the example of Jesus–although in today’s gospel one must wade through a fair amount of linguistic detritus to see it: all this talk of severe beatings and punishment can be such a distraction. Jesus offers a parable inviting us to be focused on the requirements of the present moment. Peter–always wanting to be in the cool kid crew – asks if it is meant for everyone or just “for us.” Jesus responds with another parable just like the first, inviting listeners to focus on what is right in front of them, to be present in this moment, to do only that one next thing. Just the opposite of Hebrew’s trust in a better, heavenly whenever, Jesus advises that we need not concern ourselves with the Master’s arrival, but rather be focused on what we are called to do right now. As if talking to my 10-year-old self, Jesus invites me not to ask when mom and dad might come home but simply to wash my dinner dishes and do my homework. Jesus invites me to worry less about the contours of the path down the road and focus simply on my next step.
That is so often the advice I need when I am overwhelmed by the darkness that surrounds me. I want the path to be lit for miles ahead so I can see where everything is headed, but Jesus promises only the gift of a next step. The question is not “Can I see down the path?” but rather, “Do I have the knowledge and courage for one more step?” Undertaking a long journey can paralyze me with fear, but (usually) I have the courage for one more step. The path to being a good friend, a good son, or partner, or employee can be too daunting for me–too dark–but most of the time I can discern the next step: make a phone call, finish an assignment, send a text, offer to help. I cannot take on global warming, but I can take public transit. I cannot work on systemic racism, but I can work to make sure any hiring processes protect against our implicit biases.
I am neither particularly trusting nor especially courageous, and so sometimes looking at the long road ahead is too much for me: too much uncertainty, too many opportunities to fail. And so today Jesus invites me (and perhaps you) to focus simply on that next step: to be present to, and invest in, just this very next moment. What is the next, most necessary thing? Make a phone call, do the laundry, exercise, read an article, complete a schedule, listen to the person I am with: these are things I can generally do. And to be fair, when I do them, it is often wonderful, wonderful to take that one next step.
So often I want to see the whole road, but Love invites me to look at my next step. To trust in the one most important thing that is required of me in this moment, and to let go of the rest. To save those things for the next next step, or for some other step down the road, which I may not be able to see clearly from where I stand today, but which I may well be able to navigate when it is right in front of me. I know the road is dark. I am not sure if it is wonderful. But I can usually figure out my next step. Just one step. And one, very concrete step forward, that is wonderful indeed.
Jeff Vomund is a member of Dignity/Washington and currently lives in Arlington, VA. After 15+ years of full-time parish ministry and 7 years of teaching students with particular learning needs, Jeff now works at George Mason University as a Graduate Research Assistant and a Graduate Lecturer, while pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.