It was a breath-taking late-October day. The sky wasn’t just blue, it radiated blue. Several frosts had already prophesied the coming of winter and robbed some of the trees of their fall colors. The stubborn ones still held a weakening grip on their gold, yellow and orange. There was just enough crispness in the air to make you feel alive, but not enough to chill you. I was seated on the patio with twelve fellow students as we had accepted autumn’s irresistible invitation to hold our class outdoors. It was just too beautiful to stay inside.
In our last contemplative prayer class (last Thursday), we had practiced an exercise known as “stepping stones.” The goal of the exercise is to allow God, in a time of quiet meditation, to bring up a memory from our past, either recent or distant. We were then to permit God to give us his perspective of that event. We were to allow Him to tell us our story, rather than tell our story to Him. It’s a rather amazing experience. Our assignment over the weekend was to spend some additional time alone repeating this exercise and allowing God to expand on what He was already saying and doing in us.
Today we met again. We were to share with the group what we had experienced over the weekend. Prior to doing that, our spiritual director read the passage she has used as a theme throughout our time here. Joshua 1:3 “I will give you every place where you set your foot.” As she read it, I found God opening my heart to this passage in a way I had never experienced.
I clearly heard God tell me that my past, my memories, every event I had ever experienced, these were the places that I had walked upon, the places I had set my foot, and they were mine. They belonged to me. I owned them. One of the things we often mean when we say we “own” something is that we take responsibility for it. That is not what I mean in this instance. I mean I possess it. My memories were my memories. My experiences were my experiences. They belonged to me.
As these thoughts were racing through my mind, I felt something happening in me. Though I was not yet clear about the implications of what I was hearing, they were nevertheless having an impact upon me. I literally felt something changing inside of me. It seemed as if I had been internally seated and I was slowly standing up.
I shared my thoughts with the group. I did it a little reluctantly as I was not able to articulate it like I was feeling it and I did not yet know what it really meant. I shared it anyway. As others began to share around the circle, some of them began to refer back to what I said. They reported that when I spoke the words impacted them. One person said something exploded in them. Another relayed that they immediately began to look at their past differently.
It was clear that something was happening to others in the group. As each one spoke, it seemed that my understanding increased. I owned the moments of my past, they did not own me. Because I owned them, they did not have power over me, I had power over them. As the minutes passed, it was clearer and clearer that something was shifting inside of me. God was taking me to a place I had been seeking but hadn’t been able to find. I did not belong to those moments in my past, those moments belonged to me. I could do with them what I wanted.
In some ways, I had become a victim of those moments. Though they had occurred many years in the past, I was still attempting simply to survive them. Today…that all changed.
At this writing, I do not yet know the extent of what has happened to me. I have tried in the previous paragraphs to articulate it but feel woefully short of having done so. However, the attempt at this point is important. My sense is that as I continue my attempts to explain it that it will continue to unfold for me.
The real test is yet to come. I am returning home this next Friday. I will walk back into the challenges of life that are mine to live right now. As I live them, I will either be different or I won’t. No one will have to tell me which of those is true. I will, without a shadow of doubt, know. If my experience today was any indication, I am excited at the prospects.
As we closed our prayer time today, I realized that owning my past affected how I viewed my future. There was an anticipation brewing in me regarding my moments yet to be lived. I have a feeling that I will experience them in a dramatically different way than I ever thought possible. They haven’t happened yet…and I already own them!