The Holy Days of Transition
Last week I sat on the front porch of a cabin in the North Carolina mountains. Morning rain fell, unsettling many of the autumn leaves. Several geese flew by, announcing their movement.
And I prayed Morning Prayer.
I was attending a conference at Kanuga, a place well-known to many Episcopalians. I realized as I rocked on the porch swing in the silence between prayers how many times I’d been in this place. Youth conferences, clergy conferences, or simple visits during guest periods.
I realized how many times I’ve sat on these old porches during times of transition in my life. I attended a conference in the time of transition in my life as I was discerning a call to ordained ministry. I sat around a campfire as I wondered where I’d serve as a newly-ordained priest. I found a quiet outcrop of rocks off one of the trails where I journaled about my hopes that the new call I’d accepted would be a good call. In all of these times I wondered if I’d made the right choice, the choice God wanted me to make.
And I again sat on the porch, almost a decade since the last time I rested in this place and wondered what if, how will, and when. I realized my questions had changed, that I had changed.
Previous times I’d prayed and wondered in the midst of transition as if being in transition was some part of the journey only reserved for errors and wrong turns. If we were truly on the way, we’d know exactly where to go, which direction would be the right direction, the one true way.
Now, I see another truth. Yes, there are likely preferable ways to go, but like trees knowing when leaves should bud and when they should turn vibrant colors before descending, like the geese who somehow just know when to fly south and when to fly north, we humans too are beings of transition. It’s part of our selves and souls. And our deepest selves know this.
Transition, change, and movement are not unholy because we’ve somehow failed to follow the correct path. They are part of the path. They are often parts of the path that are harder to walk. They make us long for how it used to be or entice us into the temptation of letting someone else tell us what to do (or blaming someone else for being in transition). How we live with God in transition is as important as how we live with God in the settled places.
In the three holy days as we move from the ripeness of summer to the fallow days of autumn and the seemingly barrenness of winter, we honor and celebrate transition. All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day remind us that transitions are holy. Movement is a holy thing, although not an easy thing. Life and death, night and day, joy and sorrow, the way it was and the way it will be…transitions.
During these holy days we recognize the challenges of transition and the beautiful mystery of them. On Halloween we wear costumes to disguise who we are, then remove the masks to return to ourselves, something God is always calling us to do. Removing the masks we’ve put on in our lives and transitioning back into our deepest selves and souls with God is always holy work.
On All Saints’ Day we hear the stories of the saints of our church and their varied and sometimes crazy lives as they transitioned into the people God called them to be, then transitioned again from life to death to eternal life, then transitioned into saint. And on All Souls’ Day we as Christians remember that for Christians in death, life is changed but not ended - and we still miss those we love in the midst of that change. Perhaps during this time we are invited to reflect on the day we, too, will have our lives changed but not ended in our death.
I’m in another place of transition. No, I’m not considering leaving my church (seriously, nobody panic at St. Michael’s). But realizing roots have grown deeply in this place is a transition. Loving a parish is always a lesson in transition. People come and go, are baptized and are buried. Who I am as a priest is changing. I am not the newly-minted rector anymore, and God is shifting and speaking and guiding me to lead in different ways. Apparently in the holiness of God, even being settled is a place of transition.
Geese know when to migrate. Leaves know when to turn vibrant colors and fall to the earth. We as children of God know when to shift and move as we settle more deeply into our life as disciples of God.
May we learn to embrace the beauty and wisdom of holy transitions.