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Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Long View

I cannot begin to describe the glorious, delightful, restful vacation I just had these past 10 days... due to the generosity of friends and family, I got to celebrate this latest birthday (a significant marker whose number need not be named!) by going to the Amalfi Coast in Italy with my best friend.

We started in Naples (forgettable and dirty, but stayed in a lovely hotel) then went on to Sorrento, the island of Capri, Amalfi, Salerno, Pompeii and back to Naples. This was unlike other trips I've made abroad in that we stayed within a relatively small piece of geography, not spending more than an hour traveling on any of our days there. So we were able to take things slow, sight see, read, linger over meals, get plenty of sleep, and give up any need to worry about time.

No email, no phone calls, no appointments... it was so great to just be there and really rest. The photo here is of one of my favorite sites, the Duomo in Amalfi. Though it is striking, no photo could really capture its dramatic presence. It practically explodes out of the square. Climbing the stairs made me feel like I was ascending a pyramid ~ they were so steep and wide, pointing up to the true center of town. The dramatic stripes and contrasting squares of black and white were utterly unique. This website gives more of the background of the cathedral and many more photos of what we saw there (photos of my own visit there, along with the rest of our trip, will come later I hope).

There were so many highlights to this trip. I am still in awe of it all, and so very grateful for the opportunity. But perhaps the most long-term effects will come from all the great reading I got to do on the trip. Between long plane flights and evenings with no distractions (along with a daily cappuccino break each afternoon, naturally!) I got to dig into some books I've been waiting to get to.

Here is the first quote that rocked me to the core. It's practically a statement of purpose, and I can only pray it speaks to how I have attempted to live my life. It comes from Archbishop Oscar Romero, martyred in El Salvador in 1980 for speaking against the repression of his people. I read it in my devotional:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

As I return to work tomorrow, to students and with churches whom I have come to love so dearly, I pray that God's Spirit would help me not give in to my flesh, which tends to have a great need to feel effective, and instead seek to take "the long view" as it is described here. And as Romero says, I pray that in realizing that I cannot do everything that I will be liberated to simply do the best I can, to the glory of God.

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