Let’s start together with an admonition, perhaps it’s a confession, but at very least it’s an agreement that we are all a part of something: we are all contributors to an achievement culture. Our lives—for better or worse—are measured by destinations. Whether they are of the draconian variety (the moment we lose our hair, run out of credit limit, or must breakdown and replace the furnace) or of the blithely aspirational… apparently life is made of the moments that take your breath away. This could simply be because we Americans, particularly those of us of European descent, came this place as conquerors, travelers, wayfinders from one coast to the other. We still, hundreds of years later, believe that we are makers of a journey, not curators of a place. And the difference is meaningful.
If we are makers of a journey, then our canvas is the open frontier, the limits of our existence are merely the bounds of our creativity and industry. We belief that our lives are products only of our own constitution and our ability to transcend obstacles. This way of living requires a subset of values, ones that you and I probably espouse without ever having to say them out loud. We value resilience, ambition, hard work, progress, and ingenuity. All because we have somewhere to go. We are defined by our destinations. No one destination, because any place we stop is designed to push us to the next place. This pushing forward is the individualistic demand to make a journey. And—in our modern day—to make that journey worthy of Instagram Stories, live-tweeting, and if forced to actually be in the same room as others, water-cooler talk is the center of the target.
These modern journeys are importantly distinguished from the journeys of the ancients you see written about in the Jewish Scriptures. Ours are GPS journeys are meant to get somewhere. And each destination ought to be an improvement on the last. You may be reading this thinking, “Yeah, why would I want to get to a destination that’s worse?” You’re getting it. But what you’re getting isn’t a universal truth, it is the value system of the achievement-oriented culture that we all breathe like oxygen. We are products of linear thinking, where we treat our lives like stock markets, ever in search of new highs.
Let’s contrast this with the realities of the gross majority of humans that have ever lived. Most humans never left a 25 square mile area where they lived. That’s still true today. We are so accustomed to the westernized affluence of our existence we don’t realize the basic lack of mobility of homo sapiens throughout history. We weren’t made to go places. That a small percentage of us have had the luxury to do so in the long arc of human history is just that… a luxury (and an illusory one at that). We are made to make something of where we are. We are curators of place. And curation is not linear. It is circular work.
For example, I spend a lot of time thinking about the horticulture around my house. My yard, my vegetable garden, the big hill in the back with the overrun landscaping, the trees, the random plants that we get to discover their genus, their varietal, and bring them back to life. My wife and I bought a house where once upon a time very expensive landscaping had been done and then been left to ruin for the better part of a decade. I find great life in discovering the different pieces of it, removing that which cannot be recovered, coaxing to life that which has been hobbled, and planting new regionally-appropriate plants which are genetically built to thrive in our dry climate and clay-like soil.
In this work, there is no destination. Even if we infused a million dollars of landscaping, plants and irrigation, it would only be a matter of time before the natural atrophy of things would take hold and our once perfect garden would decay into the weedy wild again. In the work of curation and cultivation there is no point of arrival, you never get to say, “We did it!” Certainly, there are moments of joy and peace, but these are more a product of God and nature’s generosity when our feeble efforts at horticulture produce something beautiful we couldn’t have made on our own.
I was describing this long journey, this decades-long game we are playing with nature, to a neighbor last weekend (a neighbor with an absolutely envy-enducing yard by the way) and said it this way, “Every season, we take stock of where we can make a difference, and we start there. And we leave the rest until a later season.” This year we had a huge set back. 25% of the yard completely died in a hard winter. If a perfect destination of a yard was our goal, I would have had to stop everything, pull out a credit card, and pay thousands to have the grass ripped out and replaced. (This is the path the HOA would have preferred.) But this was not the best choice. We’ve put a little time and energy into the dad grass, we’ve started to rake and thatch it, give it a chance to breath, let the worms and bogs come in and start to compost it. But I realized very early (somewhat against my will) that the work of fixing the dead grass was not a destination I could achieve without undermining my physical boundaries, my finances… and it would mostly be in service of ego. Straight line thinking could have gotten me some measurable achievement, with endless unintended consequences.
But what I could do is be circular. I could embrace seasons-thinking. I could remember that there are no destinations, only seasons. To do so requires vigilant attentiveness to the here and now, surrendering the aspirational and the shameful, for they are two sides of the same coin. This season, this dead grass, thirsty season: what does it need? What could it be made into? What is not its best, but its truest way of being here? If these seem like fanciful or even un-American ways of asking questions, then perhaps you are realizing just how deep our cultural pre-conceptions go. If the question of being true to what is in front of me and surrendering the perfection of the destination feels wrong, then we are quickly shown how confused we are about what may be right.
You are here. And God is here. In this circumstance, in this season, with these opportunities, with these challenges, and there is now destination for the here and now. But we can make something of it. We can embrace the true, seek out the beautiful and affirm the good. We can take the Jesus way who though being equal with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead he surrendered himself to the vocation and season of His time. Take the mantle of a servant he undermined the powers who wished to get to a destination, who wished to make power, subvert seasons. And he surrendered to even the gray bleak emptiness of death. Knowing that death itself is a season we all must take.
There are no destinations. Only seasons. And for this season we are here. If this affirmation of the truth frightens you, brings out condescension or disdain, if you feel as though “we have better things to do than be here and now,” than you can know that you are much like I am, having absorbed the cultural values that are driving us all further down a road to destinations we don’t even understand.
In a world of manufactured straight lines, it is time for us to think circularly. Remembering that we will always return to where we started, hopefully in a new way, as a new self, with a new way to be there and here, then and now.