“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…” I Peter 2:9a (NIV)
I sat across from my spiritual director, Father MacFarlane saying how I wanted to be the one giving the cup of water, visiting the sick, clothing the poor, so I could be shagged to the side along with sheep where I would be welcomed into Jesus’ embrace. I also talked about a horse.
We sat in his basement office, the air chilled, no windows where I could look away from his gentle eyes. I trusted Father Bob.
He spoke as if from a distance, born of a practice in silence and careful listening. He said that maybe I should pay attention to the little voice leading me to the horse and not worry so much about the poor.
If I had tried to “help the poor” during those years I would have been shattered. My parents had just died, and I was working as a publicist for conservative organizations I didn’t agree with.
Some years later, I brought a horse into my life—Beau Ty who lead me back to teaching because I needed to pay his bills. But it wasn’t just the horse that opened up that work.
When I was a first year college student, I felt called to be a poet. “What good is that?” I wondered, considering how we’re supposed to help the poor. But I couldn’t ignore this call.
I found myself teaching in the Chance program, which helps educationally disadvantaged students develop skills that enable them to be successful at the university.
I had the privilege of working with young people who came from some of the most difficult neighborhoods in Chicago. And I marveled at how God put together my love for horses to lead me back into teaching and how He used my work as a poet to turn me into a teacher sensitive to my students’ and their writing. Richard Rohr in his August 6 meditation says, “Your soul is who you are in God and who God is in you. We do not ‘make’ or ‘create’ our souls. We only awaken them, allow them, and live out of their deepest messages.”
That’s how this felt. God took a horse and poetry loving young woman and shaped her into someone who was able to “help the poor” in a small but very specific way by teaching young people how to tell their stories. He called me to be who He made me, as much part of the royal priesthood as if I were a minister, or missionary, or even a busy church volunteer, something Martin Luther affirms.
I wrote this for a devotional booklet celebrating the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting the theses on that big door in Wittenburg. One of my former colleagues at NIU, William C Johnson, executive director of Sigma Tau Delta, said some wise and kind words. “I have thought much of how God opens and shuts doors, and then opens and shuts others, ultimately leading us ‘back’ to the one that not only allows us to use, best, our gifts, but pulls everything together into a pattern we didn’t see when we were exploring. I used to joke with my students about my having been a member of the Major-a-Month Club; only when I finally ‘arrived’ at English did I realize what it was I was seeking. And it had been there all the time.”
I feel like I’m in a transition, what I call a flying change where a horse’s legs lift off the ground and change direction, the leading foreleg and hind leg, changing in mid air. I feel that now, that all my feet are in the air and that I haven’t returned to ground yet, returned to a direction.
These first two years of retirement have shown me how time is mortal, how it flies by and how unyielding it is. I can choose to fill my days however I want. All that choice, all that time, which flies by, can feel like one of those dreams where you fall down stairs and jerk awake. I look at my life and think, “It’s all too much.” And there’s that guilty message that oozes from writers on Facebook and scripture, “tend the poor.” Underneath that is the sense that God made me to love horses, and the land, and writing. Being content with this quiet, small life feels like obedience, like a shifting into a well fitting harness and trotting down the road.