When you hear the words “whole” or “wholeness” what comes to your mind?
Wholeness can be like pie; something that’s broken when a piece is removed. Maybe you think of something being made whole again, something or someone being repaired or healed. There’s also a sense that wholeness happens when a process has been completed, a benchmark met, a dream fulfilled.
It may not be 2.5 kids and a dog or a house with a picket fence, but most of us have some sort of an ideal or symbol of what a full and whole life is supposed to be like. Throughout our lives there are things we may look forward to, things that may seem to take forever to actually happen. Maybe it was when we learned how to ride a bike, got our driver’s license, got married, landed that great job. After achieving any one of these things, we may have felt whole, happy, like we’d finally arrived.
But if there’s any constant in life, it seems to be how often and how quickly the goal posts can move on us. Whether it’s divorce or illness, loss or even a global health crisis, our lives can change in an instant, and our sense of wholeness and certainty along with them.
Some of us don’t know when we’ll be able to go to work again, others worry about when they’ll be able to earn income again. Some wonder if we’ll ever get to retire, and essential workers are just wondering when they might get a break. In lots of different ways, this time of sheltering in place has been hard. But it’s also given many of us time and space to reflect on the many aspects of our lives that have stopped.
The struggle to get a grocery delivery slot is real, but so is the cleaner air and the less frenzied pace of mornings and mealtimes. It’s tough to not just be able to jump in the car and go have a nice dinner. But it’s also true that the water in Lake Michigan is so clear right now you can see sunken shipwrecks from the air. And if so many jobs can be done remotely during a pandemic, why not after the pandemic, too?
My hope is that all of us not only survive these days, but learn from them. Learn what parts of our old lives we need and want back, and what parts of our lives the way they are now we might like to hold onto.
While many things will go back to the way they were before this pandemic, it seems safe to say that our lives and our world will be changed. My hope for all of us is that they are changed for the better, so they are healthier and more sustainable. And I think that’s tied to our deepest beliefs about what makes for good, whole lives.
There is a Japanese philosophy and aesthetic called wabi-sabi that’s begun to shape the way I think about wholeness. The word Wabi means rustic, simple, the quirks that make things unique. Sabi is the beauty or richness that comes with age, like a fine wine or a Stradiverius violin.
Inherent to this philosophy is the appreciation of impermanence and imperfection. The standard here isn’t perfection, or grandness. It’s the character something develops over time, with maturity and experience, the natural anomalies that make each tree and flower, each tea cup and bouquet special in its own right. Our lives, too, are precious because of their uniqueness, and because they will not last forever. And we can become more full and whole as our lives unfold, gaining wisdom and experience as we age and change.
In wabi-sabi, wholeness is in the way different elements balance one another in the context of the whole, the way they lend their beauty and uniqueness to the others when they are brought together into one garden, one room, one flower arrangement. Just like the way the people in a community lend their beauty and uniqueness, gifts and commitments to one another when brought together by faith, by love, and by a mission.
I come to you as your candidate for ministry very excited, a little nervous, and keenly aware of just how unusual this online experience of getting to know one another is. But I have faith that the quirks and unique parts of this virtual week together will yield their own blessings.
I come to you excited about what returning home to my beloved home state of Maryland would mean for my family and me. I come to you not because I think I or my ministry are perfect, and not because I think you all are perfect, but because I feel called to let my light shine with you, to do work I can only do together with you. I feel called to grow into wholeness with and among you. I feel called to make your joys my joys, your sorrows my sorrows, to join together with you in seeking truth and meaning, growing together in spirit, working for justice, and serving our neighbors.
Thank you all for such a warm welcome. May our time together plant seeds that will bear good fruit in our shared ministry together.