Creatio Leadership Summit, August 2018
By Jarrod Kinkley
In his book “We Stood Upon Stars” Roger W. Thompson retells a series of stories that reminisce about adventures he had undertaken during various stages in his life. These range from riding on the back of a Harley with his grandfather through the Rockies to backpacking with his friends near Crater Lake. Each story bares a small piece of wisdom from his journey that he humbly offers to the reader – as if to say, “This is what I have encountered and learned. I make no presumptions about what you may or may not find valuable here.” Throughout his stories, he comes to identify a hidden mystery, surprise, or moment of pause with each experience. I would like to reflect on one of these illustrations with you and how it connects to my experience with Creatio’s Leadership Summit in August.
In one of the experiences, Thompson recalls his apprehension about starting a family with his wife and the uncertainty that it holds. He mulls this over while preparing to fly fish in the Grey River in Wyoming. While prepping the line he describes his hands as “numb with excitement” and upon seeing a trout jump his “heart skipped”. Clearly, the anticipation of this ritual, which he has done many times before, is one that still gives him joy. Can you relate to an experience or activity you feel excitedly nervous about? What is it about that experience that gives you that feeling?
Thompson nears the water, as it wistfully wallops the river bed, and for a moment it would seem he pauses. He thinks to himself, “The water’s edge is a threshold. A first step into any river is an exit from one world and entry to another.” Wow. He goes on to say that the heavy flow and temperature of the river forced him to take slow deep breaths and deliberates steps. Furthermore, he described the story of the river – the mountains it had carved, the lives it impressed upon, and the raw physical strength, assuaged by the presence of an equally metamorphical spiritual force.
In reflecting on my experience with Creatio’s Leadership Summit I call to mind the various individuals who came together to step away from the normal routine – to walk to the water’s edge.
We know not that which lay before us. We know not the stories or experiences of those we encounter. Neither do we have the power to stem the flow of a river that we see as “other”. Through experiencing relationship with each other, the best we can do is carefully, deliberately wade into the water, the stream of someone else’s existence – lest we obstruct their flow or hamper the water’s formative work.
Throughout the weekend the group of people who went up to the mountain shared their thoughts and reflections on what constitutes beauty. We shared stories about our own experiences of beauty. And through that sharing, we recognized that beauty comes in many forms, in the most unexpected places. Most readily available to us during our time together was the word. That is to say, the word which God sent down at the dawn of creation to shape and shift the planet we live on. Certainly, speaking of beauty’s presence in creation (ie mountains, rivers, fields, streams etc) can be an easy route to engage our sacramental imagination. The real work of recognizing beauty comes into play when we open ourselves to experiences and conversations that put us in a spot to be stretched, fashioned, and molded a little differently.
So while our hike up to a lake on the mountain ridge was peaceful, centering, and humbling, it was not a stretch – at least not for me – in the spiritual, reflective sense. Nor was our trek up to the mountain cabin. Those physical excursions were not what edified my experience of beauty. A little sweat and heavy breathing, while good for one’s circulation and physical health, lent little to seeing and seeking God’s presence. However, God made God’s self-known through a quintessential Christ-ian way.
Relationship. We are made for it. That’s what’s key. During our trek to the cabin and our out-and-back to the mountain lake, I found myself humbled by the stories of those whom I accompanied. Stories of faith embraced, faith questioned, faith in action, and faith divided. In particular, I was struck by the conversation I had with a young woman who works for Christ in the City; an organization dedicated to serving the homeless in Denver through building relationships and seeing the other as less other. The passion she expressed, the humanity she brought voice to, and the sensitivity she shared were humbling. This theme, of pausing before the water’s edge, before the edge of someone else’s story, challenged me during our weekend on the mountain.
While we discussed the ins and outs of organizing the logistics of an outdoor experience through the lens of faith, I couldn’t help but be reminded by the need to remove my shoes and tread lightly before the experiences offered by another. We all want to have a mountaintop moment. We all want to feel fed by that which we endeavor to capture. But on our way to the mountain, we cannot neglect the rivers and streams we will cross. We must breathe deeply, and step deliberately, lest we leave behind or disregard those who come along with us. For when we step into a river, we are no longer in our own world but that of our neighbor’s.