"How is your sabbatical going?" she asked me.
"Well, I'm praying again," I said.
And then I laughed, both because I am embarrassed at this admission that I'd previously been in a season of not praying and because of my joy at the reality that prayer has entered my life again.
I am praying again.
It started a few weeks ago.
I had discerned a decision on behalf of my sabbatical and had taken a significant step toward naming that decision out loud. It was a difficult naming. It hurt more than just me. And I felt awful about it, even as I knew it had to be.
For two solid weeks, I agonized in the aftermath of that naming.
And I went to prayer.
The image that came in prayer was the face of Jesus, right in front of me. It felt as though we were lying on the ground, facing each other, his face just a few inches from my own. A lock of brown hair fell across his cheek. His eyes looked right into mine.
They spoke immediately and deeply to me.
The first thing they spoke was that I was fully, completely accepted. He held me in peace and truth. He was not shaming me, despite all the ways I was shaming myself and expecting him to do so, too, because of the difficult way that naming out loud had happened.
The second thing his eyes spoke to me was to stay still. I kept carrying the question about what to do with what I'd done that had hurt more than just me. Should I reach out? Should I do something more, explain something more, try to fix what now felt broken? The questions consumed my heart and mind.
But when I turned to the face of Jesus in prayer, again and again, his eyes told me to remain still. Don't act. Stay here, they said.
It took great trust for me listen to and believe what those eyes said to me.
Slowly, those eyes are becoming my compass. And I'm learning it is going to continue to ask great faith of me to listen to what they tell me to do or not do.
Here is an example.
Last weekend, I attended a symposium at which Richard Rohr was the keynote speaker. He spoke on the theme "Everything Belongs" and used Rublev's icon of the Trinity for much of his teaching. It was a time, in the aftermath of our country's election, of coming together with 600 people who affirmed together a God who transcends binaries and dualities and instead encompasses all.
Outside the conference sessions, I was keeping tabs on world events, and particularly the travel ban that had been issued by executive order against individuals from seven countries. I watched, through headlines and videos, as chaos unfolded at the airports when individuals were stopped from coming or going, which led to protests at major airports, the descending of lawyers on the terminals to offer help and representation, and the eventual action taken by a federal judge to stay the executive order nationwide, in response to a petition by the ACLU.
I watched these events unfold between sessions at the symposium and raised my voice alongside them. I shared articles and videos and offered commentary. I said I refused to cower to the fear-mongering that seemed at the root of all this.
And when I woke up Monday morning, I was bleary-eyed and exhausted by all of it.
I sat in the spot on one of our couches that has become my place of prayer, and I closed my eyes. I looked at the face of Christ. What is mine to do with all this? I asked. Should I continue speaking?
He looked back at me and, with those eyes, reminded me without words what I know is to be my focus in this season: Bookwifery and my sabbatical.
I did not like receiving this news.
My resistance to receiving it reminded me of Henri Nouwen's book The Selfless Way of Christ, where he talks about the three temptations that Christ faced in the wilderness. One of those temptations is the temptation to be relevant, and I realized this was exactly what I feared losing — relevance — should I move away from sharing and commenting on the unfolding events in my country and should I choose not to participate in marches or town halls or phone calls or other forms of activism.
I fear becoming irrelevant — someone who has her head stuck in the sand like an ostrich.
That is not who I want to be.
And yet Christ was making it clear, through his gaze, that I'm meant to be focused elsewhere right now, in the two clear directions he has called me.
It troubled me that my first response to Christ's invitation back to my two primary points of focus — Bookwifery and sabbatical — was a concern for my reputation. I care deeply about humanity, about equality, about compassion and justice for all. Those things are deeply true of me. And yet my first reaction to Christ's invitation back to my primary work right now was a resistance rooted in care for my own relevance.
That was not a pretty reality to face.
Through this past week, I have sought to be faithful to Christ's invitation. I turned my attention back to Bookwifery. I continued to practice prayer. And I kept reading deeply in books by and about Henri Nouwen, which are feeding my soul right now.
I am still finding my way to the line between being informed about the news and being consumed by it. I haven't yet found that balance.
Perhaps that is a question I can take to prayer, too.
Yesterday, as I found myself upset and deeply troubled, yet again, by some of the news I was reading, I went back to that place of prayer. I sat in that usual spot on the couch, my legs extended over the arm of the adjoining couch, and closed my eyes.
I'm troubled about my president, I told Jesus in that space. I feel helpless and angry. I don't have confidence our representatives will do anything about it. I fear what our nation will become. How do you want me to hold this? Do you really want me to do nothing?
It was so hard for me to receive what he said back to me with his eyes.
With his eyes, he said to me, Donald Trump is a beloved child of God. He has the divine spark of life in him, too, just like every other human.
I did not want to hear this. I wanted to continue to look at my new president as "other." I want, if I'm honest, to demonize him.
And yet the truth of Christ says that I can't. The truth of Christ says that the image of God exists in Donald Trump, obscured as it may be.
And so yesterday, in that moment, I responded by doing something difficult for me: I prayed for Donald Trump. Truthfully, I didn't even have words for much of what I prayed. I had to trust the Spirit would pray for me. And it felt like the tiniest, most insignificant act. It felt like doing nothing. Yet it was the most true response of my heart that I could offer to God right then.
May I continue to be faithful to seeking out the face of Christ — his eyes and his wisdom — in prayer through this sabbatical time and letting what I find there guide my steps.