“Come tell us what is saving your life now.” That was how a wise old priest responded to popular author and preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, after she asked him, “What do you want me to talk about?” He had invited her to come and talk to his church in Alabama. She shared this story as part of the “Introduction” to her book, An Altar in the World.
“Come tell us what is saving your life now.” This line has been at the front of my mind lately. Taylor’s book is one of my favorites and this story has always stuck with me as a way to focus on what or who is right before me. She talks about how relieved she was at his response, because he gave her the permission to let go of having to say things that were true for everyone or to use theological language that conformed to the tradition of the church. Instead, she says, I just had to figure out what my life depended on.
What does my life depend on? We all have to figure this out, every single day.
Let me illustrate this with a brief snapshot of my own journal from three days of this past week.
On Saturday, I woke up and all I could think about was how different Oxford College’s Commencement would be this year for our community. I thought about all of the loss. Then, I watched our virtual commencement video, and I was surprised at how moved I was by it. The people, awards and recognitions, images of the college – all came together to remind me of how my students, colleagues, and the value of higher education in our lives save me on a daily basis.
On Sunday, I woke up and thought about all the people in my life who have been like a mother to me. I thought about my own mother, my spouse, grandmothers, mothers of my friends, mothers I have never met in person, and more. That was life giving, certainly. More than that, though, as I sat across from my seven year old at the breakfast table and watched him honor his own mother with his homemade creations; I caught a glimpse of his mother. Then I looked beyond her and saw into his future and the sea of mothers he will likely have over the course of his life. I realized how the privilege of that moment was saving my life.
On Monday, I woke up and walked outside. It was chilly, but the sun was shining. I thought to myself, “It’s week nine of being at home.” I took a walk around the block, because I can do that safely. As I came back around the block and approached our home, I saw a neighbor walking her dog. We waved hello, kept our distance, and caught up about our respective weekends. Every single piece of those twenty-five minutes are what my life depended on this morning.
What does your life depend on? I believe we should repeatedly ask this question. For me, I use it as a journal prompt. Sometimes, I respond to it in my head and other times I write it down, but having this guide me helps me pay attention.
Focusing our attention in this way is sacred work that any of us can do regardless of our religious, spiritual or philosophical tradition. By paying attention to the ways the ordinary becomes extraordinary (and vice versa) in our lives – well, we may find that our life depends on just that.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.