Rebecca and I have spent two weeks in Austin. We’ve enjoyed the parks and biking trails, a few restaurants, and the warm central Texas weather. Despite the good things that Austin has to offer, all of which we have not yet tasted or experienced, Rebecca and I continually return to the theme of community and connectedness–two things we feel are acutely absent in our lives.
One of the stark realities I am experiencing as we travel is the sense of “going it alone.” That is, there is an adventurous, rugged quality to our travels; a chance to explore hitherto unknown places “on our own.” Yet, in these new locales, we don’t have our friends and family here with us, the relationships that nourish our souls and spirits. I am a proponent of recognizing and naming the ambiguities of life, the fact that all joys are tinged with heartache, and all heartaches hide liberating joys. Still, I wasn’t alert to how ambiguous our experience would be in Austin.
I’m truly enjoying the time to rest, focus on practical tasks of life like cooking and laundry, and having the free time to exercise, explore, read, and reflect. Yet, there are moments in the hotel room when the silence pierces my soul–I feel very alone, apart, isolated. I am thankful that God’s Spirit travels with us, to accompany us in the midst of our loneliness. But I also know that God’s Spirit draws us into personal relationships with others, something that I’m longing for here in a personal way.
So, in a sense, Rebecca and I are very happy to be here. This setting proves very useful for regrouping, resting, and, particularly for Rebecca, for studying for exams (her second section of the Board Exam is in a week). Yet, this setting also highlights the deep need I have, and I suspect most people have, to be connected to others in loving, supportive, mutually edifying personal relationships. Granted, not all relationships, even the really good ones, can always live up to that ideal. But struggling to live up to that with others we care about is itself a deep, spiritual joy.
So, as you might guess, Rebecca and I are also ready for a chance to settle into community, to be connected to others and live the joy of relationships, however broken or strained they can be at times. This thanksgiving, even as we share it alone in our hotel room, we will be reminded of the beautiful moments we shared with our friends and family over this past year, for the home we experienced in Chicago, for the chance to live daily as an aunt and uncle this past fall, and for the prospect of experiencing and sharing these things again in our future.
However, as Rebecca reminds me, we aren’t here to endure Austin, but to enjoy it fully. And so one of our tasks is finding ways to enter into community and become connected to others, however temporary those relationships may prove to be. That is a tall order since “temporary” can drain the energy needed for a relationship to flourish. The challenge for me is to find ways to unleash the power of God’s Spirit in the relationships that might develop in Austin, a power which thwarts the drain of “temporary” with the immensity and intensity of Eternity.
In light of this, Rebecca and I are trying to plug into a church, we’ve experienced two so far: one a contemporary worship-driven, evangelical mega-church. The other a small, UCC/DOC church with a fairly traditional worship service. We also volunteered last Saturday with the Parks District, shoveling and spreading mulch. I hope to volunteer a couple of hours/days each week–though I haven’t decided in what kind of context (public library, food pantry, etc). And we have continued to stay in touch with our friends and family through phone calls, emails, text messages and fond memories.
Still, we have yet to experience personal community here in Austin. Fortunately, there are flickers of hope that lure us into the future with the help of God’s Spirit. May we follow that Spirit faithfully.