We are never starting from scratch

By anna blaedel

A few nights ago I lay awake in the dark for hours, feeling the soft rhythm of my beloved’s deep sleep breathing and the sonorous, low rumbles of a slow moving thunderstorm.

Thunder is the audible, sense-able contraction of pressure produced by lightning–the still present aftermath of extreme pressures, rapid explosions. Our atmosphere, expanding and contracting in shock waves, at a pace that can take our breath away. The air we breathe, bursting into noise, echoing in every direction.

In Iowa, it has stormed every day this week.
Everywhere, there are so many storms upon us, and brewing.
Fires and floods and surges and waves. Crisis and chaos and collapse.
Extraction and excess, wildly unbalanced, too much and not enough.
Death and devastation, reverberating on scales so massive, and ongoing, and swift.

Everyone I know, it seems, is exhausted. Worn out and weary and working to do the best with what we’ve got when it feels impossibly too much, and never enough.

We cannot pinpoint exactly where one ends and another begins–each day, each crisis, each storm, each breath, each one life, so wild and precious and teetering on the brink–crashing into and emerging from each other.

This summer, I’ve been meditating on lostness, and spirals, and practices of returning.
Bayo Akomolafe asks: How can we be lost, well?

Sharon Salzberg reminds: The healing is not in not getting lost, the healing is in the return.

How can we return to our lives otherwise, gleaning wisdom from the wounds and wonders that mark, and make us?

Rather than “returning to normal,” might we re-turn toward a more tender, attentive, care-full aliveness?

This week, I returned to a letter written eleven years ago, by a sweet and sassy 8 year-old I had the delight of pastoring in the first church I served. I arrived to that church in rural, northeast Iowa fresh from San Francisco, with a buzzed head. As strangers, we were strange to each other. We were strange to each other, even after we were no longer strangers. And yet. The three years I spent there are woven into my being; the people there planted seeds of slowness and smaller scale and community care that continue to bloom and harvest and reseed in and through me, today.

I return, even now, to the tears that spilled from Jean’s eyes as she stood in my office doorway the first time, hands cupping a pint of fresh-picked raspberries, also spilling over. To the sound of Bonnie’s voice in the middle of the night, calling me because she had fallen again, and I was only a block away. To Rozanne and Andrea kneeling in the flower beds, tending and cultivating beauty, teaching me most of what I know about growing things. To Ila, sweet, dear Ila, so beautifully practiced in the art of composting hard life into soft power. To the cultivated trust that Cal and Brian were minutes away, if the threatening phone calls and late night pounding on my door escalated beyond what I could endure alone.

In this letter, that dear child wrote about loving me, and loving church. Eleven years ago, we hung like baby sloths on parsonage tree limbs, and had tea parties on the parsonage lawn. Eleven years later, that dear child is/becoming an adult and becoming himself, now goes by the same name as my nephew, is transitioning and transforming in holy and wholly beautiful ways. Over the years we’ve exchanged messages; I’ve had the privilege of receiving his questions and revelations about life: about identity, and gender, and relationships, and tattoos, and altars, and dreams, and the Divine. His words found me on a day I felt sure I had nothing to give.

So often, too often, I doubt that I have anything to give, despair at what little I have to offer.
Doubt and despair are greedy that way, so terribly totalizing–anything and everything else becomes inaccessible in their presence.

“It helps sometimes to take a long view,” invites the prayer made upon the sainthood of Oscar Romero.

I want so much to get “it” right, whatever “it” is: my work, my relationships, this “one wild and precious life.”
Instead, the best I can do is to show up.
The best we can do is show up.
Show up. Open up.
With as much tenderness, and honesty, and generosity, and humility, and care.
With and for, ourselves and each other.
Our inherent intimacy–our inherent impact on each other–is our primeval blessing and curse.
Our care and carelessness both, mark and make what is possible.

We do not have much control, if any at all.
We do influence each other, immeasurably.
Receiving what another offers can nourish me into life.
Offering what I have to give can nourish another into life.
We co-create aliveness this way.
We turn to life. We return to life.

Returning. Leaning in. Listening.
Surveying the pieces, the shards, the rubble, what remains.
Scavenging for tools and treasures, hidden, discarded, revealing themselves yet.
We are never starting from scratch.
We are shaping the future, with what is available to us, now.
Rarely, if ever, does this feel like enough.
But magical possibilities spiral out from this, here, now, yet.
Echoing in every direction.


Rev. Anna Blaedel is theologian-in-residence at enfleshed. They bring an attentiveness to the intersections of academic, activist, and ecclesial engagement. Anna nourishes students through campus ministry for the University of Iowa Wesley Center and is enrolled in a PhD program in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division.

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