An Impeded Stream

An Impeded Stream

“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” — The Real Work, Wendell Berry

It was a Very Long Summer.

A wonderful summer, don’t get me wrong. I clocked more hours with my girls that I thought humanly possible. I crossed the Atlantic for the first time since giving birth more than a decade ago. I whittled away the days with family and friends, ate corn right off the grill and tomatoes right off the vine, warm from summer heat. I stayed up into the wee hours watching movies and making paper monsters and playing cards and swimming in the dark. I introduced the girls to ST:TNG and had more conversations about exploration, star dates, androids and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe than I could catalog.

What I have not had: Exercise. A pedicure. A good nights’ sleep. A clean house. Time to connect two thoughts.

For an introvert like me, hands-down the biggest sacrifice I make during the summer months is solitude. I am never, ever alone.

Like, EVER.

My utter inability to have time with myself — to think and pray, to connect mind and heart, to simply sit in silence — finally caught up with me as summer came to a close, forcing me to admit, first to myself and then, slowly to everyone else, that I was — am — completely spent. I have nothing, absolutely nothing left to give. Thankfully, school is now in session and the girls are beyond excited by the year ahead. We are all of us ready for the adventure that awaits, for our world to grow again, to expand past the boundaries of our own immediate concerns and community. The winnowing work of summer found purchase, creating space for us to rest, regroup, process the months past and dream big dreams for the months ahead. Now those dreams are waking to fullness, unfolding their wings and taking flight. I think, yes, it will be a good year.

Despite my inability to pay close attention, God nevertheless was on the move, much like in ancient days as the Spirit (ruach) hovered over the deep chaos that preceded genesis, readying to unleash a creative work. I have heard God* deep in my bones — disorienting and essential, unnerving and formative, this beckoning to go further up and further in that requires you leave behind what you think you know about God, about yourself, even about the way forward. The tug that puts you once again on the road less traveled, where pilgrims wander and the void stretches as far as the eye can see.

Like Abraham, I have no idea where I am going, only that the way itself is God’s presence, an invitation to explore the vast and wild terrain of his eternal city.

I know a wee bit more about Ur, about what I’m leaving behind, long-engrained habits of mind and practice that need to go:

  • the tyranny of the “right” theology
  • a preference for certainty over mystery
  • a disembodied faith
  • a way of reading the Bible where tension is squashed beneath the weight of proof-texting rather than embraced as epistemology

Perhaps I know more, too. I know that I am desperate for an incarnational faith, where feet and hands are valued in spiritual formation as much as brains and Bibles. I seek a peripatetic approach, one that is less about sitting and studying, less about landing faith in intellectual asset and religious gerrymandering, more about encountering The Way in the face of the Other. I want the kind of faith that partakes more easily at the communion table than the lectern, that sneaks away from the halls of religious privilege, fully aware of the the subversion of it all. I want to make room for silence in liturgy, let the pendulum in my heart swing toward the still, small Voice and away from the incessant talking that makes it difficult for this parched soul to drink deeply. I want to be open to the guides I’ve long distrusted — the foreigner, the marginalized, those from different faith traditions, from voices that precede both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, from those who’s bodies don’t bespeak primogeniture.

In practical terms, this means I’m going to write about the road ahead, as I travel it. I wish I could tell you more about what to expect, but I cannot, because I do not know. This road, as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado says, is made by walking.

I’ve been dialoging with some unusual (for me) guides lately — here are a few of them.fall books

I’ll let you know as I go what they are saying.

*I was sorely tempted to use the feminine pronoun, “her” here instead of the general “a.”. Did you know ruach, the Hebrew word for the Spirit in the act of creation (and elsewhere) is feminine? But I figured all things being equal I should probably not freak everyone out just yet but using female signifiers for God. But, people, stay tuned.

Reblogged: “Me ‘n NT” by Bronwyn Lea


But life conspired against me and instead of spending an evening learning about the Psalms from the inimitable N.T. Wright (“Tom” when he’s being a man of the people), I spent the evening pushing my kids to do the homework they Simply Cannot Do Anymore. OMG, when is this school year going to end? WHEN!!??

Anyway, the next best thing to actually being there? Getting this recap on the evening by my new and fabulous friend, blogger Bronwyn Lea. Give it a read and see what Tom Wright had to say at his San Francisco presentation on the Psalms.

Me ‘n NT.

Thanks Bron for the write up!


Soccer and the C.I.A.

Today is Career Day at school. Students will be arriving bright-eyed this morning dressed as doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, computer programmers, architects and Google employees (remember this is Silicon Valley — EVERYONE wants to be a Google employee).

Not the Downings. Nosiree. We are rule-breakers! Iconoclasts! We march to a different drum I tell you… Dif-Fer-Ent.

Ella wants to be a CIA agent with a NOC (that’s “non-official-cover” for all of you poor saps who have no spycraft) as a professional soccer player. Please note the name tag that lets everyone know she’s a top secret agent. I believe we have some work to do for her career development.

Julia wants to be a professional soccer player who raises bulldogs, because what other kind of soccer player is there? She figures GU is the right place for her to kickstart her career, because bulldogs! oh… and if she must, college.

So this morning, the girls dressed appropriately for Career Day, and I attempted a photo on the way out the door.


You guys, we Downings just cannot take a normal photo. Cannot. Our best effort was total cheese, although the CIA name tag is proudly displayed. I’ve got hundreds just like this photo — different settings, same photographic fail.

After alternating between pleading and chastisement, I got this photo:photo

At least Ella smiled. Julia, it seems, cannot smile and hold still the same time. They are, it would appear, mutually exclusive. I begged her to Just Stand Still and, nope. Every single one she’s wiggling. Blurry. Like, about to come out of her skin.

So, I’m going on record here: if you are thinking that at some point I’m going to start posting beautiful photos, attended to by witty narrative that catalogs our near-perfect life, um, best to move on.

This is how we roll around here.  Whether it is bulldogs or a career in The Agency, if something makes you happy you wiggle and can’t hold still; you take unflattering photographs that capture life in blurry lines, because our life is lived largely out of focus. We see as if in a mirror, and dimly.

It’s why God’s grace is such a big deal in our house.


An Unlikely Place To Start

I have to admit to equal parts trepidation and ambivalence as I set out on this, my maiden voyage into the world of blogging.

I’m excited too, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I’ve spent most of my life talking too much and finally, at the ripe old age of 44, I finally prefer to listen. I loiter on favorite blogs, trying genuinely to hear what is being said, especially the comments and all the beautiful diverse voices. Sometimes it makes my head spin and my heart palpitate, trying to hold them all at the same time — the hopeful voices and the hurting ones, the ones shrouded in anger and fear and the ones that just can’t grasp their own privilege. The voices that captivate me most and keep me coming back are the vulnerable ones. They never tell anyone what to do | believe | feel | think; they just speak their true and hold the space and I hope to be like that too.

I have been a writer all my life and a wide-eyed follower of Jesus for as long as I can remember. My journey is replete with giddy seasons of faith followed hard on the heels by long stretches of doubt. My pursuit of God is ever an elixir of delight, despair and determination and always, always words. Even when I am speechless, there, beneath the surface, words dance and dissipate, forming and reforming to try to apprehend the Holy and speak myself into existence.

In the past few years, my love affair with words has taken a new turn into sacred poetry. Because you see, when biblical authors want you to sit up and take notice, they use poetry.

Poetry captivates us from word one, as God creates heaven and earth in Genesis 1 and as the first man discovers the woman is his true partner in Genesis 2. Hannah’s poem in 1 Samuel shapes messianic theology so profoundly that Jesus’ mother will rely on it centuries later to interpret the angel’s oracle concerning the child in her womb. Jesus himself, at the darkest moment of his life, will reach backwards to the Psalms to articulate his confusion and grief, giving us a prime example of how the Psalms function to give us, 2000 years later, an authentic voice.

For many Christians, the poetry of the Psalms is seen as an arcane literary form, inaccessible and anachronistic. We have left the Psalms to the experts, and thus have lost an essential tool for articulating our own grief, praise, doubt and faith, and for hearing God reply with fresh words meant just for us.

I had lost the Psalms. They were boring and unintelligible except for a few isolated verses here and there.  Then my pastor, now my friend, gave them back to me and I haven’t been the same since. The Psalms have taught me to speak true, to sing sour, to lament and grieve, to hold the tensions of my Christian faith and allow others to do the same.

I hope to share with you some of my journey. I wrote it all into a book that is going to be published this summer, and I hope to share pieces of it here. Mostly I hope to be a place where conversation can happen, where faith doubts and hopes. I’m mostly hoping that as I share my interior travels, you’ll want to share some of yours — the stories and sacred poems that can tell the rest of us who you are and what your life means today.