and we are hearing what we are

Last year, on this day, May 10, I wrote a letter to Preston. Something about it caught my mind when I was thinking I wanted to write something today, that I wanted to remember how much the years bend and shift with our changing weight. How gravity loves us, pulls us, releases us, how time spins, and stands still. How it all seems to change and not change and there is wonder, and there is grace. Always that. Something about this letter (originally published here) felt like it was the beginning of the right question. 

Dear Preston,

Isn’t it strange, this ache we feel for the departure we must have known was coming? I graduate in nine days – you in just two – and I’m sitting on my bed angry at the idea of leaving, as if it was a surprise tucked into my acceptance letter, a clause I didn’t read. You’re going to have to go from this place, it says, and I want to rebel, insist that no, we can always be here where it is safe and familiar, where it is challenging and messy, where hearts have emptied and overflowed.

But then the thunderclap, as you put it, and the sweeping in of departure. And we’ll never come back here, will we? Never as we are now, and the place which seems so familiar will bend with the seasons and look different when we happen upon it in ten years. Among the great and varied changes of this life, it’s places changing we forget about most. Baylor and Gordon will change; the green of the quad and the presence of the coffee shop on campus and the feel of the chapel pews and the long sidewalks leading past the baseball field to the track – they will weather new conversations and new feet, new adventures and heartbreaks. These places we love most will not stand still just to watch us move. They, too, will journey on towards their fullness. The places, too, will become more fully His.

I’m deep in Rilke, deep in the goodness of those words. After all this, it is Rilke who reminds me, in his gentle way, to trust and behold and marvel. Can I share just one small thing with you, because it’s too beautiful to leave on a page in a book?

“Orchard and Road” (Collected French Poems)

In the traffic of our days
may we attend to each thing
so that patterns are revealed
amidst the offerings of chance.

All things want to be heard,
so let us listen to what they say.
In the end we will hear what we are:
the orchard or the road leading past.

All things want to be heard. I wish I had learned this four years ago, when the stars clamored from the night sky, when the trees whispered, when the people I passed on the sidewalk looked longingly at me, waiting to be recognized. I wish I had learned to listen to what they were saying. I missed them. There are a thousand images I might have captured, rendered permanent in words or in the silence between words; a thousand people I might have loved, a thousand books I might have read, a thousand cool rainy nights I might have walked and prayed and thought.

But in the end we will hear what we are. What does he mean by this? By listening to the world, we will hear what we are. We who are so in-between, who yearn beyond the world but root ourselves in the world – how can we know what we are?

We are leaving, Preston, and the departure aches in places I didn’t know existed. In the traffic of my days I attend to that ache. I listen to what it says: it says I have loved. It says I have given my heart away. It says what I am is human, and to be human is to ache and love.

Today and tomorrow, I’m praying that you would hear what you are in the traffic of your day: that you would hear about how you loved, and rejoiced, and ached. That you would hear how you belong to Him. That you would hear the orchard, and the road leading past.

Love, and every grace,

PS. A year later, still in the traffic of our now different days, still with our hearts and minds bent towards the true and beautiful – with a year of working and theology and sacramentality (things we know better know that we don’t know), and a year of crowded bars and dinner parties, a year of grace that sometimes ached and always lasted – I still wonder about Rilke.

I still want to hear the orchard, and the road leading past.

I still think this must be about wonder.


4 thoughts on “and we are hearing what we are

  1. “the orchard or the road leading past” – do you think we can be both? Graduation held such scariness, joy, excitement, anticipation, and sadness. One of the weirder things I’ve ever experienced. And you’re right at the end of your post, those things have only continued. Wonder is a good thing.

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