Social media is full of back to school pictures this week. Even the Royal Family posted pictures of Prince George heading to school for the first time. Lots of other families, all royal in their own way, posted pictures from pre-school, kindergarten, all the way to high school and beyond. I saw one post that was “my 20th first day of school.” That’s some grad work. I hope.
Lots of teachers could beat that, of course, but, just like the students, just like coaches and players, instructors and trainees, anyone who’s back at it with the same routine, I’d wish for all of them that they’re excited and enthusiastic. Yes, I know that’s idealistic, but I’m going with it. Please don’t be imprisoned by routine.
No matter how many times you do it, it’s still the first day, again. It’s a new moment, with new potential, new opportunities, new learning, new people to learn with. It should be embraced. It’s a new step on the journey of life.
Oh no, not the “life’s a journey” metaphor. Yes, the “life’s a journey” metaphor. Because it is.
I think life is a journey. And I think the way should be forward. Always forward. Experience informs us and teaches us, we can enjoy the moment and linger in it, but life is lived forwards. I want to say that trying to live in the past makes us a prisoner of it, but I think that’s already been said by Mick Jagger. That’s not a bad thing, I just don’t want it to be a song lyric.
Because it’s true. The past helps make us who we are, but it makes us forward. To stay in the past is confining and keeps us from embracing the opportunities and challenges ahead.
So does needing to know what’s going to happen. I know this one. So do you. It’s great to have a plan, but it’s best to be flexible and ready to go where it takes you. After all, things happen and people happen.
What seems to work best is to remember, to hold close the experiences we’ve had and learn from them, but to be ready to step forward into the unknown without fear. And that’s whether you’re going into Grade 1, NHL tryouts, a new job, adulthood, marriage, new home ownership or retirement or whatever life-changing moment you’re having. And, by the way, every moment’s life-changing in its own way.
Our church is working with a theme this month, “a journey just begun,” not just because it’s fall, but because we’re following the story of Moses and the Hebrews in the book of Exodus. And nobody knows life’s a journey like people for whom life is a literal journey.
The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and then they suddenly weren’t. Well, not suddenly, I suppose. There were nine plagues before the one that changed Pharaoh’s mind and he let them go. But, in the context of generations of slavery, it was pretty sudden. And in the ceremony that has instructed and honoured it since, Passover reminds us of the bitterness of the bondage of the past and the need to be ready to move forward into the unknown without fear, remembering, above all else, that God goes with us. On that level alone, this story should speak to us about the importance of journey in our lives and of journeying forward.
I realize, just as I wrote that, that I said “us.” And that, right there is a huge challenge to face as well.
Passover is at the heart of Jewish tradition and culture and, though Christians inherit that tradition as a formative part of our own, I would never presume to speak to it as more than that. I recognize also that there are many other faith traditions. This story still speaks to us.
I also acknowledge that I have no authority to speak on a story of liberation from slavery, except as an inheritor of oppression and a hope-filled facilitator of its end. And that, too, is cause to know this story.
The freedom the Hebrews found wasn’t just from the oppression of the Egyptians, but the chains of the past itself. They needed to learn to be a people, to live in relationship with each other, a relationship that wasn’t governed by the context of their oppression. They needed to learn to love themselves and each other. And the story of the their time in the wilderness is that struggle of finding their way to themselves.
In ‘The Long Walk to Freedom,’ Nelson Mandela wrote that when he walked out of prison, he knew that “the truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others … I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way … I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” Mine isn’t either and neither is yours. Embrace it.