A Radical Leaving

Karen Rodman was charming, vivacious and enterprising. She instigated more good works than I could list. The entire arc of her professional and personal life was dedicated to making the world a better place in one way or another. She possessed a huge heart and a pioneering spirit. She lost her life too early to cancer last week, and her memorial service was Friday.

I’ve been lingering over something her priest said in his homily. It was an uncharacteristically evangelizing and passionate homily, by Episcopal standards. The priest sought to reach mourners right where they were in their faith journeys, and according to at least one friend, he reached his mark. He claimed that once one accepts oneself as a beloved child of God, and moreover, once that becomes the central pillar of one’s identity, the pressure to perform is off.

I couldn’t disagree more. Or at least, that does not track my journey in faith. My experience is informed more by the notion that to whom much is given, much is expected. When I contemplate the incredibly lucky hand I’ve been given—and let’s face it, anyone born in North America got a pretty lucky hand, globally speaking—I feel a great pressure to do good with it. If sufficiently focused on the abundance in my life, I cannot conceive how much must be expected. It is humbling beyond words.

A now retired priest in my parish was fond of saying, “Beware of arriving safely because you sailed too close to shore.” I know there is a time for rest, but there is also a time for stretching to the point of discomfort. Scripture abounds with examples of the faithful
who leave the place that’s comfortable and answer God’s call to venture into the unknown.

The Reform Jewish prayer book recalls what Abram had to leave behind in order follow God’s call. Abram left his homeland, his friends, all he had accumulated over a lifetime, and all that was familiar–for what? He didn’t have an answer, but he had trust and hope. “Radical Leaving” is what the prayer book calls Abram’s courageous step, and Rabbi Norman Hirsh’s poem “Becoming” describes how we encounter it.

Once or twice in a lifetime
A man or woman may choose
A radical leaving, having heard
Lech lecha — Go forth.

God disturbs us toward our destiny

By hard events
And by freedom’s now urgent voice
Which explode and confirm who we are.

We don’t like leaving,
But God loves becoming.

Karen embraced this radical leaving, undoubtedly more than once in her life, but certainly at her life’s end. When we said goodbye the last time, she expressed such exuberant and contagious hope—hope for a medical miracle, hope for an adventure beyond bodily death, hope for the world she was leaving behind and hope for friends and her daughter’s long life ahead. I pray for God’s blessing on her becoming.

Join the conversation. How have hard events or freedom’s urgent voice exploded and confirmed who you are? Do we ever encounter our destiny any other way?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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5 thoughts on “A Radical Leaving

  1. Beautiful writing, Stephanie. I believe my soul has prospered the most when I’ve been willing to heed the call and let go of that which is familiar. This letting go has included friends, family, homes, jobs, and places. I wish I could say I never missed the things I have walked away from, because I have. But, I learned the value of mourning the loss and moving ahead into uncertainty and the unknown.

    • Your comment is beautifully written as well, Brenda, and you leave me curious to hear about one of your letting go’s. Maybe you will write a post about one them! I have had one or two radical leavings, and I will have to ponder how they prospered my soul. I certainly learned a lot in the process. I missed some things but was relieved to leave other things behind, honestly. I guess one of the things I’ve learned is its easier to travel light! Thank you for being engaging and thought provoking.

      • You’re welcome, Stephanie. Most of my leaving of people has been family members, notably my children. I am still in relationship with them and I love and appreciate each one. However, after a series of events coming to a head I was able to see that I played the role of scapegoat in my family. My children blamed me for what was not working in their lives.

        I let them know I took responsibility for any wounds I caused in their life and wished I had known how to do it differently. However, I did the best I could with what I knew and where I was. I went on to let them know that as adults it was now their responsibility to heal their wounds; that I could not do that for them. I also let them know I would no longer be the person to blame for what was not working for them. I retired as the scapegoat and stepped out of the dance.

        I got quite a bit of flack from them as they tried to re engage me in my role. I refused to take the bait and told them I will no longer dance that dance.
        Our relationships are not strained and of course they certainly are no longer where they were. But what has changed in the relationship with each is the level of authenticity. The bullshit is gone, the curtain has been pulled back and what is left is truth and love. I probably will not blog about this because it is so personal to each of them.

        Thank you for asking about my experience. I have had quite a few more where I’ve had to change my dance steps and walk away from the circle. The payoff is honesty and integrity in the relationship. The hard part of the process is grieving the loss of that which is familiar.

    • What an awfully difficult leaving, Brenda, but one that makes a healthy–and as you said, authentic–way of relating possible. Sometimes the doors that close behind us are more helpful than doors that open in front of us. It sounds like you did that for your kids. Thank you very much for sharing that.

  2. I sincerely agree with your “the notion that to whom much is given, much is expected.” I feel the push to do something with what I’ve been given, every day…. I could just lay low and focus on my own comfort, but it isn’t as interesting or as fulfilling.

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