Today’s word returns us to the ideas of traveling, or exodus and return. DEPART implies our movement away from and toward something. It might also refer to a circular movement: out and back again. We have already taken up these Lenten ideas as WAY and GO and ABIDE and locations such as ROOTS and HOUSE and WILDERNESS and LAND.
This movement may be interior: psychological, emotional and spiritual. Or it might be outward: physical and bodily journey.
It might be passages through the land itself, through a sacred worship space, or through time and place. It might be a journey of our mortal selves: mind, soul, heart, and flesh.
To DEPART is also to take leave or say good-bye. In many languages, we have different ways to say farewell. Some hold the expectation of a permanent separation. Some hold expectation of being reunited again soon.
For instance, my chaplaincy colleague is French Canadian, and in French, you might say “adieu” during a more permanent separation. It means to go “to God.” You are more likely to say “adieu” if you expect to see each other in heaven, or with God. It implies a more permanent parting.
On the other hand, “à bientôt” is a more casual good-bye. It means, “until I see you again” or “so long.” Similar variations exist in Italian and Spanish and other languages, too.
DEPART means to set out. To go somewhere. To leave one’s current place and venture away. Sometimes this going-away is by choice. Sometimes it’s forced or coerced.
Again, we can consider ethical and real-world instances of this reality: global migrations of people being displaced within their own national borders. Or the stories of people becoming refugees and exiles outside their own home countries.
Our own US history has many stories of migration, either in search of something tangible. Some of our ancestors pushed west, displacing other people (who may also be our ancestors), to lay claim to land or gold or other resources. People moved northward for jobs, or left certain areas due to drought and famine.
Our own history holds the legacy of enforced migration. Indigenous peoples were forced to settle in specific territories far from their roots. People from many nations came here under duress. The ultimate enforced migration was slavery, when people were brought against their will to these shores, and treated as property rather than humans.
We know that immigration remains a contested issue. It has become a political hot potato, polarizing opinions and approaches, often at the expense of humane responses to real crises.
To be clear, human trafficking continues, and the forced and coerced journeys of people continue, on these shores, even today. In my local part of New England, one nonprofit that responds to this reality is Amirah, which provides a safe house for women who have been victims of human trafficking.
This is alot to digest, and it’s not a peaceful topic. Yet it deserves our attention and concern.
On the other hand, let’s take a moment to reflect again. I invite us to return to our own spiritual journeys.
In order to set out on a Lenten journey, when we have the luxury of planning for it, we may need to let go of burdens or baggage. Put them down. Give them into God’s keeping, or share them and place them into our community’s network of care.
A few weeks ago, members of First Congregational Church in Reading wrote their concerns and cares on stones, and set them at the foot of a tree in the sanctuary (which represents the cross). They’re not gone. But they’re externalized, expressed, and symbolically set down.
At the same time, we may need to pick up other tools or practices. We may need to “pack and prepare” for such movements. We may need to have space for those practices and parts of ourselves that we want to bring along.
Lent gives us a chance to be intentional. To cultivate practices and insights we may need at other times in our lives.
What happens when we go on journeys, physical or metaphorical, without choice? Due to crisis? Due to events beyond our control? Due to transitions in life, health, or other circumstances? What spiritual and self-care practices do we call upon as assets when we are pushed and pulled into changing, pressuring, transforming times? We may find that some of the calm and centering that we cultivate during Lent, or through regular spiritual practices, becomes a resource at more stressed-out times.
For me, when I’m stressed and in transit, breathing practices become a way of centering and grounding. I have a prayer that I learned in Kundalini yoga. And a way of breathing. It’s also a form of counting and calling on the divine, as well as a way of making sure my body has oxygen and my heartbeat and pulse remain stable. Such breathing helps me stay in this time and place, wherever that might be. It lets me be present. It’s a way of being aware of the connection between aware of body, heart, and mind. It’s a way of feeling God’s Spirit surrounding and filling me, giving me life and connection to something larger than myself. It’s a practice that cultivates space and time to invoke calm and clarity, so that I may do what needs to be done.
If we anticipate a homecoming, after we DEPART, we may return to pick up the things we’ve set down for this season. Like the rocks at the foot of the tree. We may find that we hold and engage them differently, due to the respite and perspective we’ve gained. Or we may return, exhausted from different exertions, and find it difficult to start up our daily lives again. We may not want to pick up those rocks again. And maybe we don’t always have to. Maybe it’s okay to leave them where they are.
In such instances, we learn from these changes and experiences. We find new ways to see and relate to parts of ourselves and our lives, after going out on a journey. We can ask ourselves, based on our values and beliefs, what we truly want to retain at the end of a journey, in our homecoming. And what we should release more permanently.
In Isaiah’s text today, God promises that God’s love will always be present, even after the mountains have worn away and departed. In the passage from Hebrews, God comes as a mortal man, as Jesus, in the bodily form of a vulnerable flesh-and-bones soul. He arrives to be like other humans, to know us from the inside out, to suffer alongside us, and to experience the absoluteness of death itself, too.
God comes to us, and leaves us, and yet promises to remain with us always, through the presence of the Spirit. God has let humanity say good-bye and turn away and leave Godself, again and again. And God has drawn close to us, when we have called out, and met us where we are. And patiently waited for us to return, again and again.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary:
- Isaiah 54: 10 — For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
- Hebrews 2:9-10 — Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.