When I was a kid, some of my friends had a cabin on a lake, where just off to the side there was a place you could go, and jump off the ledge into the water below. I’d watched my friends over, and over take this leap.
They’d countdown – 3, 2, 1, and then run, and be in the air, and then splash.
Every time, they’d ask me if I’d want to join, and I thought about it. And every time I thought about it, my stomach would turn in knots, my heart would pound, and I’d catch my breath in my throat.
It’s not the water that scared me. I grew up in water – I swam competitively – and my grandparents had their own lake cabin, so when I wasn’t in the pool, I was in the lake.
It was more: the distance between the ledge, and the water. Which seemed really far. And also, it was the rocks close by, which seemed really sharp.
Most of all, it was the voice of my grandmother in my head, telling me that this was all very dangerous.
I always thought I might try it, though. Like, there would be clear moment where I felt ready. But that moment never came.
Life is filled with decisions like this, all the time. Decisions where we balance risk, and reward; danger, and comfort; the familiar, and the entirely new. Will we leap into the unknown waters below, or will hang back, and stay the course?
Sometimes, we are completely aware that we’re facing such a big decision – like when we’re considering a new job, or a new love – or when we’re ending a job, or a relationship. But a lot more often, these moments just pass by as a regular part of life. Like, on the playground on a regular day. Or at the neighborhood block party.
Whether we realize it or not, these choices are everywhere. These choices and chances to show up as full participants in our own lives, as partners in the work of unleashing courageous love. As Rabbi Alan Taylor says it, we always “stand at the end of a long chain of consequences…Every day, we are called to the present moment of our lives. And the time of transformation is always upon us.”
As he says: “The world is always cracking through the shell of its egg to be born.”
Have you ever seen something trying to be born? Or actually given birth?
For those of you who have given birth, or seen something trying to be born, think about that experience. The words that come to mind that describe it. Messy. Scary. Amazing. Smelly. Shocking. Risky. Chaotic.
In the congregation I served before this one, one of our members was a rancher – she bred cows. One Sunday after service, she told us that right that minute, one of her cows was going to give birth, and she wondered, would we like to go see a baby cow be born?
A group of like 30 children and adults piled in our cars and caravanned up to her ranch. And we came in right at the end of this birth. It was loud, and kind of gross – like all the words. And also it was a miracle. The calf was so small, and stinky, and so soon it started to stand on its own, all wobbly.
A lot of preparation goes into these moments where something’s going to be born. A lot of training and planning, and practicing. A lot of gift registries and baby showers.
So much preparation…which is kind of funny. Because as anyone who has ever been there for an actual birth would tell you – there is no preparation you could do that would ever make you actually prepared for this kind of moment.
There is only surrender. Only the giving in to this piercing new claim on your heart. This terror. This beauty. This miracle.
Which does not mean we stop trying to prepare. Go to the library and find the section for expectant parents – so many options to prepare. Which is fine.
But also, the idea that we could be prepared – and now I’m talking about literal moments of birth, and also – the preparation for what is always trying to be born in us, for all that’s trying to come alive in our hearts, the idea that we could ever fully prepare – too often keeps us from believing that we are already capable, already enough. Keeps us afraid that we’ll look foolish. Afraid we’ll not be perfect. As if such a thing exists.
And we start to get this idea that maybe we are the only ones in these moments that feel unprepared, out of sorts, discombobulated. Everyone else must be at least a little better off than we are. More able to stop the bullying, or ready to respond to racism. More prepared to lead the congregation, or envision the future, or run for office, or give that major gift. More able to hit that note, or find that beat. More prepared to step up to the edge and leap into the life that we long for, the life transformed by courageous love.
So we just stand back. Waiting for that moment when we feel…ready.
A lot in this world and in our lives today feels messy, and scary, shocking, and risky. No matter our age. And it can be tempting to believe that everyone else has what it takes – it can be tempting to keep being the one that watches everyone else take the big leaps, to keep putting off that leap.
But the truth is no one is properly prepared for the real moments of transformation, the life that beckons to us, at every turn. The feeling of being unprepared, and stomach in knots, breath short – in these moments – that’s normal, that’s regular. It’s a sign that you’re waking up to see the choices that offer themselves to us, all the time, and showing up for the world that is trying to crack through the shell of its egg to be born.
There is no preparation for life like this, there is only surrender to the piercing claim upon our lives that is the call of courageous love. There is only the willingness to keep leaping into the unknown. And there is only the hope of a beloved community that will take the journey with us. That will companion us, forgive us, bless us, and remind us in the terror, and the beauty of it all, in the miracle of this life: We are not alone.
3, 2, 1…..let’s go!