open space


Since the Round of Sixteen began, I have not gotten to see one World Cup game until today. I got to watch the Final this afternoon. For all of the other games, I was either in Mississippi or in the kitchen at the restaurant. I made sure my schedule was clear today so I could watch France and Italy play. And play they did. For those of you not keeping score at home, Italy won on penalty kicks after the two teams were still tied at the end of the overtime period.

Soccer has provided an important metaphor for me of late, thanks to a story I remembered as we were flying to Memphis for my nephew’s graduation. When my brother’s family lived outside of Akron, Ohio, Ginger and I went to visit. Our nephews were in the eight to ten range then, I guess, and both playing on soccer teams. Scott, the youngest (who graduated this year) had a game, so we went to watch. Soccer for eight year olds often gets called “herd ball” because everyone on the field is in a clump around the ball. Scott’s team was leading the league because of one thing the coach said to them in particular: “Run to the open space and let the ball find you.”

The reason the story came to mind somewhere over Maryland is my life has little open space to speak of. I’ve had a sense that change was on the wind, but I didn’t know how to catch a glimpse of what was coming or what it required of me, because I couldn’t find any open space to let God find me. I’ve felt unsettled for a while, even pulled, as if the various claims on my life were each pulling me in different directions and I was about to come apart at the seams. I’ve also kept returning to something Ken, my spiritual director, said to me soon after I started seeing him last October: “Decide what it is you want to stand for, what it’s going to cost to make that stand, and then pay the bill.” July has come and I’m still coming to terms with his words.

When I began interviewing for the Associate Pastor position at the church in Hanover, my biggest concern was not being able to go to church with Ginger. I love being able to worship with her and I love being the pastor’s husband. I also felt a pull to Hanover. The search committee offered that I only had to be in the 10 o’clock worship service on the one Sunday a month that I preached. (We have an early service at 8:30; I’m there every week and then duck out to Marshfield on my non-preaching days. At least, that’s how it started. Two things happened. One, the job grew. There were more and more reasons to stay for church – good ones – and the equation sort of flip-flopped: I was getting to Marshfield about once a month. The second thing was I realized I couldn’t be an effective pastor and be in worship one Sunday a month. My feeling of missing Ginger has done nothing but grow.

Two weeks ago, I offered my resignation at Hanover. My time there will come to an end on October 1, 2006, which will give me time to wrap things up well and leave things in good shape for the one who comes next. I’m making my move into open space.

Here’s where the soccer metaphor matters most: the coach said, “Run to the open space and the ball will find you.” I’m not running away, I’m running toward. I’m still trying to figure out what I stand for, in Ken’s words. Here in the final months of my fiftieth year, I’m moving to open space where God can find me and I have room to listen.

What I do know is I want to be with Ginger, so the primary direction of my move is toward her. Vocationally, the move is less precise. I keep thinking it’s something with food. The parish house at Marshfield has a good kitchen and great space; we could be feeding people. I want it to be something with writing, so I will keep posting regularly and sending my words out into space of their own. I need it to make some money, which is the hard part since I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body. What all of that means is not only will the ball need to find me in the open space, but also some teammates as well. None of us tells a story with only one character, nor do we tell stories where we are always the central characters. I’m breaking into open space; I don’t know who or what will find me there, I just know it is time to find open space.

I also have a sense my questions will not be answered quickly. I’m on a transformational journey as much as vocational one. Most every job I’ve had in my life has found me. Someone has come and said, “You’re good at this and we need this done.” I could feel useful and appreciated (both important to someone who grew up learning love was earned), so I took the jobs. (Pardon the over simplification and the overuse of parentheses.) I’ve never taken the lead in this dance, and now I’m seeing I must if I’m to be true to myself and my God.

In his book, Life Work, Donald Hall (our new Poet Laureate) recounts a conversation with his friend Henry Moore, who had just turned eighty. Hall asked him, “What is the secret of life?”

With anyone else the answer would have begun with an ironic laugh, but Henry Moore answered me straight: “The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is – it must be something you cannot possible do!”

His words speak to me in profound ways and I have no idea of what it feels like to so consumed by One Thing. At least I know the next fifty years are going to be full of surprises.


PS — There are new recipes.


  1. The soccer metaphor reminds me of a song by Live, “Run to the water and find me there.”

    I am glad you are running to the open fields. Many men and women never allow themselves to take that risk, to take that leap into the great abyss of the unknown.

    As you once said to me when I was moving on…Go with God my friend.

    May you find him waiting for you in the open field.

  2. I’ve coached football (soccer), ages 4-8. That’s what I tell them: there’s a time to run to the ball, and a time to run to the open, so the ball can find you.

    Something with food? Can’t help you much there, unless it’s to help design/publish your cookbook / website / whatever. That could bring some money in. I’m ready to get to work when you are!

  3. That is a great item on Lay, I agree with you 100%, there is no justification for any CEO making more than 15 X the average person in the Corporation. The only reason is greed and EGO. The fact is no CEO ( and I have been one 3 times) can be succesful without his /her team not even Bill Gates (atleast he shares some of his money with the sick & Poor).

    Polyman aka Roy.

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