This past weekend was the Youth Theological Initiative's reunion. Many classes returned, including my class. About fifteen of us came from our year of 2006. We came from around the country, by bus and plane and train and car. We came from Rhode Island, from Florida, from Illinois and from Louisiana. We came from Tennessee and North Carolina. We came from Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. From miles around, we came back home.
I've blogged about YTI in the past, but this recent convergence of my YTI family has led me to post once again on the subject. Or rather, to post on the story. Perhaps this will not hold much meaning for those of you who have not lived through a Summer Academy with the Youth Theological Initiative, but it's something I need to write about for my own sanity:
In the many many conversations I have had with people about YTI, I have never (nor have any of the other YTIers) been able to fully explain the meaning that YTI holds for us.
I can tell people that we took each others' hands and peered into the deep waters of our souls. I can tell people that we lived life as it was meant to be lived. I can tell people that we journeyed together into uncharted deserts and survived on the manna and grace and relationship we found there. I can tell people that there are no words to describe it. And still, YTI is so simple (or complex) and real that it cannot ever be explained.
YTI is one of the "thin places" in this world; Heaven and Earth overlap during the Summer Academy and the boundary between the two thins out. YTI is a vehicle which carries us out of chronos and sets us gently down into kairos time.
God is thick -- and perhaps more obvious -- at YTI. Because God cannot be explained, and because God certainly cannot be explained through words alone, YTI cannot be explained. But YTI can be touched. YTI can be tasted. YTI can be seen. YTI can be felt.
I learned many things during my time at the Summer Academy. Many things I thought I had already learned, but instead I discovered them in new depth and in vivid color.
Even though my hands literally began to constantly shake -- my body's physical expression of a constant wrestling with questions which threatened my world's stability -- I found that God is steady enough and large enough to hold me safe. I found that God does indeed bless us, just as Jacob was blessed, after a long night of wrestling. The Summer Academy was my river Jabbok.
I learned that God shows up in games of Frisbee and in wooden Scrabble letters. I learned that play is indeed a holy and right and good thing.
I learned that food does not constitute a meal, but rather it is the conversation and the laughter and tears over and around the food that turn it into a meal.
I learned that presence is some times more important than words, and that God often uses others' arms to hold us close to God's presence.
I learned that becoming a member of the Body of Christ does not mean uniformity, but rather diversity. Acknowledging our differences is more holy and healing than is ignoring them.
I have learned so much.
And so I cannot help but ask, "How do I carry this with me? How do I honor this experience in my daily living?" This is the question with which I struggle, the question with which I am wrestling. I have not found the answer, and doubt I ever will -- in concrete terms at least.
However, I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
(Isaiah 43: 18-19)
Somehow, I am to honor the past experience by looking instead to the future. Somehow I am to honor the past by trusting a timeless and time-full God to do a new thing. I am to honor the past by believing that the future will be just as rich and just as full of life-water as the past.
I struggle with this. I now can understand the disciples' begging Jesus to allow them to set up tents and stay after the Transfiguration. Even though I know that Jesus' story would not be Jesus' story if they had stayed on the mountain, I want to set up my tent and be content.
I struggle with moving forward into this new thing, because I do not have the luxury of knowing the ending to my story.
Yet, a deep part of me has learned that from the struggle comes the blessing, and so I trust that from the old God's new thing will spring forth and old blood will course through new veins.
God grant us YTIers courage and strength to step boldly into a future begotten from a past which cannot be explained. Amen.