Holding patterns

I am so much less interested in writing these days. I squeezed out another blog post last weekend because I  felt like I should keep trying to connect with my readers. But it was a struggle and I think I invented some “wisdom” in the process rather than trying to report something as accurately as I could, which is what the blog has been best for.

The truth is–and here I am trying the honest reporting route again–I have nothing to say that I consider worth saying. I feel like I am in a holding pattern, circling around something, not sure when and where I will be able to land and resume some kind of purposeful journey or even train of thought.


Now that I recognize a holding pattern in my own spirit I see it everywhere. Certainly this cold spring, with repeated snows and gray rains battering and delaying the spring flowers, suggests a holding pattern. Rather than progressing in an orderly fashion the seasons are acting like a stuck CD–winter, winter, winter and then suddenly there will be a jump to summer.

Circling cautiously around sexuality questions yesterday in church felt like a holding pattern. We are starting a “Sexuality and the Church” series in the adult education hour. Not the first time this has been done. I wanted to move forward. I was feeling impatient. (We aren’t even saying which sexuality questions we will deal with or how we will address them–that is, people will have to name and choose their preferences.) I wanted to have moved forward already. I didn’t want to retrace old territory I had been through twenty years ago. Nor did I want to try to bring other people along into my current territory because I feel the futility of making people move at anything other than their own pace. I wanted to say, figure it out, folks, and wake me when it’s over.

I don’t think that’s a helpful attitude because the Holy Spirit is full of surprises and going to sleep or withdrawing in this way preempts the possibility of participating in those surprises. Permit me, though, to express my skepticism. My very skepticism puts me in a holding pattern and I observe that my church–my particular congregation and the larger Mennonite church–is in a very bumpy holding pattern on matters of sexuality and not quite ready to land anywhere though particular congregations and whole conferences are spinning off into their own landing zones.

I was part of a congregation that went through the agonizing, storytelling, listening, praying, analyzing process twenty years ago and landed decisively in the territory of love and inclusion. It has since moved forward into blessing same-sex marriages (thus encouraging commitment and fidelity, which seem like family and even biblical values) and fully recognizing and using the gifts of LGBT and straight members alike. As many observers have noted, the Holy Spirit has been present in that congregation, and the walls of judgment that encircled it for a while have broken down.

So I am particularly impatient with the holding pattern that prevails in much of the rest of the church, including my current congregation. Nevertheless, I love these people, too. At least we still seem to be listening to each other. In that way the holding pattern in the church on sexuality is different from the holding pattern in our country, where stark political divisions put us at odds so nothing can happen, no forward movement can take place. Perhaps this upcoming election will jar something loose. In any case, my political views are as firm as my views on sexuality but my capacity for listening to the other side is even more limited where politics are concerned.

That doesn’t mean that I know what I should do, or how I should be involved, if at all, in these political and spiritual holding patterns. I keep looking for the third way, the dance that circles with everybody and finally lands in a better place. But that way is seldom clear and, in fact, it almost always means having patience with process rather than purposefully moving everybody toward the same goal. The latter usually involves some kind of manipulation and demagoguery. Play on people’s fears or shame or promise them righteous vindication or prosperity.

In my personal life I have become rather more lazy and escapist than usual. Dreams haven’t been much help. If this is preparation, I don’t know for what. But I note that Cynthia Bourgeault, in The Wisdom Jesus, has a chapter called “The Easter Fast” (that’s right, not “feast”), in which she describes the days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension as a time of intense preparation, last-minute instruction in the new way of being in which he tried–not very successfully–to initiate his disciples during his ministry.

Preparation, when you don’t fully understand what for, can feel like a holding pattern, like limbo.

5 thoughts on “Holding patterns

  1. Beautiful, and I can relate in many ways. However, for the political situation of our country, I see that we have moved too far in one direction and are flirting with outright extremism. Extremism does not accept anything expect their view so it does lead to a holding pattern in a system which expects compromise. For me that also means there is little to learn from the other side. I hope that Fareed Zacharia is correct that the Republican party is busy self destructing because that means we have a chance of getting them and us back to swinging around the middle. It is even possible that that could happen at their convention.

  2. Thanks, Nancy, for finding an image that so aptly illustrates your current dilemma. I identify very strongly with all you have said, and am grateful to have your words to help me move around some more!

  3. Hi Nancy, this is not about the blog, but I just finished the Dream Matrix. What a gift. Thank you/Stranger, Carolyn, Deena and all the others. Such an opening and way on connecting. Thanking you with all my heart. Debby

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