Looking for Lanterns
By Lindsay Barrett-Adler
Last week I joined leaders from the other 215 volunteer and lay mission programs of The Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) for our national conference in Maryland. Our work spans across mission fields and around the globe, with more than 19,000 volunteers and lay missioners in 112 different countries. Not only was I excited to be attending my first CVN gathering, we were also celebrating the organization's 50th anniversary.
Throughout the worship services, one hymn was consistently used as a thread to weave all of our time together. I had never heard Barbara Bridge's "We Walk By Faith" before, but instantly fell in love with its message and was especially moved that we sang the conference's theme (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow) as a refrain. Here is what we sang:
We walk by faith and not by sight, through woe and joy, through dark and light.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
We journey not alone, forsaken. You walk with us, our God and friend.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
I have to confess that I have a slight bias against talking about faith as "a journey". To be more specific, inspirational posters with a peaceful wooded path or a sunset on the beach and some quote about journeys make me kind of sick. This isn't my experience of faith. Faith, for me, has not always been a relaxing stroll down God Avenue and I think it's dangerous to set this as an implied standard for other people of faith. Moses and some other Biblical figures might agree.
Bridget's image of a journey through the dark, tripping over roots, and sometimes feeling totally alone feels more honest to me. Sometimes my faith life is down a beautiful path and I thank God for that season of grace and assurance. Other times, I feel like I need a machete to cut though all of the obstacles and dilemmas ahead. Much like members of our volunteer programs, I find myself praying, "What am I doing here? What's next in this day, in this year, for my life? Where are you calling me to go and who are you calling me to be?"
During a particularly confusing time, I remember talking though some of these questions with my pastor. His response remains one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. He said, "Everyone thinks that you start life and the path you're supposed to go down is crystal clear. You walk from post to post, checking off boxes and collecting honors, raises and professional success. I don't think it works like that. I think we're mostly moving from lantern to lantern. Sometimes you can barely see the next one and a soft glow tells you roughly the right direction you should move, but you could still lose your way. You could still get lost. God puts these lanterns, people and places, in your life to illuminate the night."
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow countless people and places have been lanterns in my life. The Church recently celebrated All Saints' Day, a time for us to remember not only family and friends who shaped us, but also people who inspired us with words like, "I have a dream" or "Make me an instrument of your peace".
Walking by faith today, completely clueless as to where the next step is taking me, is not easy. The control freak in me wants a map, or at the very least a packing list or trip itinerary (even an outline would do). These don't usually come floating down like manna and I'm left with God reassuring me, "I'm here. I'll always be here. Even to the end of the age. But part of following me is doing just that. You can't follow and lead at the same time, kid."
And so we move along, lantern to lantern. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Lindsay Serves as Program Director and Associate for Young Adult Ministries.
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