The Round Table

Fred Smith

Fred Smith


March 1, 2023

A Second Voyage

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My father had the best definition of leadership I know: “Look back and if there are people following you then you are a leader.” All of us have known people who are leaders without having read a book or taken a course in leadership. People follow them when they say they are going somewhere. In spite of fears and hesitations they get up from what they are doing and go. Some people are born with the ability to say, “Let’s go, guys” and people fall in. 

The word for that in Greek is dierchomai and it describes the way Jesus led the disciples much of the time. Just when they were settled or had things nailed down Jesus would say” “Dierchomai” and off he would go. They never knew from one day to the next what that meant or where they were going – but he knew. For those of us who like everything on a calendar well in advance this is not a comfortable way to live is it? 

In “Overland to the Islands” the poet Denise Levertov writes:

Let’s go - much as that dog goes,

intently haphazard...

Under his feet rocks and mud...

his imagination, sniffing,

engaged in its perceptions - dancing

edgeways, there’s nothing

the dog disdains on his way,

nevertheless he

keeps moving, changing

pace and approach but

not direction - ‘every step an arrival.’

As we get older and the sense of wanting to get somewhere or make something of our lives puts pressure on us to do less dancing sideways and be more intentional with our time. It is tempting to find and follow a straighter path; settle into a fixed routine; pay closer attention to calculating and controlling the future. 

Richard Rohr writes about this time of life in his book, “Falling Upward.” There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean we do it well. The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion.”

At a certain point we are no longer interested in having our careful plans interrupted. The Jesus who says, dierchomai, feels more like Peter Pan calling us to a life that is unpredictable. That was for another time. In fact, it is just the opposite. All of our previous life has prepared us not for being wary but for a next adventure. The first of life is spent building the platform for the work of the next part of our lives. Our best work can begin later in our lives but it is not through an anxious paring away of everything thought to be an interruption or distraction. The best work, as Rohr says, is more encountered than sought. What seems like an interruption to our careful guarding of our time is perhaps the next episode. If you had to read “The Odyssey” in school you may remember that Odysseus had a second voyage to complete before returning permanently to Ithaca. I suspect the same is true for many of us. 

No, that’s not our preferred way of living as we finally get our lives under control. We want a plan and goals – with few interruptions. That next step should be thought through carefully. However, Jesus had no interruptions but complete flexibility as he left his daily life up to God. He could change directions or respond to an individual with no disruption of his day. He had a purpose that was clear and focused – but not a rigid plan.

I’d like to live with the assurance of having enough time to be “intently haphazard” in that same way. It doesn’t mean living without purpose.  It simply means being always ready to be up and off when we hear “let’s go.”

Wendell Berry wrote,

“If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line, but that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often I have not known where I am going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led - make of that what you will.”

So, dierchomai. Let’s go!

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