Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
October 2022 - Volume 22, No. 10
Last Spring, Michael Meade, an acquaintance and favorite podcast writer, wrote a podcast entitled “Wise and Crosswise” which I revisit from time to time, and now share with you.
In my own imagination, (and actually some specific memory), I find myself on a path through a thick forest, my walking stick sometimes held in front of me to fend off spider webs, when all at once I’m confronted by a large tree that has newly fallen across my narrow path. To my left are a large tangle of branches, and to my right a formidable array of uprooted roots. My path has been definitely “crossed”, blocked, interrupted, frustrated, restricted. And I’m not the kind of hiker that carries a worthy chainsaw in his backpack. But just being upset by the forest or this particular tree, I’ve learned to say ‘something’s going on here that’s more important than just being upset.’
What Michael taught me is that these circumstances are probably not just casual circumstance, but are more ‘on purpose’ - meant to be, meant to be taken seriously. That tree is taking me to another place, a third place, where I can assume a large wisdom or pattern is working to get my attention.
My parents had a life-long friendship with a couple whom they met before marriage. She and my mother were roommates in Chicago, he was from coastal New Jersey - and they had met at a youth conference in Denver. I remember them, in their frequent cross-country visits to us in Iowa, and we to them in New Jersey, often saying “You just have to be at the right place at the right time.” That was their life mantra. But at times I felt that was all too easy. Being at the right place at the right time, also meant frequent crosswise encounters. As I grew and got to know them, I came to realize that various life struggles had formed them into people with deep soul resources - the right kind of people to have become life-long soul friends for my parents (in spite of the radical simplicity of their mantra).
The Burning Bush
One of the great “crosswise” stories in my ken is the Biblical story of Moses and the Burning Bush.
While in Seminary, I recall a sermon preached in Chapel by one of my classmates. He preached a sermon on Moses and the Burning Bush. For 40 years, Moses had been a shepherd, looking after the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Here he had led the flock to the far side of the desert, and came to Mt. Horeb (Sinai). There the “angel of the Lord” appeared to him in a bush that was “burning, but not consumed.” The narrative tells us that Moses “turned aside” to check out this matter. In the specific words of my classmate’s sermon, “Moses turned aside from the expressway of his fixed intentions, and in so doing everything, everything was changed.”
A personal major “crossup”
I recall in 1972, my wife and I were driving south on US-23 near Flint’s Bishop Airport, when our VW “Bug” threw a rod. We were on our way from Flint to Detroit, to catch a flight to Green Bay, then by rental car back into Michigan, for an interview with the Bishop of Northern Michigan for an Episcopal ministry position in the western UP.
After that “roddy” interruption, and a dead VW, the Bishop was not available to reschedule things for a week or more due to a Episcopal meeting somewhere in Iowa - and I was in a very short window to accept or reject an alternate employment offer by Flint’s McLaren Hospital as a Medical Social Worker - a decent salary and a specific job. As a result of that VW engine throwing a rod, I gave up full-time ministry work, became Michigan Social Worker, and have remained a resident of Southern Michigan and Genesee County now for 50 years.And probably permanently - barring future crossups.
Fifty years has given me occasion for a number of additional crossups, or as I prefer to call them, crosswisdoms - each adding character and opportunity to my life narrative.
Michael Meade has a genius for trusting the crosswise events by which we encounter the unique soul within each of us.Through this mythic perspective, he posits a deep cross-understanding hope for us all, in such difficult and interesting times as we live.
A new marriage counseling paradigm
(This is a very new approach for me - definitely a work in progress.)
A standard marriage counseling pattern involves discerning what the couple still have in common, and build on that. Well, sometimes it’s so very little. The relationship has brought only crossups to each. Without judgment, I will seek to have each come to terms with the personal crosswisdoms that have emerged - shared but not having to be understood or accepted by the other. Through this process, then can begin to emerge a “third thing” which was never able to exist before. Marriage is itself a “third thing” something created up at the altar out of nothing except the desire of the couple, and the sacred words of making intoned by the couple and the celebrant - and then ratified by the people(community).
It can take a lot of maturity for some folks to do this. And I have yet to fully discern the outcome with only one person’s involvement. Give me a year to work it out more fully.
I believe this may be the secret in trade of all great negotiators, in business and politics and personal relationships, that can bring (us) together - a togetherness that is so missing in our current world, and yet deep down so universally desired.