He was approaching the farthest boundary of the Louisiana Territory, the Continental Divide—the spine of the Rocky Mountains beyond which the rivers flow west. No American citizen had ever been there before. This he believed was the Northwest Passage: the goal of explorers for more than three centuries, the great prize that Thomas Jefferson had sent him to find and claim for the United States.
With each stride, Lewis was nearing what he expected to be the crowning moment of his expedition and his life. From the vantage point just ahead, all of science and geography had prepared him to see the watershed of the Columbia and beyond it, perhaps, a great plain that led down to the Pacific.
Instead, there were just more mountains—”immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us,” he wrote, “with their tops partially covered with snow.”
At that moment, in the daunting vista spread out at the feet of Meriwether Lewis, the dream of an easy water route across the continent—a dream stretching back to Christopher Columbus—was shattered.
These words of Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns describe that moment atop Lemhi Pass as the moment when a “geography of hope” gave way to a “geography of reality.”
There’s nothing pleasant about that moment. To be expecting one type of journey and to receive an entirely different, and exponentially more difficult, journey is painful.
To be confronted with reality can be challenging, especially when it is not what you’re expecting or not what you’ve planned for. It comes with feelings of being confused, overwhelmed, wrong, unequipped, and generally unprepared. But, possibly most challenging, it feels like a loss.
It is a loss when everything that has brought you to this present moment is no longer applicable for the moment ahead. To fully experience and suffer that feeling of loss can be hard and painful.
Because of that, most of us will deny and deflect. Rather than face the loss, we deny the reality before us. We remain convinced that nothing has changed, that we simply need to try harder and do better. This denial can lead us further down a road that we are not prepared for, all the while, carrying our tools that are no longer useful.
Or we deflect. We remained convinced that there are other ways, other routes, that will allow us to maintain the status quo and continue what has worked before. We deflect the reality of our situation, instead focusing on what we know and are comfortable with.
No matter how you size it up, the Church in our context is experiencing loss. We are experiencing loss. That is never pleasant or easy. Honestly, it sucks.
And we need to face it and come to terms with it. We need to mourn and lament. We need to allow those raw emotions that we keep hidden under our facades to find an outlet. We need to be emotional about our emotions. (Imagine that.)
And then we must check our emotions at the door as we consider sound judgment and next steps. Without a proper expression of our true emotions, they will continue to cloud our vision and dictate our judgments.
We must learn to let go.
I wish that was easy. I wish there was a workaround for this difficult work. But there’s just not. Each of us must do the difficult work so that we will be able to offer a meaningful contribution to what’s ahead.
What sense of loss are you feeling regarding the new realities of our world?
How can you give voice to those emotions in a healthy way?
What is holding you back from doing that now?
May we learn to mourn and lament well. May we find expression to our sense of loss. May we prepare ourselves to face the reality of what is ahead.
Peace to you,