Getting Lost

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s classic book, An Altar in the World, (Harper-Collins, 2009), the author describes several spiritual practices that arise from the everyday activities and encounters of our lives.  One she entitles “The Practice of Getting Lost” fits with our story from Genesis this week.  Taylor talks about how the intentional practice of getting lost – going somewhere you have never been before, taking a different route home, opening up your schedule to the unplanned and unexpected, and so on – can open you to new experiences and connect you more deeply to God.

Then she talks about the unplanned times of getting lost: losing your way on a dark road in unfamiliar terrain, having an accident that puts you in the hospital, or simply having your life go differently than you had planned.  Career or marriage plans or plans for a family could go awry.  Expectations of having a long, able-bodied life could be suddenly curtailed.  These experiences can feel terrible, but they often wind up bringing us nearer to God.

Today’s story from the Hebrew bible, the tale of Joseph, is a saga of getting lost in this second, more painful, way.  Joseph was a boy of seventeen who had, like all teenagers, some traits that did not endear him to his brothers.  But they disliked him a whole lot more than he or his father knew. When he met them in a place far from the family camp, they attacked him and threw him into a pit.  Then they sold him to a band of traveling traders, and he wound up a slave in Egypt.

Imagine all the adjustments Joseph would have been forced to make.  From someone who thought he could count on his brothers, a beloved son who was certain of everyone’s favor, he became a nobody with no family ties he could count on.  Who does that to a brother – sells him for a few pieces of silver?  From a free man, Joseph became a slave.

Being lost forces us out of our normal way of being in the world.  In graduate school, this is what we defined as “crisis”.  Spinning around out of control, being in unfamiliar surroundings with no moorings, losing the normal flow of plans and expectations – this is crisis.  Crisis ends when normal life is reinstated – or a new normal comes into being.

Joseph’s fate in Egypt was capricious.  But through all the changes in his fortune, he knew one thing.  God was with him.  I imagine him talking to God.  I imagine him, in fact, complaining bitterly, even yelling at God oftentimes. But he was steadfast in his understanding that he was not alone. God was with him, and he just kept plugging along, doing what God demanded.  The relationship with God was his “new normal,” and it got him through.  

We all know how the story turned out. Joseph eventually became a favorite administrator of the Pharaoh.  Thus, he was in the position to save his family from the terrible drought that overtook the land of Canaan. He was able to welcome his family into safety in his new home, Egypt.

Getting lost forces us to rely on God – to orient ourselves toward God.  Sometimes that is the most important new normal to arise out of the chaotic time.  We learn that God is our true home and that we can always talk to God, no matter where we are.

I hope that in the months and years ahead you are able to turn to God in all the times when your way is dark and “normal” does not exist.  I hope that you remember that your home is in God, and nowhere else will you feel at rest.  Blessings on your journey

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