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Being a Beginner

Amy Oden

Pastor Adam Hamilton’s current sermon series is “Beginning Anew After the Pandemic.” The pandemic has forced us to let go of routines, patterns of work, school, daily life. In part, this year has been a time of stripping away of the familiar, the secure. And like the Israelites freed from bondage in Egypt only to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, this pandemic year has felt like wilderness for many of us. Walking through the unknown with an unpredictable future, unsure where the dangers lie and no map for guidance.

For me personally, my wilderness has been the journey with my husband through his dementia, moving him into memory care, then unable to go into the facility due to COVID rules. Now, finally able to go inside and hold his hand, he can no longer recognize my face, voice or name. I’m walking through the unknown with no map or predictable sense of what will happen next.

This “in-between time” can be fertile. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Straus called it the “liminal phase.” Former ways of life no longer work. New ways of life are not yet established. In liminality we are the most open, most available to what God might be up to. Here, before new routines take root, before things become fixed again into new patterns, we are beginners.

This can be a great gift. Being a beginner means knowing that we don’t know. Beginners do not live in the illusion that we have it all figured out. That makes us more attentive than ever. In liminality we are returned to a state of watchfulness, aware of our ignorance. Here we can be eager to learn, trusting in the One Who Calls us forward, to begin anew.

As I walk with Perry through this time of loss and stripping away, there is also, at least sometimes, a sense of wonder. I am a beginner, knowing that I don’t know. I am eager to learn from the Holy Love that holds our lives. I gaze in awe and wonder at the beauty and mystery of life that is both fragile and whole.

Perhaps being a beginner is, in part, what Jesus had in mind when he said “You must become like little children” (Matthew 18:3), a spiritual posture, a way of being in relationship to God and the world.

Today, let’s be beginners together. Let’s begin anew.


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