Two Places-Spiritual & Physical
By Jen Johnson, Guest Columnist
This week I found myself in two unexpected places. The first was an actual, physical place. The second is of the spiritual variety.
On Wednesday morning, I boarded a plane bound for Chicago from Logan airport. An older gentlemen, struggling to settle his brief case into the overhead bin, was holding up the line of passengers. He was my “row-mate” and I waited, with a perhaps less than patient expression on my face. He looked queryingly at me and I pointed to the window seat next to his. He moved aside ever so slightly and gruffly told me to “Go ahead.” His face was familiar, and his voice was unmistakably recognizable. I was to be row-mates for the next three hours with the longtime, now retired Massachusetts Representative in Congress, the first openly gay member of that institution. Barney Frank.
I’m a supporter and fan of the outspoken and liberal legislative powerhouse, but I got the distinct impression that he was not much into small talk. So I pulled out the latest issue ofThe Atlantic magazine while he scarfed a cranberry muffin and noisily rustled the pages of his New York Times. As I made my way through my magazine I came upon an article about the very gentlemen seated to my right, a positive review of his newly published memoir, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same Sex Marriage.So that’s how I found myself sailing atop a sea of clouds, seated just centimeters away from a dozing Barney Frank, while reading an article about Barney Frank. An unexpected place, indeed.
I bring this up because, well, it’s a cool story, isn’t it? (And there’s more to it. I did summon the courage to strike up a conversation and he signed his photo in the Atlantic article). But that’s not the only reason. I was struck by a quote from his book included in the article that relates to that unexpected spiritual place where I also found myself this week.
“It took me far too long to achieve a happy, fulfilling domestic existence … Looking back, I think I was pretty good at my job. Now it is time to be good at life, and with Jim’s help, I think I can be.”
Jim is Frank’s husband, whom he fell in love with at the age of 67 and married in 2012. Frank’s his life trajectory is in one way the inverse of mine. I met my husband when I was 15 and married him at 24. I’ve been pretty good at domestic life, marriage and parenting, love and friendship, creating and managing a home and family. My job, well that’s another (rather dull) story.
Which takes me to that unexpected spiritual place, a point on a spiritual journey that began the very first day I walked into our meetinghouse. The reason for my trip to Chicago was to visit Meadville-Lombard Theological School, a UU seminary that educates, trains and nurtures those called to UU ministry. In the last year and a half, this is a call I have begun to hear in my own heart. One I never would have recognized if I had not found this beloved FUSF community.
Early in February, Barbara Aspland-Wolf, a graduate of Carol’s sermon-writing workshop, delivered a stirring sermon about winter and plants. She used the metaphor of the seed to describe those possibilities of the spirit and soul and intellect which lay dormant, hidden beneath the crust of earth and snow. But given the right conditions, some will emerge above the surface where they can flourish and grow in the warmth and light of spring.
We all contain those seeds of possibility. Barney Frank discovered the joy and and satisfaction of domestic life and intimate partnership which eluded him for so many decades. For me, this call to ministry, a life of service and witness, feels like something that has always been a part of me, a small seed tucked away and well protected.
Yet at FUSF, I experienced an awakening of spirit and a community that has so generously given me encouragement, support, love, and acceptance. Just the right conditions to allow for germination of that small seed. I am deeply grateful for all of you, and I look forward to witnessing all the seeds that will ripen and bloom within this beloved community.