“Liminal space” was the topic when Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper shared the pulpit with Rev. Mark Ward a couple of weeks ago. This term refers to the period when something is ending but the new thing is not quite starting. It’s like a threshold. When the entire UUCA staff met to discuss the topic, we were appalled and amazed that we were able to name many (too many!) liminal spaces in the culture that affect our congregation as well as those within the congregation itself.
One liminal space we find ourselves in is the one between losing many hours of staff time due to budget constraints and resettling into new, different work patterns. Similar to most endings, we are clearly losing something. We’re losing relationships (farewell and godspeed to Jules and Christine), we’re losing administrative staff time, we’re losing expertise, we’re losing support in our religious education program, we’re losing continuity, we’re losing “normal.” We’re gaining new people who will become our “regular” music director, connections coordinator and bookkeeper, but we don’t know who that will be or how it will feel. Except it feels scary and tentative right now.
In a liminal space there is also the possibility of opportunity. While at the threshold, we can see that promise, that possibility, yet we can’t quite resolve the picture. We need to wait…..
While we’re waiting, we can be learning. In this case, I’m going to re-read a portion of Susan Beaumont’s book, Inside the Large Congregation, and I’m going to think about policy governance (because that’s what I do!). Here, too, we remain in a liminal space—still working with policy governance and trying to re-adjust the work of the congregation as we live into our promise as a large congregation—not quite through the threshold where everyone is comfortable in our new configuration.
Here’s what Susan Beaumont notes when a congregation moves to the more staff-centered configuration that healthy large congregations should be using: “When faced with the transition from being a congregation that is managed by the laity to being one that is managed by the staff team, a variety of missteps can take place. Some congregations move into a mode of operation that treats the staff team like hired help, employed to do the ministry of the church on the congregation’s behalf. This mindset results in a disengaged laity who see their roles as executive directors and financiers of the work.” To be honest, from where I sit, this feels very much like where we have accidentally drifted.
Susan continues, “Healthy large congregations realize that the ministry of the church still belongs to the members, who must actively participate in the ministry. The staff team manages ministry efforts but does not do the ministry on behalf of the laity.”
So here is at least one picture of a future beyond the threshold of major staff losses. Maybe we can get better at balancing the work of the staff, which is to do the background work, the consulting and the structural work that equips the laity (that’s you), to do the real work of the congregation—fulfilling our mission. The congregation determines where it wants to go, the staff keeps an eye on that prize and supports congregants in their ministries, and the congregation makes it so.
Of course, there are other futures, too—other possibilities of how these staff changes will play out. But for now, we wait….
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Every religious tradition has its foundational stories, tales that neatly sum up some central message at its heart that invites the hearer into the faith. Just so, is the story of John Murray that you heard Joy tell earlier.
Rolling Away the Stone
by Sarah York
In the tomb of the soul, we carry secret yearnings, pains frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries
In the tomb of the soul, we take refuge from the world and its heaviness.
In the tomb of the soul, we wrap ourselves in the security of darkness.
Sometimes this is a comfort. Sometimes it is an escape.
Sometimes it prepares us for experience. Sometimes it insulates us from life.
Sometimes this tomb-life gives us time to feel the pain of the world and reach out to heal others. Sometimes it numbs us and locks us up with our own concerns.
In this season where light and dark balance the day, we seek balance ourselves.
Grateful for the darkness that has nourished us, we push away the stone and invite the light to awaken us to the possibilities within us and among us – possibilities for new life in ourselves and in our world.
Every religious tradition has its foundational stories, tales that neatly sum up some central message at its heart that invites the hearer into the faith. Just so, is the story of John Murray that you heard Joy tell earlier.
It’s almost too good to be true – like something out of the Book of Jonah – but as far as we know it did happen. Here this bereft Universalist sails off for a new life, only to have his ship caught in a storm and founder on a sand bar just off the property of a man who had built a chapel awaiting the arrival of a Universalist preacher.
In our newcomer classes I say that we call it our own little miracle story, and for many years some of our Universalist forebears tended to treated it like that. I’m told that years ago some churches would hold an annual “John Murray Day” in late September, the time of year when Murray arrived, that would be marked by special services or festivals. They’d gather and sing, “John Murray sailed over the ocean; John Murray sailed over the sea . . . .”
The truth is, though, that Murray’s stumbling upon Thomas Potter may not have been quite so miraculous as it seemed, though it certainly was serendipitous. As it happens, Thomas Potter was not alone in his community in his Universalist beliefs. There were, in fact, quite a few.
Remember that at the time of Murray’s travels – 1770 – many people seeking religious freedom were drawn to what was to become New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, near colonies founded by the Quaker William Penn. Among them were members of pietistic sects whose faith had strong Universalist tendencies. Included were German Baptists, known as Dunkers, who had settled much of that area and that Potter himself may have had contacts with.
So, in truth, it’s not really accurate to say that John Murray brought Universalism to America. It was already here and eventually it spread out from many centers, ranging from Pennsylvania to the hill country of New Hampshire. That suggests that this story may be less important as an origin tale than as the tale of the journey of faith that even three and a half centuries later still has something to say to us.
With that lens, we can see when we return to the story that it really is one of awakening, an Easter moment of sorts that tells us of the hope of rebirth even at a time that feels most like defeat.
So, where does this hope come from? The Universalist answer to this has evolved over time as the tradition has evolved, but it is grounded in the basic understanding that this hope is not something we need to seek; it is something we are called to recognize.
John Murray’s understanding was different than ours. He felt that Jesus’ death on the cross gave us the assurance that all were saved. But Hosea Ballou, who succeeded Murray as the leader of the movement in the first half of the 19th century, disagreed that such a sacrifice was needed.
The Universalist notion at the time was that a God whose nature was love would not require anyone’s sacrifice, that the spirit of God’s love was present in all life now, that the world is good, our lives were good and we were made for each other. Our work, then, he said, was to feel this, align ourselves with it and to act with love for others and ourselves.
Ballou offered these thoughts in a book that disputed the traditional Christian doctrine of atonement, the notion that Jesus died for our sins and that suffering and sacrifice, such as Jesus experienced on the cross, is required if we are to experience happiness or wholeness. Such a theology, he said, is a good way to make ourselves and each other miserable that in the end makes us no happier or closer to the divine.
We can see how that works: as we each offer ourselves up for the suffering that we hope will earn us a chance at happiness we are locked into a twisted cycle where we accept abuse as the price of redemption.
It’s a pattern that unfortunately echoes throughout our culture today and that degrades our humanity and poisons our lives together. Yet, even when we know what it is doing to us, it can be hard for us to break through. When we experience a series of bad moments, something inside us bizarrely assigns them to ourselves as our due, perhaps the consequences of our selfishness or misdeeds, and persuades us that we are unworthy and unloved. It leaves us looking for a rescuer instead of mining our own resources, and so it can be a frightening gyre to be caught in and hard to find a way out of.
Rebecca Parker, former president of Starr King School for the Ministry, describes the faith of Universalism as the belief that there is a fundamental integrity to the world and that the fullness of love is available to us always. But it is, she says, “a fragile faith” because, given what we know about the world and how it works, it is something that we doubt profoundly.
Merit, or worth, we sense, is not something we possess; it’s something we must achieve. We trust in action, in our industrious nature to power our way through our problems. We live in a go-get-em culture that tells us that the way to fix things is to get to work: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. So, rather than trusting in any inner capacity, we shoulder the responsibility ourselves for making things happen.
The problem is, though, that in time, she says, “our will-centered religion comes to a crisis” because no matter how committed we may be, however earnest our efforts, there are limits to what our wills can fix. After banging our heads against the wall for a time, we’re not inclined to find much to celebrate in a world that, she said, seems “full of brokenness, suffering, and injustice.”
We become alienated, and with an alienated mind, Parker says, our care for the world, ourselves and each other that sustains our confidence and even our identity, can break down, resulting in a profound experience of grief.
She tells of her own experience of such grief after a series of terrible events in her life. And she found that nothing could stop her spiraling into despair. One evening, she said, she left her house for a walk with an eye to a nearby lake. Her face wet with tears, she said, she set her course for the water’s edge, determined to find consolation in lake’s cold darkness.
Entering a park leading to the lake, she walked onto the wet grass and discovered between her and the lake what seemed like a barricade that she would have to cross. She didn’t remember the barricade being there, but when she got closer she saw it was a line of people hunched over what seemed strange spindly-looking equipment.
It was the Seattle Astronomy Club: a whole club of amateur scientists up and alert in the middle of the night, because the sky was clear and the planets were aligned. On her way to the lake, she was stopped by an enthusiast who assumed that she had come to look at the stars.
“Here,” he said. “Let me show you.”
And he began to describe the star cluster that his telescope was focused on. Brushing tears away, she peered in the lens and focused her eyes. And there it was: a red-orange spiral galaxy.
That ended her walk to the lake. As she put it, “In a world where people get up in the middle of the night to look at the stars, I could not end my life.”
I wonder how many of us have had such a moment – not as dramatic, I hope! But I know that I’ve come to discouraging times where I wondered what the future could possibly be, where I was out of options to fix the situation and just dwelt in a pool of uncertainty.
“What saved me in that moment is difficult to fully name,” Parker said. But in the end she decided, “I was saved by the human capacity to love the world . . . by being met, right in the center of the pathway of my despair by one – actually one hundred – who wouldn’t let me go that way . . . by the stars themselves, by the cool green grass under my feet, by the earth, the cosmos, its presence, which won me over, persuaded me to stay.”
It was the most welcome kind of awakening – one not unlike John Murray’s – that cleared the fog and helped reorient her to a life centered in a hope-filled calling that was larger than the cares that dragged her down, a calling that was grounded in the fullness of life.
And so are we each called by a knowing deep within us to life and work that will help us realize who we are, that will carry us beyond our peculiar little universes into a common life in the presence of fellow travelers of all sorts and the vast reaches of stars. It is a moment fitting to hear Handel’s “Hallelujah,” a moment when we waken to a world, a life so rich that it astonishes us and fills us with praise.
As my colleague Sarah York suggests in the poem you heard earlier, many of us learn to hold our troubles within. In the tomb of the soul, we take refuge from all the hurts and yearnings, the disappointments and pain: all the heaviness that weighs us down.
We sit with all of it, perhaps even nurse and console it. But the time comes when our own wholeness calls us, in Sarah’s words, “to push away the stone and invite the light to awaken us to the possibilities within us and among us – possibilities for new life in ourselves and in our world.”
This is the season where we hear that call most urgently. As Robert T. Weston puts it, “this day of cold and gloom, chill wind and wet holds in its grayness the restless urge of upward straining life.”
“Stoop down,” he says, “and listen; thrust aside dead leaves, and see, under the ice crystals, that there is movement, as, undismayed, life steadily thrusts upward, nourished by the dark.”
This spring emergence is something we feel as well, an Easter awakening that assures us of life’s insistent urgings and so the hope of our own awakening.
Running through life, the Universalist Gordon McKeeman once said, “is the urgency to wholeness,” something woven deep into our being. And in that urgency is an enduring source of Universalist hope, something that attests, not to an inner deficit or lack but, but instead to a truth of a deep integrity that dwells within us, that invites us into love of ourselves, our fellows, of this blooming and buzzing world.
In this bounteous and blustery time of year, may you feel that urgency, may you know that love: may it shine, shine, shine.
You may have seen the announcement in the Weekly eNews last week that I will soon be leaving on a three-month sabbatical. It is a pleasure and a privilege to have this opportunity to rest, recharge, and refill my cup of inspiration, and I am grateful that this congregation provides such to its ministers. That old-timey picture of the minister in his study reading and writing all day is not much of what happens in my day-to-day work life, what with email and protest rallies and the rest of modern-day life. And yet, there is an essential function of that unscheduled time to learn new things and find time to engage deeply with the things that keep me inspired and grounded.
I will be gone from May 2 through August 6, and during that time I will be dedicating most of my days to making art. It is the foundation of my personal spiritual practice, and central to my vocation as a minister. I also have lots of books I plan to read, squirrelling away inspiration for the next year’s sermons and reflections. It will be a simple time for me, without much travel, spending time with my family and enjoying some unscheduled summer days. I will attend General Assembly in the middle, since I am Co-Chair of the Right Relationship Team, and will participate in the Service of the Living Tradition honoring ministers who have attained Final Fellowship.
You may have questions about how my duties will be covered while I am gone, and I’m happy to answer any of them via email or in person. But here’s a quick overview of the plans so far:
Pastoral care will be managed by the eminently qualified Jill Preyer. I am so grateful for her willingness to take on this role and work with Mark and the Pastoral Visitor Team to be sure that you continue to get high quality and responsive care when you are ill or in crisis. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything.
The Connections Program will be managed by a team of volunteers, each taking on responsibility for leadership of one segment of the program.
Small Group Ministry remains in the capable hands of Joy McConnell and Nora Carpenter, with assistance as needed from Mark.
And you’ll see a few extra guests in the pulpit in my stead as well.
I expect that there will be a few bumps along the way, but I know that all of these essential programs are in good hands, and that I’ll be back in August, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for a new church year. Keep your eye on the Weekly eNews for more updates on sabbatical logistics.
It may be that when we we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
~Wendell Berry, The Real Work
When I can’t figure something out, I start asking other people for their ideas. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that a willingness to be open to collaboration is a hallmark of (growing) wisdom and maturity! We don’t have to go it alone in solving the big problems–in our own lives, in our families, communities, or the world. That’s something I think we get right in Religious Education: kids learn in our classes and activities that we are stronger, smarter, and more likely to solve a problem together.
The thing I’m having trouble understanding is how we move through some challenges in Religious Education. We are beyond blessed in so many ways. Our strengths? A supportive senior minister who gets the value of the ministry of faith development, and a senior staff team who sees RE as central to the larger mission of the church. An RE staff who are committed and work as a team to orchestrate the communication, supplies, recruitment, and logistics needed to keep a big program’s parts running together. Beautiful, well-curated spaces that are energizing and welcoming. A budget that allows us to offer great projects and resources to make activities truly engaging and creative. Smart, open-hearted children and youth who surprise and inspire me and their teachers each and every Sunday. Families who show up again and again to make it all worthwhile, offering their helping hands and great ideas to help make Sundays sing.
Then there are the numbers. We combed through them this year to assess the right number to “certify” with UUA. They give instructions to count enrolled and regularly attending but non-registered children and youth. We counted 205 in our faith development family, up 13.25% from last year’s numbers. Our nursery is bursting at the seams and parent covenant groups have multiplied.
So, what’s the problem? Even with all this, we are struggling to recruit Sunday morning leaders for our youngest age group, Spirit Play. It takes 12 volunteer leaders total to run both the 9:15 and 11:15 program for K-3, with another 12 leaders committed to showing up to lead 4th-12th grade classes. (A bit of of historical context about our program: I was delighted to learn when I began this job in the summer of 2014 that the RE committee had worked diligently to create a new approach in Spirit Play to respond to recruitment challenges. The plan was to get volunteers throughout the year on a date-by-date basis, rather than ask for a yearlong team commitment.) We asked families to make a “cooperative commitment” to help out 8 times a year in the SP centers, join a 4th-12 grade team, or help with tasks like hospitality, special events, greeting, and clerical work. Many, but not all, have done so. The unintended consequence of this decision has been two years of hours spent in weekly recruitment emails and phone calls, often still looking for leaders on Wednesday or even Thursday, the end of the RE workweek before our Friday/Saturday sabbath. Having faith that it will all fall together, again and again, is tough–though it normally all works out.
A couple of times this Spring we have needed to plan an alternate activity when we didn’t have volunteers in sufficient numbers to offer our normal Sunday morning experience. We made it work, but it wasn’t easy or fun. And that’s when I realized we need to come together to find sustainable solutions.
Trying my best these last two years to make the program I was handed succeed has been a series of technical fixes. Switch this for that, start a new class, try a different recruitment communication strategy, take in feedback and try new things suggested by parents.
I have become increasingly convinced we need a paradigm shift instead of a technical fix-an adaptive solution that reflects where families are and what they need, rather than attempting in vain to try to make them fit our expectations. A shift in congregational thinking that raises awareness of the unique needs and blessing families bring to church, and a consideration of how we can ALL collaborate and support this foundational ministry of lifelong faith development.
This is our congregation. It is a whole church family. We must consider each of the stages in the lifespan in our ministry as we covenant together and commit to “how we do church.”
In supporting our elders, we recognize their unique spiritual and physical needs and attend to them as best we can, building supportive networks and opportunities for their experience and wisdom to guide us.
In order to have such elders in 20 years, we need to support and intentionally include those in mid-life, often sandwiched between caring for both young adult children and ailing parents, and also, often, taking key leadership roles in the congregation.
To have committee leaders and board members and worship leaders and connectors and pledgers in midlife, we have to intentionally welcome and engage young single adults with their unique competencies and energies, meeting them where they are. And we must consider families with parents in their 20s and 30s and 40s. We want to facilitate and sustain their connections to church. Most of them say they are here because of their children and youth, so excellence in our RE programming is essential.
And to help those parents connect and build their own faith, we have to be willing to share the blessing and the work of faith development for their children and youth. A parent who can’t worship or lead or deepen their faith because they are constantly being asked to teach their own children is a parent who isn’t getting “sticky faith,” who isn’t exploring and questioning and being challenged to grow as a Unitarian Universalist in the way we affirm as essential for every other demographic.
If we can’t support parents’ connections and spiritual well-being because they are always needed in RE, where does that leave us? We send some parents (the very ones, incidentally, that made and keep their RE commitments and more, to make up for those who don’t) home on Sunday with an empty cup and no oxygen mask-even though we know full well they must also serve as their own children’s primary faith development guides throughout the week.
Church, for these parents, isn’t a chance to catch a breath and remember their best selves and reconnect to others in a similar place in their faith journey, to meditate or light a candle, to recenter and go deeper. Church can become instead one more fraying thread in the raggedy, unraveling grace of their lives, one more email to read or ignore for sanity’s sake, one more request for time and energy they just can’t meet, because the demands of caretaking and work and school and multiple schedules leave them completely wrung out.
And then we wonder, frustrated, why they only come to church twice a month or less; why we can’t get 20 or more parents every Sunday to help us teach their children and youth.
Is there a better way? Join me, senior minister Rev. Mark Ward, congregants from every stage in our church family, and many parents in collaborating on the program of faith development we want and that we can support at UUCA. Our visioning conversations around family ministry and RE continue, in potluck gatherings on the last Saturdays in the next few months: March 26, April 30, and May 28, from 5-7 pm in Sandburg Hall.
Sunday, March 13 Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Part of what a spiritual life gives us is the capacity to find peace and even comfort in time on our own. We’ll explore some of the dimensions of welcoming and even finding solace in those moments of solitude in our lives. <i> Click on the sermon title to read more and/or to listen.
From The Zurau Aphorisms by Franz Kafka
“You need not leave your room. Remain seated at your table and listen. You need not even listen; simply wait. You need not even wait; just be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
I remember that in my early 20s I was plagued with a recurring nightmare. I would find myself in some unfamiliar place and I was suddenly aware that my family or friends or whoever I was with at the time had taken off for places unknown and left me behind. I was . . . alone!
It’s not hard to play arm-chair psychologist and recall that at that time of life I was separating from my childhood home. I was deeply uncertain of where my place in the world would be and that anxiety echoed in my dreams.
Still, that understanding doesn’t necessarily make the experience any easier. Even now, I can feel my pulse race a little at the memory of waking with that image. We humans truly are meant for each other, and no one wants to feel separated and alone.
Yet, most of us go through periods when the community we had breaks down or the time comes for us to leave it, and we are left to our own devices. I know this is a familiar experience for many of you. You may have left a long-time residence to come to Asheville. You may have just retired from a long career, or left home to come to college or begin a job here. You may have been through a divorce, or recently lost a spouse or partner.
Our lives are full of transitions that leave us unsettled and uncertain, unsure, even, where we fit in. It can be a hard and lonely time. And that’s one reason why we here create many opportunities to gather and get to know each other so that we can be communities of support for each other.
At the same time, we needn’t rush to fill every quiet moment of our lives. Time alone can give us space to sort ourselves out, to deepen our relationship with ourselves, with, even, the fullness of our own and all being.
And this is something that we find in solitude, in time by ourselves where we leave room for discovery. The poet May Sarton spoke of the difference between loneliness and solitude: loneliness, she said, is the poverty of the self; solitude is the richness of the self.
She described this in her book, Journal of Solitude, which described how at age 58 she spent a year by herself. Her experience, she said, was that the time she spent by herself came to feel like her “real life” because it was then that she had the opportunity to make sense of things.
The firehose of experience left her numb and distracted. Solitude gave her space to reflect on what she believed, what she cared about: in essence, who she was. With that understanding, she could return to her tasks and relationships with a better sense of what they meant to her.
You’ve probably had that experience of finishing a draining day and just feeling like you wanted to zone out. Our default these days when that happens is to turn to one screen or another: TV, laptop, tablet, phone, and just let its flood of content wash over us. It may, indeed, help us zone out, but instead of a reprieve what we get often feels more like an extension of the frenzy we were seeking to escape. The noise – visual as well as aural – is hardly calming and certainly no relief.
Now, I don’t want to dis screen time. It can be entertaining and enlightening. But all the same, as my colleague Rob Hardies puts it, checking our voice mail and our email and our texts, what’s trending on Facebook and Snapchat and Twitter, we are “quietly disappointed that we hear more from those who would sell us something, or demand something of us, than those we love.”
Amid all the noise we have little time to reflect on, as May Sarton puts it, what we believe, what we care about: we have a hard time finding and knowing ourselves.
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton had a radical solution to that conundrum: he secreted himself in a monastery. And from that space he did indeed gain new insight into himself as well as his own sense of the holy. His context was the Christian tradition, but he also deeply respected other traditions that centered spirituality in the heart.
His poem that you heard in our meditation invites us into an expansive solitude that requires nothing more of us than that we simply attend. Be still, he says. It is not required that we conjure any particular image or idea. Solitude alone is context enough.
He invites the reader to drop any consciousness of who she or he understand themselves to be and simply dwell in the moment, simply be. This is space where, he says, we let go of judgment and widen our awareness. We are not separate: while you are still alive, all things live with you.
And this dispels the mistake at the center of loneliness, the sense of being disconnected, of being alone. When we are present to the world, to each other, we are living the truth at the center of our being: we are bound up in this world, with each other & all things.
I love Kafka’s image of this growing awareness: You don’t need to climb a mountain top to discover it. In fact, you need not leave your room, whatever space you happen to occupy. And you don’t need any special discipline. You don’t need to concentrate your listening or somehow wait in some special way. As Mary Oliver put it, you don’t have to crawl on your knees in the desert for a hundred miles repenting.
Simply, as Merton counseled: be still and solitary. This is the stillness and solitude not of despair or abandonment, but of integrity, your own integrity. It is the space where you own who you are, where the soft animal of your body loves what it loves. It is not lesser than anyone, anything else, but is woven into all that is. It is in this space, where the world offers itself to your imagination to be unmasked and, as Kafka puts it, will “roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Part of what we exist as a community to do is to invite each other on the path to that awareness. And this is how Billy Collins’ poem speaks to me. To my way of seeing, this is where the “Directions” in his poem lead us.
We each have our own tale to tell of how we get to the place where our awakening occurs – through the woods, over the rocks, climbing steeply or over broad meadows, accompanied, perhaps, by birdsong or the falling of cones or nuts from the trees.
And what to say of what we find when we arrive? “It is hard to speak of these things,” Collins says. “How the voices of light enter the body and begin to recite their stories, how the earth holds us painfully against its breast made of humus and brambles, how we who will soon be gone regard the entities that continue to return, greener than ever,” generation upon generation, finally reaching “the ground where we stand in the tremble of thought, taking the vast outside into ourselves.”
I don’t know that I could tell it much better, how in our solitude we may get just the first glimpse of the glory of this Earth, of this life for which we are privileged to be present. We are then given the opportunity to invite each other into this same sort of widening awareness, to companion each other along the way.
We can help each other create space where the noise is diminished and our loneliness is relieved where we are liberated to discover what we believe and what we care about: where we can find and know ourselves.
Using Billy Collins’ imagery: we create the setting where we walk together with hands on shoulders as we head into the crowd of maple and ash. Moving toward the hill, we bid each other well as we leave off and watching each other go, piercing the ground with our sticks.