A Saturday or so ago, we gathered for a family movie night. We settled upon the movie, October Sky, based upon the book Rocket Boys. An interesting aside, the exact same letters that form “October Sky” also make up “Rocket Boys” (Try it and see).
The movie is about Homer H. Hickman, Jr. and his friends’ interest in building rockets, but it is about much more than that. In Coalwood, West Virginia life was pretty much tracked for you at a young age. If you were a boy growing up there, you attended school long enough to test your football acumen or settle for life working in the depleted coal mines.
Homer quickly established that football was not going to be his route out of Coalwood, but he was equally certain that life in the coal mine was not for him. As trapped as Homer felt in Coalwood, his friends’ tracks seemed even narrower, as their family systems were wrought with instability, alcoholism and abuse, or profound poverty.
Thanks to an inspirational teacher and the national fascination with the “space race” following the successful launch and orbit of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik, these “rocket boys” discover their own passion for rocketry. Their interest is originally met with both skepticism and resentment, but they persist until the town comes to not only believe in them but take tremendous pride in their ascent.
The Rocket Boys go on to win a national science fair, and Homer receives a scholarship to Virginia Tech (or as my father-in-law who was a student during that era called it – “VPI”), and eventually does become a NASA engineer.
The story, dramatized a bit for the sake of the viewer, did convey the resistance to deviating or expanding our set path in life. We tend to be more responsive than proactive to the stressors or burdens in our lives. I, for one, need the forced opportunity to look back upon the tracks that led me here, and down the tracks ahead and ask, “Is this where I want to be, where I want to go, where God is guiding me?”.
These 40 Days (plus six Sundays) of Lent provide us this richly needed time. I cannot speak for all of you but between the business of life, the escalation of our building project and capital campaign, the pastoral hardships of beloved parishioners, and the contentious national ethos that has permeated our lives, I need to stop, to literally be stopped in my tracks.
Now, knowing how I am feeling, what I would like to change, resolve, respond to more effectively is the starting point. Making substantive change in my life is the harder work. However, much like the countless failed launches and rocket overhauls gave way to that first successful take off which fostered more slight adjustments until the rocket soared beyond the clouds, I believe Lent also provides us the time and the tools to ascend.
First strip away those vices that may have contributed to what we seek to change, cluttered our lives or distracted us from real growth, or provided a temporary salve to what needs substantive healing.
Secondly, we act. We do those things that direct our lives toward God, God’s greater purpose for us, and truly toward the joy and peace we seek. Our actions may be service or advocacy to others, intentional reconciliation with God and one another, study and deepening of our knowledge of God.
Next, we walk the journey together. Just like the rocket boys who depended on each other, kept one another from giving up, and shared their unique gifts, we also lean on each other. We hold one another accountable, share our graces and our stumbles, and we grow together. To this end, I encourage each of you to consider a small group like those meeting to discuss our seasonal book offerings.
Finally, we begin and end with receptive prayer, with surrender, with stillness, and with an openness for God to clear our mind, deepen our faith, increase our trust, guide us and strengthen us to make substantive change.
Please know that my door is wide open as you journey and I will keep all of you in my prayers this lent. I pray that this lent changes the track that you are on and guides you more squarely toward the cross and that love poured out upon it.