Making ‘explorer stew’

By Karen Muensterman

Connecting Faith and Life

One summer when I was very young, my sisters and I had a galvanized bucket that we filled up nearly every day with water from the garden hose. Every morning, we tiptoed through grass that was wet with the sweat of God who had worked all night while we were sleeping. We crouched in the mud under the water spigot and took turns trying to twist it because it was old and stubborn. Finally, cold water would gallop out of the hose and into the bucket. It was crystal clear and bold as an underground army. We put things in the bucket that we found throughout the day, creating a lavishly mysterious concoction. We never named it, but I always secretly thought of it as “Explorer Stew.”       

One day we might put in wild onions, dandelions, blackberries, tree bark, moss and dead crickets. We might add some mud or sand and pour in a little of whatever we were drinking – warm Kool-Aid or Hawaiian Punch. We stirred the stew with a stick. Mostly, it turned brown; but it always smelled so mysterious. At the end of the day, we poured our stew on the ground and went in to eat supper. 

Night came and poured darkness into our bucket.

Morning came, and we filled it up again with new discoveries.

As I grew older, I stopped putting my discoveries in a bucket and started putting them in a diary. Every day, I filled up the pages with things I had discovered about life that day – things that had made me laugh or cry or shiver; phrases from books I had read; lyrics from songs on the radio; dialogue fresh from the lips of friends and enemies. When I first started writing in my diary, I paused every day to read over my past entries before I began a new one. After a while, it took me so long to read all the old entries that I never got around to writing anything new.       

Every day I trudged through the well-worn path of pages in my diary, reliving past triumphs; poking at old grudges; assuming the burden of old griefs. As time went on, I found myself growing frustrated and irritable. I noticed that the days of my life, which had used to fly like winged creatures, began to drag monotonously. And then one day I realized that I had stopped discovering life and was only remembering it. That’s the day I stopped reading my diary and started writing again.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says something startling: “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like a child, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”        

What if Jesus is right? What if all it takes to enter the kingdom of God is the willingness to approach life as children do? What if we tossed the past out every single night along with all our grievances, grudges and judgements, and embraced each new day and everyone in it with wonder and awe and unconditional love?

Maybe the kingdom of God is not a prize that can be won by lugging a set of correct beliefs across some distant finish line.  Maybe the kingdom of God is already here, waiting for us in this present moment, an endlessly changing landscape not to be won or lost, but to be explored.

I always feel closer to God when I approach life as an explorer. I try to discover new things every day. I try to read something new, listen to something new, learn something new, meet someone new. I ask new questions and search for new answers to old questions. I collect as many new experiences as I can every day, and then I pour the day out. If it was a bad day, I am glad to see it go. If it was a particularly good day, I might mourn over it a little; but I try not to hold onto it. My goal is to start fresh tomorrow, as weightless with wonder as a child in summer. We explorers always travel light.