Tamara Hill Murphy Walking The Spacious Path

“Walking” with Tamara Hill Murphy

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 22
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 22: “Walking” with Tamara Hill Murphy was released on May 30, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In today’s episode, producer Ben Wideman sits down with Herald Press Author, Tamara Hill Murphy, to talk about themes from her new book, The Spacious Path: Practicing the Restful Way of Jesus in a Fragmented World. For centuries a practice called the Rule of Life—built around rhythms of prayer, work, study, hospitality, and rest—has provided a loving pathway for anyone who desires to live out the whole gospel. We’ll learn more about this ancient practice, and how it might help shape our spiritual lives today.

Ben Wideman, Tommy Airey, Tamara Hill Murphy

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?

Tamara Hill Murphy  00:09
Because of the way I felt led into writing about this project and the ways that it created humility in me, and a sense of being in over my head a lot, and even in writing this book, I’m living my everyday life. I realize, I, I am not alone. And I can’t do this alone. And I don’t want to be alone.

Ben Wideman  00:31
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… People who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello again, friends. Welcome back to MennoMedia’s ~ing Podcast. I’m excited today to be joined by one of our Herald press authors. I’m here with Tamra Hill Murphy. She’s a Spiritual Director and an author. And we are really excited to be announcing a brand new book coming out very soon called The Spacious Path: Practicing the Restful Way of Jesus in a Fragmented World. Tamara, thank you so much for joining us here.

Tamara Hill Murphy  01:15
Thanks, Ben. It’s so good to be here.

Ben Wideman  01:17
Yeah. Curious, for those who don’t know you, how do you introduce yourself these days?

Tamara Hill Murphy  01:23
I usually just say my name is Tamara. And when folks want to know what, what I’m doing in and caring about in the world, I’ll let them know I’m a Spiritual Director, and a writer, but I’m also a mom and a wife and a grandmother. And all of that really matters to me.

Ben Wideman  01:39
You’ve had a number of different ministry roles in the Anglican tradition. Is that correct?

Tamara Hill Murphy  01:44
That’s right. Yes. Yes. For about the last… That’s correct for about the last 15 years. Yes. And that’s exciting.

Ben Wideman  01:52
I think that expands our denominational diversity here at ~ing Podcast by one more denomination, to so thanks for adding that to this collective movement here. I’m really intrigued by this, this new work of yours, The Spacious Path: Practicing the Restful Way of Jesus in a Fragmented World. It sounds a little bit in the summary that I’ve read online, like a guide book of sorts. Is that a correct way to describe it? Or how do you talk about this book when you’re when you’re telling people about this writing project?

Tamara Hill Murphy  02:27
I really love the term guidebook. And so I think that is that does apply.

Ben Wideman  02:32

Tamara Hill Murphy  02:33
One thing I’m really hoping with this book is to add to a conversation that’s already started,

Ben Wideman  02:38

Tamara Hill Murphy  02:39
About… ah, and in some ways it was started, you know, centuries ago with St. Benedict. But as far as current in the current conversation, the Rule of Life as a spiritual practice, it feels like there’s more conversation. And so I’m just wanting to add to what’s already out there. And so you might see, yeah, there’s sort of a spectrum of offerings for everything from a more workbook style, to more curriculum based to more anecdotal or historical primers. And I’m trying to kind of fit right in the middle there and offer, offer a little bit of, of all about.

Ben Wideman  03:19
So you’ve got this book that references a Rule of Life. What is that for those of us who are in the dark?

Tamara Hill Murphy  03:26
I love that you’re asking that. What, what a Rule of Life is, is a way of discerning and documenting the invitations of Jesus, to apply to my everyday life. So I am a whole human being made in the image of God, which means I have to make decisions every day that apply to my physical health, my family’s well being, my work life, my rest and play life, my intellectual, emotional lives. And so a Rule of Life recognizes that we, our whole selves, and it makes space for us to be integrated rather than each those parts of my life being a separate category that I’m kind of, you know, like hats that I switch on and off at any given job. It creates this one space, it’s a living document, updating with my seasons of life, which for some folks can happen. That’s an update that happens frequently. But it’s, it’s a place to, to put all of that so that I’m living out of one, one invitation of Jesus on any given day. In the book, I, I speak to the process of discerning and documenting and then at the end of the book, I give some best practices, some really practical tips for like, yeah, I could write something down on paper and it could all change tomorrow. How in the world does that work with a Rule of Life? So I share some best practices. And that one of the things that I love I’m talking about is that the actual format some some of my friends and myself included, I have my rule of life written in a spreadsheet, which is so un-flowery and so helpful. We’re really visually oriented, their rule of life is, is curated and photographs, or some an artwork that they’ve written. And then one of my friends, Karen Hutton, she drew her rule of life on a labyrinth, she literally has a labyrinth with the words of her role written around the circles, which is really what gave me the idea for that metaphor in the first place. So I like to, to like to let folks know that and then I leave the book with this quote from St. Benedict, that always we begin again. And so a Rule of Life is a living document, you might be listening to this, you might be reading this book, and like, I’ve been there and done that I tried that it did not work. Give me something new. And I say like beginning again, is is rule number one rule of life is that it’s that we grow and change and this Jesus keeps us company always there.

Ben Wideman  06:33
Was there something that that called you to this? Is there a need that you were sensing in the world to to focus in on this particular subject matter?

Tamara Hill Murphy  06:43
Yes. Although I don’t know that I knew that until after I had really gotten clear on this project. I, in my work as a spiritual director, I have been, you know, coming alongside folks during just this, this intense season that the world is living in of so much disruption, so much upheaval. And it felt a little strange to me actually, to talk about a spiritual practice that’s called a Rule, when so many folks are just fatigued and weary from trying to figure out what what are we? What measure, what standards, are we supposed to even, you know, be applying to our everyday lives right now?

Ben Wideman  07:27
Yeah, yeah.

Tamara Hill Murphy  07:28
As I began to press into this practice for myself, and the ways that that myself and my family were navigating this time. And as I began to, to offer this, to others, I did find that it actually has been a grounding, something that things grounding in in a time that things feel so disrupted and kind of disorienting.

Ben Wideman  07:54
There’s an anxiety level around this current moment that I don’t always know if it’s just a deeper awareness of anxiety we’ve carried for generations as human beings, or as something to do with the ongoing polarization or the ways that we’re engaged digitally or, or loosely connected into these new and different ways. But it feels whatever the reason it feels timely to sort of pause for a moment to take a step back to to think again about how we are we are ordered and how we move through the world. So just Yeah, I want to say thanks upfront, I guess for for your awareness that something like this is is helpful for for people as we move about the world. As I was thinking about your book I was thinking about last spring right about this time, a friend invited me and another pastor colleague to join him on a bike ride of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. And it was an incredible experience for two weeks to to wake up each day and to know that our only our only needs were getting some food in our system so that we could take the next pedal stroke to wherever we were going to rest our heads that night. It really simplified our lives in a way that felt life giving spiritually fulfilling and led to some incredible moments and conversations along the way. I’m guessing that there’s something about the spacious path that that helps to make those moments happen in our in our normal lives or not, you know, out on a pilgrimage, but just going through the day to day rhythms. And for those who are who are hearing you talk and thinking but my life is too full to really find a spacious path what what do you say or how do you how do you invite people into to reimagining their journey through the world?

Tamara Hill Murphy  09:55
Wow, I love every sentence you just said. I would love… I’d love to hear more at some point about your, your your pilgrimage. But I also appreciate very much the direction you’re you’re focusing that question into those… those are opportunities that some folks have at some point, and they’re wonderful opportunities. But they aren’t, they don’t reflect the reality of our everyday lives from, from… Yeah. I start the book… Actually, what came to mind as I was beginning to write the introduction was this season that my family lived, was living in. It was in around 2011, we had just moved our four kids and ourselves, and our little dog to Austin, Texas, from a small town in upstate New York, for for jobs that for my husband. And while there were so many things about that move that were refreshing, they were opening our… I mean, Austin is just this amazing city to visit anyway. And our kids were kind of like in the high school going into college day. So like, I mean, who doesn’t want to live in Austin when you’re in that stage? Well, what happened was, out of all the goodness, we found ourselves feeling completely lost every single day, like every single day, we we didn’t know how to get to the store, we didn’t know how to navigate kind of big city driving at. And so there was the homesickness, but there was also this profound disorientation. And we were kind of it was just a very hard season. And so I begin the book talking about a retreat that I went to two years after our move, that was a silent retreat at a retreat center. And I just stumbled on this beautiful prayer labyrinth that was at the retreat center, and just I had never walked on one before, I didn’t even really know how to do that, or, you know, kind of what the purpose was. But as I was walking, I, I felt not just my my emotions calm. But my body, I felt my breathing change, I felt everything shift. And I didn’t even know kind of why I just began that practice. And so what I realized is that there was something about the rhythms of that movement, and that it was in a place that was grounded in prayer, like people have walked that path. Before and prayer coming after me in prayer, there was a space for silence and reflection. And yet to get back home to my family, I had to get out on the Texas Highway System, which is notoriously baffling and disorienting. I joke that I cost more in my life, ever, when driving on those Texas roads. And so that is that is the metaphor that you’re describing. Engine is the metaphor that I work with through the whole book is like, those moments are important, and they matter. And as we’re able to take them, we can, and maybe maybe that’s on a pilgrimage in Spain, maybe that’s at a retreat center in Texas, maybe it’s a stay at home parent who gets 15 minutes to take some deep breaths, you know, on on a regular weekday. But in order for that to be something that is a spacious path, which is the title of the book, something that’s a restful way that we can live our lives. Yes, it has to apply in the middle of the most profound disorientation… the great greatest seasons of grief… times when we feel like we can’t even hear God… times when we feel estranged from from others. And so that’s, that’s the tension that I really spend the… I hope that folks feel like that’s the tension that we explore together in the book. And what helps me or helped me the most is two things. One, two things. One is the history of the spiritual practice. So Benedict, when he began what we you know, what we use now as the Rule of Life really began, you know, with him in the sixth century, and he left us, he was in the Middle Ages during a very turbulent time in the church as much as anywhere else. The ways that the church and the world were kind of in meshed and academia was not meeting his needs, and he retreated from that. He spent three years kind of in solitude, and came out with this very simple, I mean, it grew to be something more complex than his rule of life. But it started out with this very simple call to live a life humbly ordered by listening and love. So listening to God and others, and loving and so that helps me but you even more. So when I go to Jesus words, particularly the invitation to come to me, you know – Are you weary? Are you are you worn out? Have you as your life feel frazzled by ill fitting systems? You know, Jesus gave that invitation in the middle of a turbulent time to people who are burdened down by really, ill-fitting economic and, and, and religious systems. And so that to me, gives me so much encouragement that there must be a way that rest is available, not just in those sort of retreat moments, those pilgrimage moments, but in the middle of right here, when I’m working. And when I’m when I’m feeling grief, when I’m feeling stress, anxious anxiety, can I come to Jesus for rest, then? And so I think this spacious path, you know, at the root of life as a spacious path is one that fit all those things can fit all, not just one end of those things. So that’s all kind of a long answer to your question. Does it get at what you’re asking?

Ben Wideman  16:04
I think so. It also makes me think of the sort of paradox that that we hear about structures or systems of support and think, “I don’t need one more structure or system in my life, I have enough things sort of controlling the way I move about the world.” And yet, what you’re pointing us to here is something that sounds freeing. Can you talk about that that tension of like, finding freedom in a system? We’ve sort of convinced ourselves that in order to find freedom, we have to get rid of any any sense of structure in our lives. And you’re kind of proposing the opposite there.

Tamara Hill Murphy  16:43
Yeah, in fact, one of the largest obstacles I think that people face when they consider a Rule of Life as a spiritual practice is the word “rule” itself.

Ben Wideman  16:54
Oh, yeah.

Tamara Hill Murphy  16:55
Some of that I think is is just our own human sense of autonomy, like

Ben Wideman  17:01
American individualism.

Tamara Hill Murphy  17:04
Yes, you know, nobody’s gonna tell me what to do. You know, I, I have the gift of self determination. Right? And so yeah. And yeah, even with that objection, we do give ourselves to a lot of rules. We don’t mind rules for diet or exercise, or when we play games or sports, you know, we understand that rules bring kind of a shared language even more. So I spend a lot of time in the book – I hope it feels like an appropriate amount of time in the book – talking about the ways those who have been oppressed, maybe for generations have lived where rules in fact, could mean something deadly could mean something.  So there’s almost a prophetic voice that can reject the word rule. And I’ve, I have some friends in my life. And I quote, one of my friends, Renee Wilkinson, quite a bit. She is a colleague in spiritual direction. And in the word rule does not work for for her for that reason. And so I totally accept and understand and I’m so grateful for her insight in that the reason I stayed with her word rule is to speak to what you just asked that, in its original intention, sort of in the original Latin. It’s not rule as in a system of law or code of law. It’s rule as literally as a, like an architectural pattern. So some folks talk about a trellis. Or if you look at, you know, ancient Greek architecture, there’s, there’s a pattern of architecture, that’s a repeated pattern. And repeated patterns speak to rhythms and sustainability, and something strong enough to hold all the growth and all the change and flow. That is, that is absolutely what I’m hoping for. That there’s a way to kind of nuanced that word rule, so that we can hear freedom, like you just said, Yeah. And yeah, understand that with freedom. We also longed for commitment, we longed to belong to something we long if nothing else, we’ve learned, I think, in the last three or four years, that when the rug is constantly being pulled out from under our feet, that doesn’t feel like freedom that feels like free falling.

Ben Wideman  17:47
Yeah.  That’s right.

Tamara Hill Murphy  18:07
So there’s a Jesus in Matthew 11: 28 through 30, which I do reference a lot of Jesus words in this book, that is kind of the foundational passage. Jesus is saying come to me for rest and oh, by the way, let me show you how here put this heavy farm implement on your shoulders and walk with me like Jesus who carries the cross you know, is also saying there’s there’s freedom and rest here. So somewhere in the middle of of that And that’s why I think the restful way of Jesus means that we have to follow with Jesus, we have to keep company with Jesus, in order to let those nuances be lived out in a free way, in a restful way, yeah.

Ben Wideman  20:32
The description of your book says, “walking freely,” it strikes me that Jesus in His ministry had quite a bit of wandering, a wandering spirit, perhaps. But it never seemed without intention. It wasn’t a sort of distracted or unfocused wandering, but with purpose and with some direction. That again, sounds like another pair paradox, I’m sure to some folks to think about purposeful wandering, but but I think there’s, yeah, it’s making me think a little bit, I guess, of writers who talk about finding God in thin spaces, the spaces between.

Tamara Hill Murphy  21:13
One of my greatest desires earlier, when I said, I want to add to the conversation about the Rule of Life, sort of the current conversation about the role of life, is to remind us that we, even though our instincts are sort of baked in individualism and baked in self determination, and self help, the rule of life is is not about us as individuals, it’s about us as part of a whole part of a community. And so with Jesus, what Jesus gives us is this beautiful example of listening, he listened to the Father, he listened to his neighbors, his family, his friends, he listened to, he listened to the religious, the Pharisees and the religious experts, law experts of the day. And so he wasn’t just wandering, sort of in a vacuum. He was he was responding to the Father, and that I talk a lot about that, that when we step onto the spacious path, we step into any spiritual practice where we’re only God is one who initiates always, we might not feel that very explicitly, but our own capacity to, to live and move and have our being, it’s because of our Creator God who lives as one of three, right Father, Son, and Spirit. And so I can, in fact, step into my day, step into a different season of life. And trust that that God is leading me, even though don’t always know exactly what that next steps gonna look like. So sometimes it feels like wandering feels very much like wandering. And, again, that’s one of the reasons I love the metaphor of the prayer labyrinth, which I tease out through the whole book. Because on a prayer labyrinth, I often you know, there’s, you’re you’re walking in circles, you’re literally walking in circles. And there’s the center goal that you can see that looks like a place you want to get to. And the way the architecture works is that you’re just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s not like a maze, where you have to like guess which one’s going to have the dead end, which one’s going to lead me, you know, to the correct place, you just walk one foot in front of the other, but a lot of times there’s turns built in, and it looks like you’re walking away from the center, it feels like you’re wandering and you’re getting nowhere, and the path is working against you. But if you trust the path, put one foot in front of the other, you will end up at the center it the path that work for you. And so I love the way that speaks to the reality that our lives often do feel like wandering. They often feel fruitless, often feel like we’re running into dead ends. And yet, there is a there is a God who is leading us and we can trust to lead us toward himself toward our own hearts and toward each other.

Ben Wideman  24:21
I like that. You you’ve drawn on our church forebears looking back, but I’m guessing in doing so you’ve you found a lot of hope for the future. Can you talk a little bit about what gives you hope, as you write about the spacious path and invite people to join you in that in that space?

Tamara Hill Murphy  24:45
I love that you’re asking that question. I would say that because… because of the way I felt led into writing about this project and the ways that it created humility in me, and a sense of being in over my head a lot, I even in writing this book, I’m living my everyday life, I realized I, I am not alone. And I can’t do this alone and I don’t want to do it alone. For me, I do talk about and address what does community mean right now? What does it mean to be one of you one part of a whole? What does it mean that when I follow God, I’m following a communal God? What does it mean that God calls me beloved, and yet in that belovedness, I’m part of a community of beloved, a beloved community. And in my own experience, growing up in the church, and now very much working and ministering in a church. My husband is a pastor in a church, he’s an Anglican priest. There have been huge segments of my life where the church did not feel like a safe place. And I’m watching now my adult kids kind of navigate that themselves. And I recognize that if I was going to write a book that draws on the the wisdom of the church, you know, in time, I needed to be able to speak to the church right now. And honestly, it ended up being a very hopeful thing that I did, writing that listening to other people listening, imagining how readers might take the encouragement as well as my own stories of, of aloneness, and even wounding in the church. I came out the other side, like no, I think, I think we’re going to, I think we are going to keep finding hope here, that God’s beloved community, as messy as it is, and as often as it feels like we’re wandering around in a wilderness, not you know, or or amaze of dead ends, like as riddle you have to solve, we’re banging our head against the wall, that that Jesus is holding the torch together, and that I, I can trust God’s heart to be good. Even though it’s scary, and I do speak in the book, in the process of writing a Rule of Life or inviting community help us discern our rule of life. That discernment is, is an important practice. It’s sort of a foundational practice to this writing a Rule of Life. And we need to be able to discern safe spaces need to be able to discern safe leaders, leaders who are gentle and lowly, and restful, like Jesus. So I don’t ignore that at all. I speak to it. And yet it is the place where I find hope that we will walk together, we will find our way home, and Jesus will lead us there.

Ben Wideman  28:04
There’s a choice in that, too. Like I hear you speaking and… I’m even sensing in your experience, that there was a moment where you could have said, “there’s not much hope here, I’m done.” And yet, you said no, there is something here that I want to recommit to. And, and not only that, but it gives me some hope for the future. That’s exciting. I think, especially for those of us who are feeling some fatigue with religious spaces or religious tradition, religious practice, to, to find hope and to be excited about what comes next is is really a wonderful gift.

Tamara Hill Murphy  28:43
Yes. And in that message, paraphrase of Matthew 11:28. Jesus says, “Are you are you burned out on religion?” That’s the beginning of the invitation. And, and that those are that’s who Jesus is inviting into a restful place.

Ben Wideman  29:01
That applies to a lot of us.

Tamara Hill Murphy  29:04
On any given day, and any given day that applies to me. So I’m not sugarcoating this. And I hope that’s, I hope readers hear something that’s true. And the way that I talked about that in the book, too.

Ben Wideman  29:20
Well, Tamara, this has been a real joy for me to to enter into this conversation together. Are there other ways people can follow along with with your writing, besides picking up this new book?

Tamara Hill Murphy  29:32
Sure, yes. I have a website. TamraHillMurphy.com. And that’s T A M A R A Hill Murphy.com. And I have I’ve been writing there since 2006. So there’s a pretty substantive archive, including writing about spiritual practices. I also have an archive of published essays that I’ve printed and other sources and so you can find there. Right now I am working with first readers of the book on a Substack platform. And so you can find that cool on the website through. So I’m inviting folks to come in and have experienced the book together and share their experience with me and kind of developing tools as I move forward with that.

Ben Wideman  30:21
Yeah, that’s wonderful. Well, friends, I hope you’ve been inspired as I have by this conversation. We’re just about to flip the calendar into June and we invite you to check out this new book The Spacious Path: Practicing the Restful Way of Jesus in a Fragmented World. Tamara, thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast.

Tamara Hill Murphy  30:42

Thank you, Ben. It’s been a real joy.

Ben Wideman  30:46
Next week on ~ing Podcast we’re joined by Tommy Airey, author, activist, and place-based pastor,

Tommy Airey  30:53
In that ancient context, to rep… to repent was a word from the military. So, so like we, we see that Josephus the ancient historian uses this language with like traitors. Like, like the person who repented was a traitor and switched sides, switched teams repentance for me, if I’m gonna follow Jesus in 21st century America, that means that I am pledging allegiance to the other America. When I do that when I really make that commitment firm when i As Monica Louis Patrick here in Detroit says, When I connect the dots and tell the truth, and white spaces and middle class spaces, it’s uncomfortable.

Ben Wideman  31:41
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org