Yesterday, I took our kids out for a hike to Morgan Falls. It was a gorgeous spring day, complete with copious amounts of mud. On the walk there and back, the little ever-inefficient humans kept jumping back and forth over the little melt streams in the road. Needless to say, progress was…halting. After the thirty-oddth time of saying “Let’s go, guys,” wanted to just get somewhere already, I realized my exasperation was echoing frustration that I was feeling from the Atheism for Lent course. Five weeks in (!), and I’m ready to, well, arrive already. So, as I was having one of those moments where several disparate things all of a sudden fall into place, I knelt down and grabbed the picture above, with everyone going in different directions. Atheism for Lent is set up as a decentering practice, not necessarily a course of study. You engage with the work of various thinkers, philosophers, and theologians with the premise of letting their work critique you, not the other way around. Well, surprise surprise I was doing the latter, without even realizing it. I was being continually pushed off-center, but I was trying to just find a different center, and that…
When my middle son was a toddler, and my wife was pregnant with our youngest, I’d get everyone else tucked in, then he and I would sit back in our recliner and pull up episodes of Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls on the iPad until one or both of us fell asleep. In one of them, Bear is swimming in the ocean doing God knows what, and a whale surfaces nearby. He flips out with excitement, and yells a phrase that has stuck with me for years: “What a privilege!”
When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made and what He has made is not God. If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts […]
~A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
~Wesley, The Princess Bride
Under the surface, when we let all our defenses down, with the lights out, lies an undercurrent of existential angst in each one of us. A wrestling with what it means to be alive, to exist in this world. We tell ourselves and each other stories, place ourselves in a narrative, or several, to quiet that restless voice. To fill in the yawning void. And I should mention that I don’t mean that in a demeaning sense; story is what makes us human, what allows us to create, what bonds us together and pushes us forward. “Oh, they’re just stories” is about the dumbest thing anyone could say.
But what happens when something cuts against the grain of our narrative?
Poetry consists of words and phrases and sentences that emerge like something coming out of water. They emerge before us, and they call up something in us. But then they turn us back into our own silence. And that’s why reading poetry, reading it alone silently takes us someplace where we can’t get ordinarily. Poetry opens us to this otherness that exists within us. Don’t you think? You read a poem and you say, “Ah.” And then you listen to what it brings out inside of you. And what it is is not words; it’s silence. ~Marilyn Nelson
If you’ve ever been on any kind of retreat, you know that you really don’t get into the “zone” until at least the 2nd or 3rd day. That’s been the theme of the last 4 days.
Emptying the junk drawer on the dining table.
Loosening the knots I’ve worked myself into.
The reason I’m letting myself get disturbed and decentered at the outset is so that my natural defences don’t kick in later on. It’s hard to get into a defensive crouch when you’re on your heels.
Today is Epiphany. Some context: Epiphany is a Christian high holy day, similar to Christmas and Easter, and also kicks off the season of Epiphany, which lasts until Lent. The word “Epiphany” means a sudden realization or perception, and, depending on which tradition you ask, refers to either the Magi visiting young Jesus, or his baptism. Either way it’s basically a day commemorating the revealing that this brown, middle-eastern peasant is the one the seasons of Advent and Christmas have had us expecting.
Ever read a book and have that feeling that someone else is telling your story? You find yourself saying over and over again “No way, me too!” or “I thought I was the only one who thought that!” Mike McHargue’s brand-sparkly-new book Finding God in the Waves did that for me, and I’m sure does that same for those who long for a faith that has room to breathe in open air of science and mystery.
My absolute least favorite time of year is the transition from summer to fall. There’s always been a melancholy associated with it, the ending of summer, returning to school, growing up. Seeing summer friends less often. Underneath it all lies a current of knowing everything has an end to it.
“Change of itself just happens; but spiritual transformation must become an actual process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore.”
~Richard Rohr (Daily Meditations 6/30/16)
I didn’t want everything to unravel. My journey in faith up until last year had been an exciting path of successive revelations, each building on the last, and all within the broad tent of American evangelicalism. Yeah, things changed, but it was more like just rearranging furniture. My influences shifted around: John Piper, John Eldridge, Rob Bell (pre-shitstorm), and then later Mike Bickle, Bill Johnson, Kris Vallaton, etc., but they all stayed pretty much within the orthodoxy of the evangelical.