By now it has become rather apparent that my M.A. program January Residencies have been deeply formative experiences. At the risk of boring the reader into a coma, I continue to share these experiences with part 1 of my 2009 reflections…
Who am I? In total recognition that I am among the countless throng throughout history who have asked this deepest of questions, my query is not of the kind asked by the philosopher who plumbs archetypes, epistemologies and the like. My question is less enigmatic and more practical in nature. More personal. My reflections on the January Residency are within the broader framework of my spiritual journey over the past few years.
I play the bagpipes among other Celtic instruments. It’s not that this information is particularly unique or interesting in and of itself. However, an early childhood fascination with all things Celtic and the means by which I began to learn the instrument make for good dinner conversation. Watching a television program featuring the Edinburgh Military Tattoo from Edinburgh Castle as a boy forever sealed my fate as a lover of the instrument. It also ended any hopes my parents may have had that I might play Chopin Etudes or Beethoven Sonatas in the shopping mall with the other little social climbers!
No, it was the fact that my mother revealed certain information to me after that night which forever changed the trajectory of my life. I am adopted. Moreover, I am adopted from a family with profound Scottish roots. The connection was complete. I was a mystic long before I ever knew what that meant. Who I am has been the primary question I’ve asked ever since.
In October of 1983 while praying in a dark gymnasium at Foothills Christian College, Calgary, Alberta I prayed a prayer: God, I want to be a man of integrity. At the time, steeped as I was in conservative evangelicalism, this meant a certain thing to me. I believed I was asking for a solidity, immovability, authenticity and trustworthiness – in essence, to say what I believe and believe what I say. My inability to stay very long with anything, to make decisions or share convictions rather than opinions revealed the fissures in the fractured windshield of my projected life. My prayer, in retrospect, was a prayer for something I didn’t fully understand. It was a prayer that I become a man of God, or at least to be known as a man of God.
The years that followed have, for me, completely unraveled a commonly held assumption among western evangelicalism – that a post conversion life was to be reflective of victory, an unwavering trust in God, and a consistency in discipleship and faithfulness to the primary tenets of Bible study, prayer and witnessing. Although these things will always be central for me, the circuitous journey I have undertaken has shown me many things I could never have foreseen.
My life prior to my conversion at age 18 could best be described as narcissistic, blissfully entitled and blessed. The world held great wonder for me. Everything around me – relationships, the created order, experiences, my place in the world – was cause for wonder, celebration and poetry. However, the oldest of three adopted children, I enjoyed a great deal of freedom and lived a pampered life with respect to the fulfillment of desires. Our home was small by most standards, five people in a 900 square foot bungalow (with one bathroom!) in a decidedly blue-collar area of town. But I was denied nothing. I could easily celebrate my existence since I was rich, globally speaking, and was the center of my family’s time and attention.
As my life continued to point me ever so gradually toward heavenly things I succumbed to the romancing of God while driving home from a singing gig in Edmonton, Alberta. I was 60 pounds overweight and profoundly hung over. My conversion was for me, earth shattering. At least in the short term I was an excellent candidate for the evangelical demand of a good testimony. I can in fact point to the existential realities of a deep sorrow for my sins accompanied by the delicious joy reserved for those who serendipitously embrace a way of life birthed in hope. Changes in my demeanor, direction, sensibilities and relationships were immediate and obvious. I was, in C. S. Lewis’s words, surprised by joy…