I promise I’ll be done with these soon. I gotta get it all out first, though!
What was to become an ever increasing reality however was that I had not merely been invited into a saving knowledge of Christ but to a journey replete with the confusing pain of God’s purifying crucible of suffering. In short order the heady elation of my conversion experience gave way to the darker waters of the journey into…journey. My family scoffed, my friends left, my stomach tightened and I became the pilgrim whose path is unclear and whose control over the exigencies of day-to-day experience disappeared entirely. I lost what little control I did have for the uncertainties of living by faith and not by sight.
Concurrently, I was enjoying my foray into the realm of discipleship and learning the language of faith. I attended a “Bible believing” church which leaned fundamentalist. Although restrictive in certain ways, my lack of comparatives disallowed me the luxury of complaint and I developed meaningful relationships with wonderful people. Here I sat under the tutelage of my first mentors who helped establish in me a deep love for the Scriptures. It is a love I carry to this day. It would not be until much later that I would discover this new faith language would prove vastly insufficient in providing clear descriptors and adequate paradigm for one predisposed to mysticism and more…let’s say, progressive (small ‘p’) proclivities than my contemporaries.
Be that as it may, my original career path of English Literature succumbed to God’s call to enroll in Bible School and for the next six and a half years I hungrily devoured whatever theological morsels were on my plate. A careful, oft defended, construct of conservative evangelical Calvinism provided the framework and the desire to further discover my identity in church music – the impetus for my call to paid ministry. However, cracks were beginning to appear in the perceived safety of this construct. I hid from all but a few people a deep and abiding love for Catholic spiritual formation, music, and art, a growing dis-ease with the conservative ideologies I had been taught so assiduously and a longing for “something more.” Hence, my collection of “odd” books, well outside prescribed parameters, a change to a local Anglican church and a quickly expanding John Michael Talbot and Gregorian Chant album collection (yes, record albums!), all belying my surroundings. My vast spiritual curiosity was also enriched through my discovery of the charismatic movement, a movement with which I’ve enjoyed an uneasy love-hate relationship for many years. In those meaningful but mystifying days, the addition of a few kindred spirits with whom to share this journey I will forever be grateful.
It was in this intellectual-spiritual funk that I offered my prayer in the gymnasium. And twenty-six years later, from the environs of a Master’s program in spiritual formation I see the undeniable power and centrality of that prayer.
There have been further indicators of God’s redemptive activity through my prayer. I graduated from Winnipeg Bible College (now Providence Christian College) with a B.A in Music in 1988 and was married two weeks later to the girl who would not only bear my two boys but with whom I would ramp up exponentially my decades long search for the “something more.” I have since belonged to a host of varying churches from Pentecostal to Baptist to Lutheran. Now, at the Presbyterian congregation where I presently serve as Minister of Worship and Music I am forced to consider the question: is this spiritual stew the result of the fulfillment of an intentional curiosity, the pragmatisms of ministry or merely the result of an identity crisis? Who am I, indeed! On countless levels, I am a poster child for the Spring Arbor Master of Spiritual Formation and Leadership program!
Twenty-six years after saying a rather unremarkable prayer I can safely say that my week of community, prayer, lecture, laughter and tears has revealed the deepest levels of God’s answer for me. For the first time in this twenty eight year spiritual journey, the pieces came together to form the clearest picture I’ve yet enjoyed of what it means for Rob Rife to be an integrated man of God. My best attempt at a summary would be to say that, similar to Job before me who asked hard questions of God, the answer to my question came in the guise of a better question. The rich, heady tributary waters of the Christian faith merged in even more spectacular fashion as God invited me this week to consider not who I am but rather, who am I becoming? Not the “what” and “when” but the “who”, “how” and “why”.