If not for this, then all would be that,
and when forsakes why,
and time gasps for breath.
Stand still with nowhere left to go.
Sing these notes now,
these words for this, not that,
waiting for the longer wait;
the unplanned non-plan;
all counting, forsaken, in the business of nothing –
and watch what yet will come.
Ora et Labora: A New Gestalt
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” – St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
The Celtic mystic in me, enamoured as it is with a blurring of edges that allow all to fade into a singularity of life and love and lessons learned, squirms at the notion of life in quadrants, or pieces. With that proviso, I submit and share some insights that can help shape a new Rule of Life.
The history of Christian spirituality would dictate a unity of personhood; a whole individual, undivided into constituent parts. It would argue for a centering motif through which a follower of Jesus is made complete by means of consistent focus on the interior life. Buttress the centre of the wheel and the spokes become stronger by default. This has consistently been my experience.
As mentioned previously, a poster-boy 4 on the Enneagram and an INFP on the Meyers-Briggs scale, I’ve made a cottage industry of melancholy. I capably personify inwardness; an artistically-brooding poor-me-ism. The result? A paralyzing self-referentialism that prefers the role of armchair philosopher-poet than street corner pastor or jungle Bible translator. But, as Dr. Robert Mulholland urges in his book, Invitation to a Journey, it is the holistic life to which the Gospel calls us. He suggests that, as a result, where we feel least useful or competent is often where we are most required to be.
Spiritual Directors have played a significant role in my journey for many years. That said, the pain I’ve harboured well and nurtured often, of Sister Alice’s retirement from her ministry with the Sisters of Providence here in Yakima, has left me gasping for breath. Sister Alice played that role in my life for almost 5 years. Every time I stepped into her quaint living room, the presence of God was thick in the place, literally dripping from the walls and windows and oozing out of the carpet.
She was fond of saying that the ways by which God reveals Him/Herself becomes who I am and paves the way for whatever ‘me’ is still emerging. If she is any indication of the ramifications of that notion, then I need to reimagine this journey once again. It is a trip exponentially greater than the sum of the miles involved – it is a foray into the heart of God.
Combined with a compelling need to share my story once more I heed the counsel of my Vocational Excellence peeps and I’m prayerfully scouting out a new Spiritual Director. As in the past, I am submitted to the quietly insistent guidance of God in this.
Lord, have mercy.
Every time I drift from my centre, I cease trusting in the glacial process of transformation at work within me. My trust gets misplaced, landing on anything quicker and easier to a perceived end of inner satisfaction. The shortest distance between two points becomes the quickest means of my personal misanthropy. Instead, I am being directed to quiet, consistent return to the contemplative life, planted in the Benedictine moniker: ora et labora – prayer and work, contemplation and action, inner and outer life wed as one. To care for the centre is to care for everything else at once.
Getting Out from Under God’s Feet
I hear some very clear injunctions all week. They crystallize gradually into the plans I am now putting to page. It taps into my love for Celtic spirituality, which teaches a three-fold martyrdom as askesis for the soul. Red martyrdom is death for one’s faith. Green martyrdom is a life of deep self-denial in pursuit of union with God. White martyrdom typifies many Celtic saints, specifically St. Patrick, who chose willingly to leave his native Wales and return to Ireland as a missionary. It is to this idea God calls me, metaphorically speaking. I am often vexed by fear, passivity, and loneliness. Together with the invitation to the silent cave of the heart, I hear God shoeing me out the door to “go play outside.”
“You live too alone, so you live in your head. Get outside of your head and home. Make relationships. Show up so I too may do the same. Learn by doing. Let your prayers be out of needs generated by the work of your hands rather than hiding from your life and escape my redemptive gaze…”
Therefore, my instructions and my plan are to go out and make things happen, trusting in God for whatever results might be forthcoming. A mystic to the core, God has placed a yearning for a chance to hop into the nearest boat to anywhere that might lead me outside my own head. My path of deepest transformation is to move in through the out door: to find God’s presence in the other.
The Blessing of Good Soil
Congruently, my itch to run is met with clear instruction to stay where I am. Far too many uprootings in my wake fueled by a well-honed fight or flight mechanism make me grateful for the stability we enjoy here in Yakima. It’s surprising how God’s vitals become more pronounced when one isn’t always out of breath, heart pounding in the ears. It makes inner silence and listening so much easier. My friendships may barely exceed a decade. But God has planted me in a distant soil to bring me and mine closer to the fattest harvest, that of the heart.
For reasons much deeper than career satisfaction, I choose to stay and use what skills and passions I’ve been given to make Yakima the kind of place in which I’d choose to retire. In Jesus, the exiled alien, I find identification and strength to stay.
Trust Your Own Press
A victim of my own mental gallows, I am hearing quite clearly the necessity of “trusting my own press.” Self-love is strongest not in the proud, but in the humble. “You’ve earned the ear and respect of a congregation. Don’t be afraid to leverage that in pursuit of your desires.” Good advice under my present circumstances.
In sum, my spirituality will strive to be more illustrative of a commitment to move back in by moving out but staying put. It must involve pursuing and engaging with a Spiritual Director who in turn can assist in the accountability and faith required to do so.
The Spokes: Running to Jesus
I have a long and complicated history with a mistress. An insidious lover is she, alcohol once steered me nearly to ruin. Since getting sober in 2002, and again this year, my choice of addiction has changed. It is running. Lots of it. It has translated to a minimum of thirty miles a week and a loss of twenty-six pounds. I’ve run marathons before but a serious accident in 2010 robbed me of rigorous, injury-free movement until recently. Running provides thin place (pun shamelessly intended), incarnational moments of contemplative awareness for me and requires little in the way of accountability. It simply happens. Pounding feet on pavement mesh with pounding heart seeking rhythm with God’s. Here, God saves me.
The Spokes: Rediscovering Me for Others
As outlined earlier, I battle with a certain degree of mental-emotional illness. Historically, it has been both medicated and exacerbated by alcohol. The sturm und drang of the disease pushes and pulls one into places one would never otherwise go. It, together with all its ramifications, has me in regular therapy. Dr. L. has been seeing me now for a little over a year. God has made it clear that, until recently, she would act as my Spiritual Director; one of a different sort. She has helped me to wander down the confusing corridors of my psyche in search of the minefields that destroy and maim. I look for another Spiritual Director. But, this must continue apace as parallel healing. Hence, any kind of Rule will include constancy under the scrutinizing light of her scalpel.
The benefits of this professional relationship have been staggering in my relationships, both personal and professional. Once the misplanted weeds are plucked from my mental garden and lie open for consideration, my family, friends, and colleagues have been more than happy to help me replant. The healing has been demonstrable and satisfying.
I write. A lot. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. For me, writing is prayer; contemplative space – catharsis wed to self-care on a bed of creative spiritual process. I am being urged toward an even greater regularity of this artistic-spiritual process as it relates to spiritual praxis. It brings a peace that translates to all my relationships.
It is apparent that I am under-fed socially. Although an introvert, I have become far too withdrawn and isolated from the warmth and challenge of ministry colleagues. This must change immediately. In the interest of a better self-understanding, I commit to a better developed collegiality and accountability among mutual professional friends.
The Spokes: Serving
“My life mission is to draw people to God through my life and work, which strive to meaningfully communicate God’s beauty and truth.”