Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bungee Jumping for the Soul -- Letting Go

Ruth Hayley Barton sends out an online devotional from The Transforming Center every now and then. Her latest includes these thoughts:

And what is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?"

Thomas Merton

According to Merton, many of us are not really praying because we are praying with a back-up plan—some humanly-constructed idea of what we will do if God doesn’t come through. We have no intention of letting go of our visible supports because, truth be told, it is those visible supports that we really trust—this job, this salary and benefit package, this church or denominational system, this relationship, this set of accomplishments.

Many of us want a “spiritual” journey because that sounds pretty cool but we don’t want a faithjourney—a journey that requires us to risk anything or to move beyond the (mostly) comfortable existence we have carved out for ourselves. Even when we have a sense that something is not quite right—that there is something we are holding back or holding on to that is not God—and we sense God calling us to some new level of faith, we are not willing to let go of those visible supports that have become our life. We have not yet given in to the authority of an invisible God in the places that matter most.

Bungee-Jumping for the Soul
The truth is there is no real spiritual journey that does not at some point require some sort of bungee-jumping of the soul, some sort of radical letting go of what we are holding onto. This might be letting go of something very visible and tangible like a job, a house or geographical location, a title that we identify with strongly, some bit of prestige or notoriety we have achieved, a relationship we have come to rely on for our sense of purpose and well-being.

But it might also be the letting go of a deeply-held emotional or psychological pattern that we rely on to keep us feeling secure, or at least somewhat in control of our world. Such patterns might include denial, avoidance, leaving when the going gets tough, a need to be in control, hiding or withholding ourselves from others, using anger to intimidate or “power up” on people, perfectionism, cynicism, or performance-oriented driven-ness. If the journey requires us to let go of such deeply entrenched patterns and to change in some fundamental way well, then…thanks, but no thanks.

Feel-Good Journey or Faith Journey?
It is possible to embrace the “feel-good” aspects of the spiritual journey but subtly resist the aspects of the journey that require real faith. Sometimes we even surround ourselves with people who help us feel good about staying where we are rather than challenging us to take the risky step of “letting go of visible supports” in order to take that next step of faith. Then we all collude together in keeping ourselves convinced that it is the better part of wisdom to hang on to what we know and make sure we always have a back up plan. We might even call this kind of collusion community. MORE...

Reading Ruth's thoughtful analysis of this reminded me of two things. First how radical it is to follow Jesus and how little most 21st Century westernized Christians believe it. Most sit comfortably in their pew week after week expecting to be educated or inspired but seldom deeply challenged to live a life of sacrifice. Second it reminded me of the pain involved with leaving a very large church to serve in a middle-sized one. For me personally it involved a great deal of letting go of a "bit of prestige or notoriety we have achieved (that) we have come to rely on for our sense of purpose and well-being."

Never easy. Often right.

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