Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Leaving Familiar, Embracing Mystery

While rereading the prophet Jeremiah, I was struck by these words:

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and you will find your soul. (6:16)

That passage resonated deeply within me and I found myself meditating on them day after day after day. What did they mean to my life at this moment in time? What was the Spirit attempting to guide me in by drawing my attention to that verse?

Shortly after reading that verse in Jeremiah, I began to read The Cloud of Unknowing written by an anonymous English monk during the late fourteenth century. There, in the prelude of the book, was this:

My spiritual friend in God: I pray
and beseech you to pay very close
attention to the progress of you vocation
and the way in which you have been called . . .

To what had I been called?

As I prayed and sought guidance, I felt led to read books that were foundational for the faith. To go back and either read or reread works that formed the early Church to now. After much research, I began to compile a list of books by authors that ranged from Saint Augustine to Teresa of Avila to Charles Spurgeon to C.S. Lewis to G.K. Chesterton to Henri Nouwen to Dallas Willard to Walter Brueggemann. Everything from apologetics to theology to essays to philosophy to poetry (as I will also be reading poets like John Donne, Gerard Manly Hopkins, William Blake, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot) to novels (such as The Brothers Karamazov). 

But to what point?  

My goal is not to amass information or esoteric knowledge. Nor am I looking for answers so much as better questions. I am not searching for verification but expansion. I want to explore the ancient and ecumenical breadth and width and depth of the Christian faith from writers that come out of many different branches of Christianity (Catholic, Quaker,  Anglican, Protestant) and even those rooted in Judaism (Abraham Heschel, Martin Buber).  

This is not an intellectual exercise. It is not of the mind, but of the heart. To embrace the mystery, paradox, contradictions, and the unresolved. As I said, this is not a quest for answers but to spark curiosity, awe and wonder at the largeness of God and our faith.  I want to have a heart heavy with wonder. I want to be uprooted from all false assumptions and misconceptions to become more deeply rooted in Truth. 

In his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson wrote, "We don't like being in the dark, not knowing what to do. And so we attempt to domesticate the mystery, explain it, probe it, name it and use is." That is not my goal. There is no destination because this is all about the journey. I want to inhabit mystery and to cultivate an attention and awareness of it. This means letting go of my convenient cliches and approaching God with an awe and reverence. "I am who I am," is how God defines Himself. How can anyone claim to know the Infinite fully when we are so limited and finite? 

That's why I pray as the Psalmist did, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (51:10). Breathe new life in me, Lord. Breath, spirit and wind are all the same word pneuma in Greek. All are connected: life and eternal life. God's breath gave us life and spirit and we are to be like that spirit, to be wind that is coming and going by holy direction. 

As a child, I loved the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. In Rinkatink in Oz, Baum wrote these words that have stayed with me many, many years, "Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders." Now, at forty-eight, those words reverberate within my soul.  

So I will take the path of the wanderer and wonderer, the pilgrim and the sojourner. I do not know where God will lead me in this, but I will trust Him. 

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