Thursday, May 22, 2014

Finding Our Way Home Again For the First Time

from the Secret Message Society zine

There is a prevalently held notion, I think, about spiritual wanderers, and it is this: that when she is done with her ramblings and seekings and walking-abouts, the wanderer will slip quietly back into her old allotted space.  That she will return to the same church (or temple or synagogue or circle or . . .) and slip into her usual seat, worship and listen and nod in her usual way, and when the service is over her community will pat her shoulder and squeeze her hands and tuck her into an embrace and be glad that she's done with that whole wilderness business.

And maybe she will.  Maybe her wanderings will lead her back into the old ways. 

But here's the thing -- those "old ways" won't be the same, even if they look identical from an outward glance.  No, the wanderer will experience this old ways as entirely new ways, the difference between them as stark as the dichotomy between winter and spring. 

And here's another thing -- maybe her wanderings won't lead her back to the same spiritual stomping grounds.  Maybe she'll find her home in a new denomination, or a new faith entirely, or solo walks on the beach or along a trail winding its rocky way through the mountains or meditating upon the moon.

Because the wilderness won't return you unchanged.  If you cannot learn to bend out in the wild lands, well, there might not be any you to come back with. 

We cannot go back to the way we were before.  It is impossible.  It would be a soul death to do so.  Don't forget that there was a reason, a vital catalyst that launched us out from that old life into the desert places in the first place. 

And yet, it's tempting to return to the familiar.  We have loved ones there who miss us, who care, who are calling us back.  And there is something so comfortable, so inviting, so safe about the known.

But we did not come here to live safe.

Neither did you. 

(And know this -- that old way, whatever it is, is not necessarily wrong or bad at all, but may not be right for me, or you, or that gentleman over there, or that girl in back.  This soul-sense of not-right-ness matters.)  

* * *

I have been missing Jesus.

Not the old Jesus, though, the one I thought I knew (or thought I knew).  And not that god who is threatened by my unbelief, who claims that any stumble of mine will force his hand into some unconscionable action.  The one who demands a life bound to absolute literalism, and unkindness and even cruelty masquerading as righteousness. 

I cannot believe in a god that I have to take care of.  I cannot believe in a god who does not want me to use the brain and heart and emotions and intuition that s/he gave me.

But what else is there?

from the Secret Message Society zine

* * *

The ancient myths are beautiful and powerful not because they are translated from language to language with word-for-word precision.  They are not valuable because they offer one true way of living from classical times forevermore.  They are not important because of their rigidity, or lack of bias, or objectivity.

Myth is powerful because of overarching themes, underlying messages, and, most of all, the story.  I don't love the myth of Inanna's descent to the Underworld, for example, because it is unequivocally true, or an explicit map to my life, or because I think it's cosmically inerrant in its transmission. 

No, I love Inanna because I see myself and the Holy and the world in her story.  Because I can take larger truths from her tale.  Because it inspires me toward deep-rooting and growth.

I cannot help but wonder what would happen if I read the Bible in the same way that I read Inanna's story.

Because when I read the Bible as a direct download from the mouth of God, every syllable inerrant, I must turn away in sorrow.  I know too much of the Bible's history, of the manipulation and massaging that preceded its current incarnation, of the inaccuracies translation can bring.  

But . . . when the Bible becomes about the heart of its story rather than its word-for-word accuracy, I cannot turn away.  The very human story of the Israelites and the newborn church become fascinating -- in part precisely because they are human, flawed, messy.  But no less beautiful for those flaws.  

Perhaps the story becomes even more lovely as a result of its mortal chaos.

* * *

Lately I have been devouring the words, both spoken and written (aff. link), of Richard Rohr.  Rohr is a Franciscan priest and a Christian mystic (a.k.a. contemplative).  In his hands (and the hands of other scholars and mystics and Jesus-knowers similar to him), I meet a God of allowing, of both/and, a secure and glorious God who loves but does not need me -- not to believe in a certain way, or accept a certain thing with certain kinds of words, or sew my skin to one certain narrow way of living.

The Jesus of the mystics is not dismissive of the gray spaces.  He is their savior from the wilds.  Their absolutes are few.  

I didn't know this view of Jesus existed.  Or perhaps I forgot.  

Whatever it is, I am finding myself making a surprising home here with the contemplatives.

* * *

I said that the non-wanderers have a notion about the wanderers, that the sojourners will eventually "get it out of their systems" and return to the expected life.  

But it's not just them who thinks this way.  It's me, too.  I thought that, eventually, I'd have to shrug my shoulders and learn to be satisfied with that which did not satisfy me, that which felt jarring to my soul. 

How wrong I was.  I don't have to fit into a church, or any explicit faith or denomination or religion or [insert your favorite belief system].  And I certainly don't have to settle for a spirituality feels wrong for me, even if that's what others say is the only right way.

I look around me at the diversity of nature, and cannot believe the God who made such an exquisite planet could so lack a love of adventure and uniquity.  

* * *

I would like to tie all these threads into a tidy knot.  Perhaps you would like me to as well.  But, try as I might, that thread keeps wafting on a draft, and those few ends over there  are flying free on a springtime breeze, and all refuse to be captured.

This is the mystic way, maybe?  The way of the second half of life, to borrow Rohr's words.  An end without a conclusion is still a conclusion in itself, and yet in the same moment not a conclusion at all but a glorious beginning.  

I am coming home again for the first time.  It is terrifying, and exciting.  It is as if my soul is standing the door of some desert dwelling place, welcoming me in with a mug of my favorite tea and wearing a smile that tells me that she knew exactly when I would arrive. 


  1. Oh, I love this so much! No, there is no going back. Not in our hearts, anyhow. It is always forward and ever expanding. Like The Last Battle... "Further up and further in!"

  2. A millions times yes. Right there with you, and no going back.

  3. "I cannot believe in a god that I have to take care of. I cannot believe in a god who does not want me to use the brain and heart and emotions and intuition that s/he gave me."

    Amen! The same would be my response to so much else you've written. So glad I found your blog. God bless you as you come to know that He isn't tame. And, He's the God of the wild.

    Drusilla (


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King