Making decisions when you’re under assault is a bad idea, especially if the decisions have anything to do with what’s assaulting you. To decide, you need the wind and wisdom of all your feelings, not just the ones pressing into you when you’re hurt or in trouble or when your personhood is called into question.
Decisions aren’t what you need. You need safety. You need repose. You need a harbor that you can attach yourself to in order to remain attached to the self that is you.
What you need to visit your spirit island. I learned this name when I was in Minneapolis for a conference. I was walking across a long, wide bridge, occasionally reading the descriptions of what I was seeing. I was struck by a brief description of a Lakota island, “Spirit Island,” and I knew that this place would be with me for a while.
Spirit Island was made of rock, was a nesting location for birds and a spiritually significant place for native people. One description I read said that it had no soil. It was removed in the 1960s when St. Anthony Lock and Dam were built.
I’m twirling around the notion of spirit island and how we all have one. It is the place where you sense your roots deepening. The spirit island is the place where you are at home, even when nothing around you brings peace or helps your heart reside. That spirit island is the home of your soul when your surroundings are chaotic, untrustworthy, or dangerous.
It’s, at least, in the inner chambers of your soul, where God speaks in definitive ways. Go in and find that island. Sit there. Wait there. Listen there.
I was thinking about your sabbatical and this came to mind. It from Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out:
We often are very, very busy, and usually very tired as a result, but we should ask ourselves how much of our reading and talking, visiting and lobbying, lecturing and writing, is more part of an impulsive reaction to the changing demands of our surroundings than an action that was born out of our own center. We probably shall never reach the moment of a “pure action,” and it even can be questioned how realistic or healthy it is to make that our goal. But it seems of great importance to know with an experiential knowledge the difference between an action that is triggered by a change in the surrounding scene and an action that has ripened in our hearts through careful listening to the world in which we live…a response that is really our own. In solitude we can pay careful attention to the world and search for an honest response.
Spiritual practices are not always grand and pronounced. The sustained practices–and the sustaining practices–are those gestures we regularly engage with and which call no fanfare. One essentially spiritual practice is telling the truth.
Telling the truth is saying what is real, what is observable by others, and what is experienced by others. Someone else always corroborates truth. It’s not private. Truth is public. Telling the truth is a public act. It is generous because it always involves you saying what is real to someone else. It’s what someone else says to you that you know is true.
Even if you have not seen or handled or read what you’ve been told is true, truth resonates. On the other hand, when you get accustomed to telling truths, your sensitivity to untruths heightens. When you’re used to being honest, being anything else grates what has become a core characteristic.
It also stings to experience lies, untruths, and exaggerations which are themselves an experience in seeing how far you can get by experimenting with lies. Lies, untruths, and exaggerations all distort you. They all distance you from what is real. Eventually you lose the ability to experience the truth. Eventually your perception becomes unreal. Your character becomes false. Eventually you can’t see the difference between truth and lies because you have so frequently smudged that difference that it’s gone.
If there is an antidote, it is in the simple, small practice of telling the truth.
Prayer is often considered a weakness, a support system, which is used when we can no longer help ourselves. But this is only true when the God of our prayers is created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns. When, however, prayer makes us reach out to God, not on our own but on his terms, then prayer pulls us away from self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart. Prayer, therefore, is a great adventure because the God with whom we enter into a new relationship is greater than we are and defies all our calculations and predictions. The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many “safe” gods to the God whose love has no limits.
From Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 126
Lent is a church-designated time frame that’s historically meant as a forty-day reminder to Christians, and it is approaching. Lent is a time of returning to God’s view, being reminded of an old scene, focusing on an old story, listening to the same truth. Often it’s angled at sin but I’m a theologian of dismal and wonderful experience.
A lot of experience right now is dismal. I’m angling for the wonderful this Lent. I’m examining possibility this Lent. When God looks at you, gazes at you might be more fitting, God sees beauty. Not the ugliness you’ve been convinced is there. Beauty. I think seasons like Lent are times of returning to that view.
God sees you as wonderful. What about that sin? Wonderful. What about that misguided decision? Wonderful. Rather than focusing on the error or the terrible, a Lenten focus brings another view.
Lent is a time to returning who you are. Notice that. Not so much returning to who you are. Returning who you are. I’m implying a gift in that wording.
Lent is a time to listen to the truths you’ve so often ignored. You are many things. Attend to what God gazes at in you. Examine that. There will be time for the dismal. That will come ten minutes later.
Finally, I’m grateful to say that my latest book of meditations is available on Amazon. It’s designed for Lent and other seasons of prayer. Learn more here.