A Spiritual Walkabout (The Wandering).
Seminary students aren’t supposed to say this. Pastors kids aren’t supposed to say it. Missionary kids aren’t supposed to say it. And if someone just so happens to be a combination of all three? Well. May the Lord have mercy on your soul, I suppose. The following, if you’re all or any of those above categories, is what you’re not supposed to say: Last night was the first time I had read the Bible in months. Actually opened a bible made from trees and glue and binding and read it. I read the entire chapter of Colossians 3. I didn’t make that selection for any particular reason, to be honest. It was fairly close to where I had left off several months ago. The chapter spoke highly of being the love of Christ to all who cross our paths, and how we are to worship him with our instruments of praise, and how all of his children are of one body, united through his spirit. Encouraging. Uplifting. Engaging. I felt safe while reading that.
Depending on who you ask, I’ve been in the wilderness for some time, or I’ve been on a “spiritual walkabout”, or I’m taking some time to go deeper into determining who God is, or (this is my favorite) I’m very “far from the Lord” and trying to find my way (its a very polite, church lady form of saying I’m probably not saved, unless I stop these theological meanderings). Again, it all depends on whom you ask. I’ve learned a very important lesson over these past few months: if you’ve decided to explore your faith on a more fundamental and spiritual level (or, for that matter, your lack of faith), you need to be ready for the fallout. Changing course mid-journey is seen as a bit blasphemous in certain religious circles, and becoming a professional Doubting Thomas is a bit frowned upon. If you ask the Evangelical gatekeepers, I’m a bit of a heretic. If you would ask a seminary professor, perhaps I’m a bit of a troublemaker. But if you ask a fellow sojourner? They’d smile knowingly, and tell you that I was just beginning my journey of searching for God. I’ve come to learn that the wilderness is eerie, but its freeing. Its terrifying, but its joyful. Nerve-wracking, but thrilling. The theological/spiritual wilderness I’ve been journeying through has taken me to some strange and wonderful places, but there is something that it has yet to do. It hasn’t taken me far from Jesus. I think its actually taken me closer. And that in and of itself is terrifying. But its worth it.
In the first book that he ever wrote, Rob Bell made a profound statement about how we search for, and (try to) understanding God. Who he was. Who he is. Who he will be: “Central to the Christian experience is the art of questioning God. Not belligerent, arrogant questions that have no respect for our maker, but naked, honest, vulnerable, raw questions, arising out of the awe that comes from engaging the living God. This type of questioning frees us”. Institutions, religious ones, never begin as mechanized organizations with the goal of self-preservation. They begin with leaders who inspire the people, inspire them to create a better system than the one they’ve got. I find nothing wrong with this, truly. But we need to ask ourselves some painful, achingly painful questions: if we can’t ask honest questions, and have our doubts, how authentic are we being? How transformational are we allowing ourselves to be? How revolutionary? How Christlike?
The wilderness is a wild place, and for good reason. It forces us to go far beyond what we’re comfortable with. It asks us to push ourselves harder than we’re accustomed to doing. The wilderness is where Jesus himself spent time, alone with the Father, meditating, praying, waiting. He knew that the wandering was important. From my experiences, I’ve come to the understanding that the Church pays lip services to the idea of critical thinking, to the questioning, to the wandering. If you start to ask certain questions, the tough ones, you’re permitted to inquire for a time. But after a while, you’re certainly expected to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion, a conclusion that was determined long before you even began to question anything. And therein lies the frustration. My frustration. For someone who strains against the boundaries, this is excruciatingly frustrating at times. But change will not happen externally. Change must come from within. It must come from those who love the church and the brothers and sisters within so much that they decide to stick around. To chafe against the outdated, outmoded, legalistic norms that have quite frankly choked the life out of so many churches for so many years. If you wish to create the change, to be the change, you must struggle. This is encouraging to me for one reason: those who hang in there and ride out the storm will most certainly be the men and women you want fighting alongside you. The battle scarred. The wounded. The survivors. They never stop fighting. I won’t either.
They say that the wilderness takes a toll on those who enter. Sometimes, people never leave. Or at least, they don’t return to the old way of being. They carve out a new sense of self, of serving, of being who Christ has asked them to be. Over the ages, the Church has fought to create a system of existence that is safe, predictable, and structured around a system that is self-sustaining. If you create “Jesus, Inc.”, there’s a measure of safety there. But there’s no real heart left. No burning passion to examine, to question, to embrace the unknowns and the mystery. Who God is, and was, and will be, cannot be placed into a box and neatly labeled. That’s not how God works.
The uncertainty is thrilling, ultimately. In our culture, it’s paradoxical to think about uncertainty being a healthy element in our lives. But Christ has called us to throw ourselves into the unknown, and to trust Him. To follow Him. Its a leap of faith, not having any answers to the burning questions of our time. But the grandest adventures are always built on a foundation of uncertainty.
Here’s to the explorers.