Things I Am Learning

A thing I’ve joked about many times is that my God isn’t subtle. I don’t get the fuzzy inclination that perhaps I should go in this different direction. I get a wrecking ball, and by instinct, instead of bowing in gratitude for the flattening of all that guesswork and the clearing of the way, I stand atop the detritus and try and reconstitute it into a structure that will house a version of myself I no longer am and no longer could be, that at my core, I no longer even want to be.

Holly Whitaker

One of my favorite things to do is talk about God.

Actually, strike that. One of my favorite things to do is to listen to another person unpack their thoughts about God, in the course of which I often manage to insert a thing or two.

So, talking: yes. But mostly, listening. Discovering. Witnessing.

My training in spiritual direction was immensely helpful; I learned to listen, to be patient, to allow my ego room to swell up and dissipate so that truth could fill the space instead of my prideful words. I find, in so many of my conversations, that these practices serve me well. There are certain points of conversation, direction, thought processes, and markers that are common to anyone on a spiritual journey. I will say that my words still get in the way; I confess to often feeling an immense satisfaction at the end of an hour of siting in the role of spiritual director. This is not a venture without personal satisfaction.

But, on the whole, being witness to another’s personal discovery, after establishing a gentle trust; well, it’s a delightful gift.

And I’m always learning something new. Thinking about this nugget of truth is what prompted today’s post.

Two things: Firstly, I am speaking at a Women’s Event. This feels like a ridiculous privilege on multiple levels. I am still giddy with excitement that the invitation was extended. I am partnering with a colleague who speaks and teaches to large groups regularly – she is one of the teaching pastors at our church. This is her domain, and we are friends; the opportunity to combine efforts to share inspiration and encouragement to several hundred women is a great gift to us both.

But it’s probably a bit more exciting for me, since this is outside my regular realm of responsibility. And did I mention that I can’t even believe I got invited to do it (again)?

I put my short talk together on paper, in my head, out loud in my car, and then finally manuscripted the entire thing as best I could and sent it to my colleague for review. She offered a few tips, but was mostly encouraging. I felt good about what I’d put together; four pages that took six weeks to clarify from a swirling cloud of Stuff-I-Can’t-Wait-To-Tell-You!!!! finally down on paper.

What I learned came when I received a copy of my colleague’s presentation, “thrown together” in the brief few hours she had allotted two days prior to the event. Let me preface this by saying that I’m not comparing myself to her and depressed because she’s better than me. This isn’t a pity party. What it is: A recognition that some things come easily because of training, practice, experience, and a unique gifting. And to witness those things when they appear is a great gift, prompting a sense of awe and discovery and delight. All these things coursed through me as I read her manuscript, encouraged and affirmed that our partnership would work well, that our words and messages would dovetail nicely…and that she was a most extraordinary writer and communicator.

I would not say the same thing about myself, but life is not a matter of who is best at anything. It’s where we dovetail, where a blessed intersection of ability and availability and perspective creates a new awareness, or a spark of understanding, or simply a validation. We get to work together; we bring forth our best efforts and – together – make something worthy.

This bridges to the second thing I am learning (it is an ongoing process) as I continue to witness the questions and challenges of people on their spiritual journeys: Our paths are so, so different, and the context of our lives creates such wildly diverse environments. One size cannot fit all in most things, and – perhaps most of all – in matters of faith.

This stems from a recent conversation in which words I used in a discussion of the image of God meant one thing to me, and something completely different to someone else. Not even that the image of God itself was different, but what it even meant to explore what that might be. I threw around the phrase without listening enough to the questions and comments in return, and the connective tissue of our conversation began to fray. Somehow, I took three giant steps back (and started listening more) and realized where the gap might be; I reframed the thought process and the question, and – BAM! – there was clarity! For the conversation, if not yet the answers she was seeking.

The wheels cranked up when I read Holly Whittaker’s newsletter today; this quote struck me, how she says, “my God isn’t subtle…” In theology, in religion, we get caught up in a movement towards sameness. God is…this, or that, for ALL of us. We seek to establish a God we can control and define, and believe that we can move through life together in community, our diversity softened – or even dulled – by a homogenous experience and understanding of God.

But, in fact, we are so, so different in what we need and what we long for. I see it every day, and the conclusive factor for me is that my God – and your God, and any and all ways we all experience God – functions in a particular way that suits each one of us, because God is, by nature, big enough for all that. Expansive enough to be completely, totally, irrationally beyond our understanding – and yet sufficiently small to be exactly what we need; wrecking ball or fuzzy inclination.

This is why, I think, my fascination with Jesus continues to grow; Jesus as human, Jesus as a teacher, Jesus as – per his own statements – a demonstration of who God is. Beyond the salvation on the cross, a man with friends and loved ones. Utterly the same as us – and yet (as we all are), completely and totally unique.

My favorite thing in the world is to bear witness to these sorts of discoveries. Perhaps it’s age, creeping up on me, redefining priorities amid the existential questions that come when you have less road ahead of you than behind. Perhaps it’s wisdom, a thing I asked for some years ago.

Or it could be merely boredom; less time parenting, more time to think.

Whatever it is, I welcome it. I am grateful for every moment of delightful discovery in conversation, in contemplation, in reading; in life, itself.

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