Wernersville, PA, January 2, 1977:Ring any bells with you? For me, it was like Manning was reading my mail...or my mind.
Outside it's dark and below zero. That pretty well describes where I'm at inside. The opening night of an eight-day retreat and I'm filled with a sense of uneasiness, restlessness, even dread. Bone-weary and lonely. I can't connect two thoughts about God. Have abandoned any pretense of prayer: it seems too artificial. The few words spoken to God are forced and ring hollow in my empty soul. There is no joy being in his presence. An oppressive but vague feeling of guilt stirs within me. Somehow or other I have failed Him. Maybe pride and vanity have blinded me; maybe insensitivity to pain has hardened my heart. Is my life a disappointment to You? Are you grieved by the shallowness of my soul? Whatever, I've lost you through my own fault and I am powerless to undo it...
(Journal entry of Brennan Manning, quoted by him in the book Abba's Child)
This whole topic comes to mind because of my discussions with my spiritual-formation group on Saturday about "Discovering Your Authentic Self," and the process of taking an honest look at oneself. The fact is, over the last four months, I've been down in the same neighborhood that Manning described a number of times. And it embarrasses me to admit it, but with each new delay in finding full-time employment, the doubts and fears come stampeding back.
Is my time here done? Do You really want me to pack up and leave here? Where is the message in all of this? I know that I came here for the right reasons...I couldn't have gotten here, or made it through the year, without Your blessings and Your help. And I know that I have been a blessing - or at least been reasonably non-toxic - to a number of folks...because they've told me so, and I really have no reason to doubt their sincerity. I know that You've given me gifts, and skills, and You sure have given me the willingness to use 'em. But what's the deal now, hmm? Because trust me - this whole "wait and see" thing is getting pretty old, right about now.And so on.
As I've told a number of people, when these thoughts come to mind, the song lyrics that also come to mind are from the title song to Chris Rice's CD Smell the Color 9:
I would take "no" for an answerHalf jokingly, I told my group-mates that very often, I think that my "authentic self" is the one I wake up with -
Just to know I heard You speak
And I'm wonderin' why I've never
Seen the signs they claim they see
Are the special relevations
Meant for everybody but me?
Maybe I don't truly know you
Or maybe I just simply believe
-the one that says, "Good God, it's morning" instead of "Good morning, God"In fact, there are days when if someone said to me, "I met your 'authentic self' over at the mall today," my first thought would be, I hope he didn't hurt you or embarrass you in any way...are you OK? Did the "real me" do you any damage?
-the one whose first waking thought is "Five more minutes?..."
-the one who boots-up in selfish/self-centered/self-seeking mode, and only exits that mode by the grace of a loving, caring Higher Power.
In Lutheran terms, we're talking about issues of original sin and sanctification, I think. Is my "authentic self," as Dr. Kurt Hendel would say, "a rot-gut sinner" who can't begin to even want to do good, without the power of the Holy Spirit? Or is my "authentic self" actually the essence of God's Holy Spirit, resident in me, and is what Brennan Manning calls "the impostor" actually the one who hides behind all the neuroses and nonsense, living in fear that my "authentic self" will rise up and assert its dominion over all the trash in my life?
The answer isn't as simple as it might seem. Tucked behind those simple words are issues of creation, God's sovereignty and omnipotence, and some issues about just how true that line about "God don't make no junk" really is.
For now, my credo is that I'm a broken toy, baptized and set free by the Holy Spirit, with an immense skill for forgetting who (and Whose) I really am. For now, this someday spiritual leader is just gonna put his big butt to bed, and start anew on Tuesday.