Thursday, June 02, 2005

Obscured by calamity...

"Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself." (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, "We Agnostics," pg. 55)

It continues to amaze me how much I find myself in the words of this book - and how imperfectly I have learned its lessons in more than 14 years without a drink. That part makes me a little crazy, sometimes. Like now.

My "fundamental idea of God," and God's faithfulness and lovingkindness, sure can be "obscured by calamity." And sadly, for me, calamity can be something as simple as the need to step out of fantasy and denial and check into the Hotel Reality. It's positively embarrassing, at times, how close I am to an agnostic, and how willing I am to cry out, "Where the hell ARE You, anyway?" - especially when the one who has been wandering around lost is me...

I bring this up because a number of other bloggers have been struggling with depression, with the inability to find clear direction, and with other questions about life and faith that go way beyond "What's it all about, Alfie?" I've been back in touch with a dear friend who struggles with significant depression, and has had to essentially step out of active ministry for a while. A fellow I admire (who sounds like he's been doing the kind of youthpastoring that I always wished I'd had) has confessed his own struggles on his blog - and it seems that his readers have done a great job of burying him under (a) cliches and (b) "friends of Job-style" advice.

I understand both my friends' frustrations - because I've been on both sides of it.

I'm enough of a codependent that I wish I could just fix whatever the hell is going on with those I care about. In the recovery community, it's called rescue, save, and repair. This kind of behavior tends to be characterized best by whatever parts of the book of Job are not said by either (a) Job or (b) God. In my experience, it's always well-meaning - and it always stimulates in me the desire to scream at people who I know love me.

And I do know depression - the kind of depression when it's much easier to walk over dirty clothes than wash them; when it's easier to ignore problems than take action on them; when hope just seems to flee, and prayers seem to rise up like smoke and dissipate in the wind, without ever reaching even what CS Lewis would call near Heaven. Sleep seems elusive, life seems illusory - and each solution "peg" that someone suggests seems just a little too round to fit in my particular square hole.

It's in these situations that I find that God's presence is "obscured by calamity." It's not that God's presence is absent (however much it feels otherwise), but it's definitely obscured. Like now.

In my own case, time is running out to find full-time employment with benefits, and I've been given a deadline to leave my formerly-comfortable seminary housing and get back into the real world. It would be much easier to do (b) if (a) were a reality - but the fact is, it's not. And Tuesday, having come back from a great weekend with my sisters, I was confronted with just how big the hurdles I'm facing are - and how much the wreckage of my own past is weighing on me at this stage of the game.

And it just sucked.

My dear friend Damien sat and listened to my self-pitying, self-flaggelating monologue over dinner Tuesday night. He's a wise man, and he just let all the toxicity just drain out of me, like a cyst that'd been lanced. And after that, some clear thoughts managed to break through - things I'd always known, but that for some reason I just couldn't hear from my own mouth, about me:

(1) No matter what, my failures are not fatal. (Thank you, Br'er Lucado, for drilling that one into me years ago.)
(2) I may have failed at what I came here to do; that does not make me a failure.
(3) People's lives have been changed, for the better, by my presence here. It doesn't matter whether I can see those changes or not - they are present, nonetheless.
(4) God loves me, even if (3) wasn't true. Period. Whether I start with Peter and work down, or start with the "good thief" and work up, God has put screw-ups in the story of redemption just so I'd identify.
(5) It no longer matters how I got here; the answer is, where am I going to go now?
(6) There is always something - however small - that I can do to make my life less chaotic, if I will but do it.
(7) As with any journey, the longest part is always the getting my ass off the sofa and out the front door part.
(8) As my sisters and brothers in the UCC would say, "God is still speaking," even if I am not still listening. I can choose to "tune in," and the message is still there for me.

Now, the challenge will be to pray this simple prayer throughout the course of this day:
Dear God, by the power of your Holy Spirit, let me live this day as if I believe this stuff. Amen


Rick said...

Great post. I loved the image of your friend allowing you to vent. I had a friend once twll me, "You just need to vomit." That souns gross, but it was so true. I didn't need fixed, I just needed to purge the crap from my soul and once I was able to do that I was able to get a better perspective on my life.

Brother, God is holding you and is here with you. Just because you may not know where God is leading you doesn't mean that God isn't leading. God did not say, "Figure everything out in life." GOd said, "Trust me."

Sound like you are doing just that.

Christina said...

I know the differnce between clinical depression and when your soul seems shrouded. When I was experiencing the latter I too submitted myself to a friend. She gave me a copy of St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul. It encouraged me when I read it. The book gave me some insight on what the Lord was trying to accomplish in my life. Which made walking through the Dark Night, easier to swallow. Some excerpts that helped me (lengthy but good): It shold be known, then, that God nurtures and caresses the soul, after it has been resolutely converted to His service, like a loving mother who warms her child with the heat of her bosom, nurses it with good milk and tender food, and carries and caresses it in her arms. But as the child grows older, the mother witholds the sweet caresses and hides her tender love; she rubs bitter aloes on her sweet breast and sets the child down from her arms, letting it walk on its own feet so that it ma put aside the habits of childhood and grow accustomed to greater and more important things. The grace of God acts just as a loving mother by re-engendering in the sould new enthusiasm and fervor in the servive of God. With no effort on the soul's part, this grace causes it to taste sweet and delectable milk and to experience intense satisfaction in the performance of spiritual exercises, beacuse God is handing the breast of His tender love to the soul, just as if it were a delicate child.

The soul finds it joy, therefor, in spending lengthy periods at prayer, perhaps even entire nights; its penances are pleasures; its fasts, happiness; and the sacraments and spiritual conversations are its consolations. Although spiritual persons od practice exercises with great profit and persistence, and are very careful about them, spiritually speaking, they conduct themselves in a very weak and imperfect manner. Since their motivation in their spiritual works and exercises is the consolation and satisfaction they experience in them, and since they have not been condidtioned by an ardourous struggle of practicing virtue, they posses many faults and imperfections in the discharge of their spiritual activities. Assuredly, since everyone's actions are direct conformity with the habit of perfection that has been acquired, and since these persons have not had time to acquire those firm habits, their work must of necessity be feeble, like that of weak children.

St. John then goes on to write about the things that are in a soul and what God is trying to do to remove them by putting the soul through the Dark Night. For me it was a deep work on my motivations for doing His work. Later on St. John writes..
The reason for this dryness is the God transfers His goods and strength from sense to Spirit. Since the sensory part of the soul is incapable of of the goods of spirit, it remains deprived, dry, and empty. Thus, while the spirit is tasting, the flesh tastes nothing at all an becomes weak in its work. But through this nourishment the spirit grows stronger and more alert, and becomes more solicitous than before about failing God.

At first when I read this, I thought St. John was being stuffy until I got to the chapter about describing a person in the Dark Night..and it described me all to well. "The first is that since these souls do not get any satisfaction or consolation from the things of God, they do not get any from creatures either. Since God puts a soul in this Dark Night in order to dry up and purge its sensory appetite, He does not allow it to find sweetness or delight in anything." He goes on to write how the soul tries to examine themselves for sin, or any wrong doing..

I don't want to sound like Job's friend. I know that is the last thing you need. I wanted to share a little of what helped me through...

Danny said...

We don't like to admit it very often, but so many of us ordained ministers also find ourselves wondering, "Just where is God, anyway?" For me, faith is sometimes nothing more than just trusting that eventually, God will show up, or that my eyes will be opened enough to see God.

Bar Bar A said...

Steve, you definitely understand depression. I am tempted to ask my boyfriend to read this post so he will understand ME better. I related to so much of what you wrote here...including the wisdom of the Big Book. I just finished posting about how all my good friends have been through the 12 Steps for one thing or another.

Anyhow, I won't ramble on but thanks for your honesty and your excellent description of our need to "just vent" sometimes.


APN said...

Honesty. Honestly.

How else can I come explain what attracts me to your words, your hurts, your pains, your thoughts, your joys, your friends. Thank you so much for all of it.

I too have been racking my brain and my little measure of faith for what God has for me to do. He's placed within me drive, desire, a sense of what I think that He wants me to do, but I have absolutely NO IDEA how He wants me to accomplish anything really. Maybe that is faith -- realizing that I don't know, yet He does. It's not very psychologically comforting, but it's what I rest on these days -- He knows and I don't. And I tend to be OK with that.

And there are times when I piss, moan, curse, rail against God for all of the things that I don't understand and all the things that don't make sense in my life. And that's OK too.... That's what I love about God -- even when I don't love Him, He still loves me.