Altered States

How I handle my fear says a lot more about whether or not I believe God to be trustworthy than it does what my fear is in the first place.

I believe it is fear that drives us to create our altered states of reality. Whether it is a chemically induced stupor or gated communities where we try to keep the world at bay we alter reality to allow ourselves the illusion of peace rather than owning or confessing our fears. If I can’t confront my fear then I’ll alter my perception of it. It is the reason we all feel so safe in Disney World (although I do have to say that Mickey Mouse scares me just a little bit).

This is why the recent cultural shifts are so frightening to those of us who bought into everything from the idea that a house is a sound investment, to the notion that a college degree guaranteed me a great job.

It is as if we are all being awakened from a very deep sleep. I wonder if I’m as angry with God when I think he’s asleep as I am when he keeps waking me up from mine!

We have interpreted not living in fear with eliminating opportunities to experience it. I will be less fearful if I home school my kids. I will be less fearful if I live in a more secluded area with as much security as I can afford. I will be less fearful if I drive a particular vehicle because it is less likely to leave me stranded on a dark road. I will be less fearful if I work myself up to a decision-making capacity at my job so that my future isn’t in the hands of idiots!

While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, they can mask the true reasons we pursue them in the first place. Those reasons being fear motivated thinking.

I am the first to say that I want to provide the safest, most secure and affluent lifestyle that I can for myself, and my family. I will go to any lengths to adjust reality to fit what I believe to be “responsible” provision. What I am trying to learn to identify is when it is based in fear, what the fear really is, and what it says about me when I am finally willing to name it.

Most of all I’m asking myself why I would rather God just let me sleep!

A New Song

New Song

Psalm 40:3 – He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.

Two things make people nervous about mystics. They ask questions and they don’t ask permission.

I’ve said before that I’m really a mystic disguised as a cynic who has opted for conformity to avoid conflict.

Somewhere down inside my perfectionist, driven self is a heart that is asking more questions than will ever get answers on this side of heaven. And I’m good with that – really good. In fact, I’m freer because of that than I’ve probably ever been in my life. It is as if God has given me a new song. I’m not sure that I have all the words yet, but it’s coming together. The melody is still a little rough to be sung by others but it will happen. I can feel it. As a songwriter this is the best way I know to articulate the experience.

I’m beginning to understand that being a believer is about loving the things that God loves, not satisfying a minimum requirement to get into heaven. In fact, I’m seeing that a lot of my Christian experience in the church has been experiencing people as either in or out and feeling like it was my job to help them find out which they were.

In this new song that I believe God is giving me (and I’m not speaking of a literal, singable song lest anyone find themselves awaiting some new worship tune from me), I’m finally able to be honest with myself about what I don’t know, what I believe I do know, and that there is a lot of open road between the two to be explored.

The joy and relief that come with the words, “I don’t know for sure” are freeing. They free me from defending things that feel like I have to memorize a handbook to address. I’m free from the anger that crawls up the back of my neck when people put me on the spot with their spiritual quandaries expecting me to answer them and be God’s personal PR person. It frees me from trying to convince myself of something while I’m trying to convince someone else of something. It frees me from trying to turn an “out” person into an “in” person.

This new song was conceived during lots of dark nights, lonely days, silence, and literally aching with uncertainty. I wasn’t sure I wanted this song at first. It evolved as I found myself in the company of other very broken and honest people who celebrate life in a way that I never had. This song was delivered in joy and ultimately worship as I truly begin to seek the things that God loves and in turn, learning to love Him. Not the concept of Him or the idea of Him.

I always believed that a new song would be one sung with gusto, assurance and certainty. Now I’m hearing a song that sounds distinctly different. My naïve self believed it to be a song that everyone would embrace and want to sing with me and that has turned out not to be the case. I realize that such journeys are up to God and mine doesn’t make me better, more evolved, or more mature. It just makes me different.

If I had to attach a wish here it would be that everyone reading this post would take the time to sit quietly. Turn off the music in the car. Turn off the TV while you eat dinner. Take a walk on one of these cool spring nights we’ve been having and ask yourself if the song you’ve been singing is one you own, that resonates with you in the most authentic parts of yourself. If it doesn’t, ask God to give you a new song. Then hold on tight…

Thresholds

I have recently been doing a bit of reading about something called liminal space or liminality. It isn’t as spooky as it sounds. It is essentially a kind of threshold period. It is the sense of no longer belonging to the old and not quite belonging to the new. It is when life has moved us ahead of our plans and we are in what can feel like a free-fall state. It can be vocational, personal, relational, or logistical but it is always unsettling to be between the now and the not yet, especially when it isn’t by our design.

In this season of liminality we can experience a great deal of angst, fear, and even depression. This is the season when our comforts zones have disappeared and we are looking at what feels like nothing but loose ends.

Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we’ve entered that space until we begin to experience the emotional fallout. As mystic Richard Rohr describes, it is when we have left one room but not quite entered another. It is the doorway we must walk through after life’s most defining moments. It is the space in which we find ourselves after things like divorces, deaths, job changes, sudden losses, and living post traumatically. It isn’t always such drastic events either. It can be when we find ourselves in a shift in our belief systems or ideology that we haven’t settled. Regardless, it is the space from which we have to address what life will look like from here.

The great thing about liminal spaces is that it is always where God begins doing a new thing. We are no longer on autopilot and we can begin to anticipate something completely new. We can finally begin to see ourselves outside of the box we’ve been in for years or we begin to sense a wave of God rolling us forward away from old ways of thinking and being that we might have never left behind on our own. For all the angst and worry that accompanies being in liminal space there is a great deal to be celebrated and anticipated.

There are multiple examples in scripture of God leading people into such places and it was always a time of teaching and preparing. It is an excellent season to expect the fruit of deeper insights, wisdom and compassion to follow.

Liminality doesn’t last forever so we can be certain that we will eventually turn a corner of some kind soon enough. Whether we face it with fear or anticipation is up to us.