In the past, my spiritual inventories have been filled with theological language and based loosely on a variety of spiritual practices. This time, I have been challenged to describe my spiritual path—or, more properly, my life path—without resorting to the usual theo-spiritual jargon. Thankfully, a friend, who can see into my inward self, guided the process.
I love to deal with complexity—to take it apart and play in its sandbox until I can discover what it is about the complexity that is stirring within me. That kernel may be at the center of the complexity, or at its periphery. All I know is that it stirs something within me—a stirring that won’t let me go.
When I am at my best, I wrap that kernel in conversation that wrestles it to the ground until it strikes my hip, dislocating it, and I walk away limping. Limping is one way to describe a response to a change at the cellular level—dare I say, a transformation. I limp until I can integrate that stirring into my story. I limp until new images, symbols, and myths become a part of me.
As a classic introvert, I used to keep my limping hidden from view. I would try to walk upright with measured gait. That plan got trashed one evening as my wife, Sue, had a hyper-insulinism attack that put her in a coma and caused brain damage. The most complex part of my life—my relationship with Sue—was smashed in the blinking of an eye. There seemed to be no sandbox to play in; no time to find the kernel that was stirring; no time to wrestle anything to the floor. My hip was dislocated; I could barely limp along—no possibility for walking at a measured gait.
And yet, strange as it may seem, there was a calm, a peacefulness, that stirred within. I had faced life at its rawest—a groundlessness that challenged every attempt to find meaning. It was neither meanness nor meaning that I was experiencing, it was, simply, life itself.
It has taken me a couple of decades to learn how to limp with some degree of dexterity and integrity. I have been in conversation with a community of men and women who have also grappled with the groundlessness of life and have found their way to limp with integrity. (Isn’t reading books a marvelous way to stay in touch?)
I wouldn’t say that I limp like Elizabeth Boyden Howes, or John Caputo, or Herman Waetjen; but our gaits keep us on similar paths. I’d like to think that I learned something about walking through life with a limp like that of Yeshua and his followers. Perhaps my limping gait has occasionally set my feet on Yeshua’s path.
I have tried many of the spiritual crutches—journaling, meditation, prayer—in the past and, every once in a while, return to them. Even though these practices carried me for a while, I have not been able to make any of them a life-long practice. They have been doorways—thresholds to cross over to gain access to my inner life.
I have flirted with religion most of my adult life—campus ministry, seminary, pastorates, and church executive. But something was missing. That flirting produced a gangly, exaggerated limp—an unnatural gait for me. I was trying too hard to make it fit within traditional understanding of the religious journey. It fits—but not quite! I was wearing someone else’s hand-me-downs. I knew intuitively that they didn’t fit, but I continued to clothe myself in the hand-me-downs
Since retirement, three practices have predominated as thresholds: reading, conversation, and writing. I can still remember Dr. D. Campbell Wyckoff, one of my seminary professors, encouraging me to write for publication. He was not the last to do so, but I rebuffed his suggestion, as well as all those that followed. Not me! I don’t want to limp through the agonizing process of writing down what’s going on inside me! If I were to do so, people might see me limp.
My reading, conversation, and writing—since retirement—has begun to identify a path that I have been on throughout my life, without recognizing it.
At a level beneath consciousness, my intuition continues to scan the experiences, feelings, relationships, and contexts of my life. As a result of that scan, something begins to stir within—a gnawing sense that something needs to be addressed.
Even though I had been engaged deeply in campus ministry for my four college years—serving as a local, state-wide, and national officer of various campus ministry organizations—it was a profound surprise when I heard myself say, “I want to go to seminary and become a minister.” I had never consciously thought about a future in ministry before those words emerged from my mouth. But there it was—a gnawing insistence was voiced before I had a chance to suppress it. My path was now set on a career within the church.
Late in my senior year in college, I proposed to Sue without being aware that I was proposing, I began to share a mental image with her of a home and family. She said, “Yes!” before I was aware that I had proposed. I immediately knew that a proposal was exactly the right thing at the right moment for the two of us, but I had not consciously considered that possibility before the words were out of my mouth. Rack up another point in favor of intuition’s stirrings.
When I am out of touch with my inner self, intuition has to work overtime—identifying discontinuities and possibilities and moving toward some resolution. I’ve learned to trust that inner work. When I am more aware of what may be percolating within, intuition just stirs it up enough that I recognize the stirring as an irruption waiting to happen. Once recognized, through conversation and writing, I wrestle consciously. My limp becomes more pronounced, from within the midst of the complexity, I find the kernel that is stirring me. Once I can name the gnawing insistence, I don’t tame it but I can begin to image the path ahead. Once again I can limp on with integrity and peace.
I like the image of groundlessness for dealing with the stirrings and the limping. I am not trying to discern a pre-formed pathway or a once-and-for-all answer to the meaning of life. There is no concrete highway through life, no inherent meaning that is determinative for all. Life is just life! It is simply to be lived—with all its joys and pains, difficulties and successes, complexity and confusions. There is a groundlessness to life. The moment we think we have it figured out; we are going to be surprised. Life is, quite simply—even in its complexity—a surprise of impossible possibilities. Those impossible possibilities are caught up in symbols, myths, rituals, and the stories we tell.
Along the path comes a stirring. When I wrestle the complexity of that stirring to the ground, I often find a simple way ahead—a way to engage life’s surprises that challenges my integrity, connects me with others, and puts me in touch with the universe. That simple way ahead spins story after story—the story of my limping, the story of our connectedness as we blaze pathways together, the story of a people who are star-dust.