I was sitting with friends at our local hang out, Ram's Horn, affectionately referred to as "The Hole (if you've been in a Ram's Horn you will know why it got that nickname)." I was reconnecting with friends from high school after spending the summer in South Carolina on a mission trip. That summer I had learned about Jesus and God in a way that was new to me. It all felt real for the first time. I was a different person than I was twelve weeks prior.
As we were sitting there my buddy, Joe burst into the restaurant and said, "Your mom needs you to go home right now. Something's wrong man, you need to go."
I jumped in my car and headed home. I don't remember much of that drive. But, I will never forget seeing the cars in the driveway. Our pastor was there. Family was there. There were tears everywhere. My Mimi had died in a car accident. She was one of the most significant people in my life. Outside of my mom, nobody knew me the way she did.
That day, everything had changed.
It didn't make sense. I had given my summer to God. Why was this happening? It wasn't fair. Why did God let this happen? How was it that God could do this?
Looking back, I know now that I descended into what has been called a dark night of the soul. I questioned everything. I was depressed. I was in anguish. I struggled to believe.
The Thing Called Deconstruction
If this had happened today I think the process that I entered into would be called "deconstruction."
Everywhere you look people are deconstructing. For some, this looks like a total rejection of faith. Some question a doctrine here or there. Others walk away from "church" and hold on to Jesus. Loads of "Christian famous" folks are carrying out their deconstruction online for the world to see. Some are leveraging deconstruction for financial gain (yes, you can hire people to coach you through a season of deconstruction).
Then there's the response to deconstruction. Some celebrate it and almost evangelize it to others. Others point to it as a simply a way to disguise apostasy. Both seem to be missing the mark.
Dark Night of the Soul
What we now call "deconstruction" is nothing new.
St. John of the Cross is largely credited with coining the term, "dark night of the soul" in his 16th century poem.
Even before him, the concept is present throughout the writings of early Christians. The dark night of the soul often refers to seasons where the one who believes encounters in fresh ways the mysteries of the divine. This could be in good times and bad times.
As we look to the story of the people of God in the Bible we see this dark night of the soul or deconstruction all over the place. In particular, I think of the books of Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Jeremiah (honestly, almost all of the prophets show signs of this). One of my favorite parts of the Acts of the Apostles is witnessing the deconstruction of Peter and Paul's faith.
What strikes me is that counter to what some folks would have us think, deconstruction is normal for people seeking to follow in the way of Christ.
Maybe what it is...
I have been thinking a lot about this dark-night-of-the-soul/deconstruction for the last number of years. Something I am realizing is that I have gone through many seasons of deconstruction. So much so, that I'm not sure that the term is even helpful. For a while I thought maybe it was a cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction. But, I'm not sure that's really it. I think that perhaps, something else is going on.
Last week I included a quote from C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, "Further up, and further in." It strikes me that this is really what is happening in my life and the life of so many others. Maybe, it's not de- and re- construction? Could it be that it's a vast spiral of becoming more and more of who we are meant to be? Ken Wilber in his text, A Theory of Everything, calls this the process of "transcend and include."
What if we could envision our lives progressing not along a linear line of ups and downs, but as a spiral that is driving us deeper and deeper towards reality. We learn what we need to learn where we are right here, and right now. Then that drives us ever deeper to new truths and a clearer sense of who we are and who we are to become. The mystery continues to beckon, "further up, and further in..."
I don't have a new word for this, but maybe an old word would do? Maybe the old word, "sanctification," is a better term. This process of becoming something new. When I read through the stories of God's people I see them constantly moving and growing and changing.
"Further up, and further in..."
It's not so much a deconstruction or even a dark night of the soul as much as it is being confronted with a current reality and the hope of something new before us. This something new is a version of ourselves moving towards greater flourishing.
I wonder if this sanctification is what Jesus meant when he talked about how he had come to give us life and life to the full?
What if, all the stories that are emerging of deconstruction are really stories of sanctification. Most of the time, from what I see, when people come out from the other side of this season they are more loving, more gracious, more given to mercy, and have a greater empathy.
What if, we need to follow the footsteps of the prophets and of the apostles and have all our assumptions about God challenged and broken, to truly find God in the deep mystery?
Have you experienced a dark night of the soul? Or have you experienced deconstruction? How have you changed? In what ways does your life look different as a result?
A QUESTIONING FAITH
I remember sitting in Calculus during my senior year in high school. It was Spring and the windows were open. I could hear the birds chirping outside and the fresh, cool, Michigan Spring air was blowing gently through the room. Mr. Near, our teacher, was busy writing on the board and excitedly explaining some new equation. As he was teaching he said something that made my face flush and hands get sweaty, I could feel a sense of panic and anxiety rush over me.
"As you know by now..."
I wanted to scream, "No, Mr Near, I don't know by now! I don't understand any of this. I don't even comprehend half of the vocabulary that you're using!"
Yet, I looked around and saw my friends nodding their heads and following along with obvious understanding and clarity.
School was always easy for me. It was a source of pride that I was one of the "smart kids." My grade point average was a significant piece of my identity. That feeling of not knowing and definitely not understanding was sickening. This was particularly true because it seemed like all of my friends understood everything with complete clarity.
It's Kind of Like This...
Many of us feel like I did in Calculus when we hear people start talking about religion, faith, and spirituality. The leaders in these spaces typically speak with authority and certainty. We look around the room and everyone is nodding along. One of the most often used phrases is, "The Bible clearly says..."
Some of us want to scream, "No, it doesn't seem 'clear'! I don't understand any of this and I don't comprehend half the vocabulary you're using!"
If you've grown up in "the church" when you have these thoughts you likely feel some of the things that I felt, and probably even more intense. So often when these questions and doubts rise up in us we experience shame and guilt. We feel like we are the only ones that are wrestling with these kinds of things. As a result, we can isolate ourselves from those around us who seem to have absolute certainty about it all.
If you didn't grow up in "the church" then you too may have felt these things. Particularly, as it relates to someone who feels like they're constantly on the outside looking in. The "church people" seem to be part of some insider club and as you look on, you see the holes and the hypocrisy. You may also have a sense that questions are not welcome there because of the way that people speak with such certainty and authority.
I'm beginning to learn that certainty is the opposite of faith. When us religious folks speak as though we have certainty about all this stuff, it points, not to the strength of our faith, but to the weakness of it.
With great faith, comes great doubt.
There's a story about Jesus where he meets a dad whose son is possessed. The son is often thrown into seizures and when this has happened he has fallen into fires or pools of water. The dad wants to see his son healed. He's at the end of his rope (who hasn't been there?) and says, "If you can help, please help!"
Then this happens:
Jesus said, "If? There are no 'ifs' among believers. Anything can happen."Mark 9:23-24
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, "Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!"
Jesus does the Jesus thing and heals the boy.
I think that this dad is one of the most honest people in the Bible.
"Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!"
Jesus meets him right there. He heals the boy. He doesn't chastise him for his doubt.
In my own life I'm resonating more and more with this dad. My frequent prayer is his prayer. "I believe, help me in my doubt." The questions I struggle with are real. The doubts are consistently present. The sense of certainty that I had in my younger days is long gone. Yet, I believe more deeply than I ever have before.
There's a picture that an I artist I like drew and I think it sums up some of my journey well,
I have to tell you, joining people on the journey of seeking together is a lot of fun. There's so much beauty in it all. We get to ask questions and struggle together with the mysteries of the divine.
As we seek together, there's a lot of taking Jesus at his word. Grace and mercy and hope are becoming words that mean something more than theological short hand in a religious sales pitch. These ideas are becoming a context for which I see and experience other people and myself.
When we lean into doubt our faith grows and deepens.
I am also learning that the questions that I wrestle with are questions that other people wrestle with.
I am not alone and neither are you.
During the first week of October I will be launching a new Facebook Group. The Pastor Next Door group will be one where, together, we can say, "Help me with my doubt." You need not walk this journey alone. I know that I don't want to. Over the last number of years the conversations with friends about their wrestling with mystery, the universe, and the divine have sparked my imagination and a deepening of my faith.
Together we can call one another "further up and further in!" ((C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle:
"It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different–deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”))
If you'd like an invite to the group drop a comment and let me know! This group will be invite only and is private. That means what's posted there is not something that can be found or read by people outside of the Facebook Group. I set it up this way, so that we can talk honestly and openly there. I hope that it becomes a community, a neighborhood, where you can build relationships around seeking the deeper questions of life.