The Thing Called Deconstruction
What if deconstruction was something else?
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.
The 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.
I wonder if a little phrase from C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle might be helpful,
“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!”
“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?