Quick. What do you identify with? What groups do you belong to? And who do you feel attacked by? Who do you prepare to do battle with?
Most of us have these categories in play somewhere in the background of our everyday awareness. White, black, progressive, conservative, American, Canadian, pro-life, pro-choice. Maybe it’s none of those, and you identify more with your family. Or your church. Or your town. Or your country. Or your team. Or just the way things used to be.
There’s this crazy idea the mystics have that we are spirit having a human experience. Notice the singular: spirit? There’s this mystery of multiplicity-in-unity and unity-in-multiplicity. Beneath the surface veneer we’re drinking from the same well, animated by the same source.
So in one of the odder passages in the New Testament, Jesus said, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. There are two striking elements here, beyond the obvious self-mutilation seemingly being advocated.
Think of modern day Middle Eastern law, in which hands can still be cut off for stealing and women stoned to death for accusations of infidelity. For the listeners in the 1st century, this form of justice would be a common occurrence: violent justice enacted externally, by the political or local authority. Jewish law allowed for four forms of capital punishment in cases of adultery, murder, incest, and so on: stoning, beheading, strangulation and burning. Lesser crimes brought about lesser punishment, but still severe by modern standards.
Years ago a friend of mine invited me to a Not-Burning-Man gathering in the desert north of LA. This was a surrogate gathering of people who usually attended Burning Man, the annual gathering in Black Rock City of performance art, community, and gift economy. For one reason or another, this group couldn’t make the trip and had a smaller, impromptu gathering closer to home.
In the email of directions and minimal instructions from my friend and his wife, the final line was a reminder to practice “radical self-reliance.” In a teacher’s work week full of classes, lesson planning, grading, and meetings, I hadn’t had time to think through what that might mean.
A few weeks ago I found myself unable to perform my regular Centering Prayer practice for much of the week. My schedule was very unusual, including two sleep studies, one at a sleep lab, and several night’s sleep interrupted by my young son.
At the same time, I faced setbacks in several projects at work. And irregular circumstances required I stay at the ready for much of the week and skip my regular work out times. The fogginess from the lack of sleep only made matters worse. In the midst of this general slog, I received a co-worker sent me an antagonistic, disrespectful email.
A few years ago I was going through a period of prolonged inner tension. For work purposes, my wife and I had lived apart for some time and developed our own rhythms. I had been on one career track and was changing course to live in a new situation, a new job, a new city.
There was both relief and renewed tension in this life change. We were also adjusting to life with a newborn and trying to find our footing. I had taken steps in recent years to address long standing destructive patterns and addictions, but here I was out of rhythm and found old mental-emotional patterns returning. Dark moods born from regret, resentment, or anxieties about parenthood were easily triggered.
Recently an old friend of mine suggested we get together for a silent retreat to catch up, rest, and spend time in silence and meditation. We usually struggle to find a time that works with both of our schedules, but we finally managed to make it happen. We picked a retreat center about halfway for both of us and made the reservation.
I’d never been to this location before and had no idea what to expect. What were the accommodations like? Was there heat in the rooms? What would the food be like? Who would be there? Would we be expected to participate? What would we be participating in exactly? It was all pretty vague, and I don’t particularly like vague.
Since roughly puberty, one of my life’s struggles has been intermittent bouts of depression. Maybe it’s inherited, maybe it’s just my portion, or maybe it’s connected with long-time sleep issues.
Whatever its source, in daily life, I work hard to counterbalance the onset of periods of low energy, negative thoughts, and aimlessness with contemplative practices, spiritual readings, exercise, music, family, and meaningful work. Or as much meaningful work as I can muster. These keep me in rhythm, aware, grateful, at peace.
But when I slip out of this delicate rhythm my well-being can slide pretty fast. If family issues come up, or a sickness, or even a vacation or a family visit, the amount of sleep, contemplative practice, and exercise routine all suffer.
Early on in college I had the good fortune to take a literature class taught by a contemplative practitioner. The college itself was a conservative one, but here was clearly someone with a different state of awareness. He didn’t seem particularly concerned about defending Christianity, or getting people to convert, or about revival on campus, or winning the city for Jesus.
With a gentle depth, he seemed more interested in whether people were moving toward wholeness than the brand of faith they were practicing, or even the fervor with which they practiced. With disarming graciousness, he was clearly present and interested in what his students had to say, though his education and intellect vastly surpassed ours. He was humble. Students experiencing a crisis of faith or elsewhere in their lives sensed in him a safe presence in which to confide.
After graduating High School in Germany, I moved to the Pacific Northwest to go to college.
The reverse culture shock was jarring at times. What would have been considered embarrassing social behavior back home suddenly seemed not only tolerated, but celebrated here. Young guys revving engines in muscle cars and massively oversized trucks was suddenly a normal aspect of male identity and expression.
Back home you were supposed to at least project humility and self-deprecation. Any attempt to stick out and act superior made you subject to open ridicule. To get approval, you had to cultivate a degree of well-rounded gentility.
Now suddenly everything seemed upside down.
Welcome to Season 1, Episode 2 of the Spiritual Directions podcast. In this episode, I sit down with veteran Spiritual Director and former Youth For Christ VP Lynn Ziegenfuss to talk about lessons learned on her spiritual journey, abiding in God, and redefining success.
What happens when God doesn’t give us the life we want? In this episode, Lynn Ziegenfuss opens up about her disappointments, learning to embrace the struggle, and unexpected gifts.
CLICK TO LISTEN
Subscribe to Podcast in iTunes