I begin each week of my online courses with a reflection on the theme of the week. It is a devotional beginning, a way of getting the students to think about the topic in light of Scripture, often more pastoral and personal than specifically theological. Of course, the theological is part and parcel with those elements, even as the conventional approaches to theology these days are more academic in tone.
In my class on the Holy Spirit this week, we’re looking more closely at the topic of orthopathy, which means “right passions” in theological parlance. Along with orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right actions), it is one of the ways the Spirit works to orient our self, in our community, with God.
In case you’re interested in what I’m up to in my teaching, here’s my reflection that begins this week’s discussion:
Consideration of Week 4
Read: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Jeremiah 20:7-18; Acts 16:11-34; Ephesians 5:15-20
When I was in college, I experienced a roller coaster in my relationship with God. I went to a Christian school in the Chicago area because I felt God leading me there. And God had plans for me while there but they didn’t seem to fit into the expected college experience. It was a place of training and training often involves breaking. Which came. Harshly. Before that there was an awakening. Moments and days in which I felt my heart and mind and whole being opening up in a new vision of God’s work, a deep awareness of God’s presence, an assurance of God’s being.
There were moments of theophany, of discovering a deep truth behind the apparent truths, a perception of complete coherence. I didn’t have words for these experiences even as I knew they were real. I felt my very being stretch and expand, feeling at times both loosely connected to this world and utterly embedded, a part of God’s creation. Then a turn.
Everything crumbled, the light went from on to off, the presence of God departed. At least that’s how it felt. A turn to loneliness deepened by even the absence of God’s encouragement and hope. I felt destitute. Empty. Prayers extending into shadows and emptiness. Feeling lost in my faith, my being, my hope.
Carried on by that earlier divine presence. There’s something there. I knew it. But could not see it or feel it. All was dark.
I refused to let go, even in the pain and frustration. I read more, sought answers, asked for counsel. Reading helped but only to show that my experience was not unique. It was a common experience through Scripture, throughout the stories of women and men in history. They were close to God and then they encountered a wide ditch of God’s absence. No way forward. No way back.
I knew the facts about God, the story about God’s work in Scripture and history, the doctrines of faith. But where was the life? I missed it but knew there was something there. I pressed on, not giving up, not running away.
A path was there but it was surrounded by dangers and thorns and troubles. Encouragement came in fleeting glimpses, the fifth door on the left slightly ajar. Just enough sense of joy to become bread crumbs of discovery, a persistent discouragement at every other turn to prevent me from walking down distracting roads.
God kept me on the path, but did so by a dynamic interaction that led me through ups and downs, through college, into seminary, at churches, in the mountains, back for more study and then teaching. The ups and downs were not required by God, but were my experiences of being buffeted in too many directions, competing narratives and goals pulling me left and right, out and in, up and down, rather than steady in my faith and patient in the journey.
My heart variously strangely warm and strangely cold, a roller coaster turning into a refined palate, increasingly able to attune myself in God’s grace, centering in Christ, navigating in the whispers and moves of the Spirit.
Such dynamic experiences tend to resist intellectual analysis, resulting in those groans and utterances of tongues or music, trying to express that which is indeterminate at first, then indescribable. Trying to find the words leads deeper down the path. I discovered and was given words not so that I can manage God but so that I can come alongside, able to be a voice of comfort, hope, counsel, a heart transformed by the Spirit better able to participate with the Spirit in my context.
The presence of God is indeed more than a validation for us. The Spirit calls us and is shaping the whole of our being to be renewed in light of God’s life and mission. Becoming attuned to this mission reaches into the deepest parts of ourselves, places we are most vulnerable and broken, places we may also be the most strong and full of meaning. Our spirit in the presence of God’s Spirit.
What are your desires on this day? What is your mood? What are your passions and hopes and fears? Lay these out, call them by name, seek wisdom about what is oriented in God and what needs redirection towards God. Let the Spirit comfort, let the Spirit transform. It is not easy, ohttp://dualravens.com/ravens/wp-admin/post-new.phpften difficult, though sometimes it is wonderful.
The promise of this journey is peace and stillness, even in troubles, hope in times of mystery, rest in times of comfort. When our desires and emotions match the mission of God in the moment we begin to dance, no longer tossed and torn by the storms. We become effective in the moment, in the place, in the purpose. At the end of all things, still standing (Eph. 6:13).