There are two concepts that have been defining concepts for my theology and spirituality the last ten years or so: Frenzy and Void.
Now, these aren’t included in any other list that I know of. They’re not in the classical list of seven (or eight!) deadly sins. They’re not sins, I suppose, but I suspect one or the other is at the root of just about everything that is a sin.
I’ve occasionally described life with God, discernment and the Christian life, like autopia. There’s a rail that keeps you going a certain direction. If you let go of the steering wheel you’ll go the same basic way, but will be bumped back and forth as the car keeps crashing against the rail, going back and forth, right and left, crashing your way forward. Or you can steer and get where the track leads without hitting anything.
On the right is the Void, on the Left is the Frenzy.
Or maybe it’s front and back. Behind you is the Void, chasing after you. Ahead of you is the Frenzy, something you feel a need to chase after.
Up and down? The Void swallows you up from below. The Frenzy burns you up from above.
Looking back these have been with me my whole life. I suspect they are with most people. It wasn’t until I finished seminary, however, that I started discovering them for what they were.
The Void was the first one I named. Not that it was my name. I first found it named in a book by James Loder, who himself pulled the idea from Kierkegaard. I’ve since read more of Kierkegaard (though far from enough). At this point, a lot of theology discussions would go on to talk about Kierkegaard. But Kierkegaard isn’t really the point. Indeed, Kierkegaard just used good words to describe a much older awareness. The Void is all through the Bible. And in the writings of the church. And in writings found in all sorts of places.
It’s that gaping maw, that awareness of nothingness, of meaninglessness, emptiness. It’s that whisper that says God is not. We run from the void, we distract ourselves, we busy ourselves. In our quiet, still moments though, it’s there, gazing at us, suggesting it is all there is. Run.
So we run. We act brave. We talk about depths, and patience, and faith, and hope. Then the Void shows itself. We run. Run away.
The Void sought me out after I had finished seminary. It had been there all along, to be sure, leading me variously into depression or activity. When I finished school, however, when my church made clear it had no space or desire for me (a couple of elders pretty much said this directly), I didn’t have a direction to focus my energy. I paused. I was stilled. The Void opened its gaping maw and reminded me of my failures, my meaninglessness, my unpayable loan debts (I’m still a bit worried about this one). Do something. Do anything. Run. I tried joining the army. Run.
Felt there was no guidance from God. There was, but the Void was louder. Make yourself useful. Do something noble that is impressive to self and others. PAY OFF THE STUDENT LOANS, OR THEY WILL SWALLOW YOU. I told God that if he didn’t want me to do this, he would stop me. My blood pressure put me on pause in the process, high like never before when at a physical. My left knee ended it. Torn ACL when playing basketball.
The Void was silent, it’s always silent, but stared deeply, wider and thicker and closer than ever before, overtaking me like a wave just offshore. Swim! Run! Escape. Play the part. Make sense. Live to pay rent, go to nice restaurants, distract myself with suits, shoes, outings. Run. If you don’t run, you will be exposed for what you truly are. Nothing. Empty. Wasted. The Void threatens us with all our fears and threatens to expose our weaknesses to others. “I know who you are,” the Void says. “Who you really are.” Run.
I looked at that life ahead of me. And I stopped. I turned around. Let the Void crash over me. Everybody saw my weaknesses: my lack of perseverance, my waxing depression, my introversion, my… well, this isn’t a place to list all of that.
I moved to the mountains. Everyone thought I had given up. Precisely what I didn’t do. I stopped giving in to the Void, to its whispers, to its condemnations, to its threats. I stopped running. I was tired of running. I faced the Void.
The Void never really goes away, however. It’s still a whisper, a burn, an impenetrable wall of fog and shadow, a belly in which a person is digested for a thousand years. The difference now is that I recognize it. I call it out. I speak its name. I confront it. Sometimes I lose. But I’m getting stronger at facing it.
On the other side is the frenzy. I’m not sure where I got that word. I know that the concept found a place in my ponderings when I was reading the Philokalia, a set of books that collects the writings of Eastern Orthodox monastics from throughout the centuries.
The frenzy is that temptation to do more, be more, have more. More, more, more. It’s the competition, the ego-satiation, and more. It’s the feeling that if something needs doing, you must do it, because everyone else is doing it that way, and that way must be the way to do it. Work more, plan more, fret more. Hither and thither, running yourself dry and moving farther still. Getting caught up in what everyone else is doing and how they’ve done it, checking boxes off the constantly expanding list.
God helps those who help themselves and that means must really help those who go above and beyond doing all they can do. All things to all people, constantly on the go. Perform. Earn. Fight. Even relaxing becomes a competitive experience: better food, better pictures, better beds, better and more, more and better. Facebook it. Instagram it. Tweet it. Blog it. Share it. Post it. Drawn into the web of frenzy, one draws others. Dance, monkey, dance.
Often these are distractions, often they are good things, justifiable things, things people celebrate us for. “I don’t know how you find the time,” they say, wooing our sense of self to greater heights. There isn’t time. There’s just frenzy. Because if we stop, there’s Void. We prove ourselves, prove our worth, defend ourselves, “We deserve it!”. Frenzy begets frenzy, chaos is our comfort… because at least it’s something.
Sin enters in through the portals of Void or Frenzy. Lost in the nothingness or consumed by the busyness, we lose sight of our own true self. The self that God knows fully. “I know who you are,” God says. “And I love you.” We don’t believe him. Or if we do, we don’t trust him.
Void and Frenzy lead us away from the garden, into the place of disobedience, the far country, joining the pigs at the trough.
Void and Frenzy are present in every part of our life, every theme and every goal, undermining our hopes or leading us to accomplish them without God. They are what we know, our knowledge of good and evil, giving us a perverted discernment about how to respond.
Void and Frenzy are with us, to the end of the world.
Void and Frenzy are the wolves. I lack everything. They lead me to parched pastures, to stormy waters, they disturb my soul. They guide me to wrong paths, thorny paths, for my name’s sake.
When I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear every evil, for Frenzy and Void are with me, robbing me of joy and peace.
They are at every point. Death and decay. Rot and annihilation. The eternal fires burning us up even now, every part of our life.
Which is why we need nourishment, renewal, transformation in every part of our life, thorough, not segmented.
We need oxygen to every part, saving us, resurrecting each element of our life anew. New birth in ambition, new birth in relationships, new birth in sense of self, new birth in every part of our life.
What brings this transformation? Salvation in Christ is the new birth. The Spirit works, moves, breathes into, freeing us from the Void and the Frenzy. The community of the Spirit, the Body of Christ, is the fellowship of the newly born, those who are maturing into being a new person, a new people.
Which is why arteries are not enough. They carry the life only so far, to apportioned parts, to cubbyholes, to major segments. But they’re too thick to reach everywhere. If the body only had arteries, there would be blood and maybe life, but decay would always be present, necrosis ever-present.
Frenzy and Void are thorough, ever present, and so too must be the response, the renewal. Arteries and Capillaries. Formal churches and missional movements.