a journey

I finished my PhD program a couple of weeks ago. Passed my oral defense “With Distinction”.

Which gets me to thinking about my journey to this point, the journey since I finished my Master’s degree (M.Div). Some people go straight from one into the other. I didn’t. It curved so much it’s a fair bit of a miracle that I got to this point.

I haven’t arrived at a destination yet. There’s too much unsettled. Questions of livelihood and even home are still to be determined. But, at this point, it seems worthwhile to me to consider the past. To look at what God has done. To affirm faith in the future by remembering what God has done.

In March (or so), of 2003, I ended my participation at NewSong Church in San Dimas. I was leading a young adults ministry. It was an internship at first, one that extended past the degree requirements as I kept doing that which seemed worthwhile, because there was something in me that loved it, even as I was encountering a lot of walls and frustrations. I ran out of gas. Literally. I couldn’t make the drive from Pasadena to San Dimas (about 20 miles) anymore and I wasn’t worth enough to be given any help. I was a volunteer. I needed another job, one that paid. I couldn’t find one in my field. Though, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in that field anymore. That work at NewSong had also, in may ways, caused significant frustration with the church. Or rather, the Church – – the politics not the people. I was done. But my degree was in ministry. My training. Where was I to go? Who was I to be?

I looked at joining the military. Not becoming a chaplain, something more adventurous. I wanted to jump out of a plane. You don’t get to do that in seminary. I was tired of life as it was and wanted change, challenge, physicalized expression. I couldn’t find wisdom on what to do (so I thought), thus I told God if he wanted me elsewhere he had to stop me. Went to sign-up. They said I had high blood pressure (I hadn’t had high blood pressure ever before). A week later, I tore my ACL in my left knee playing basketball. That was that. They didn’t want me anymore.

God told me he wanted me elsewhere. But where?

Lurking depression raged. I couldn’t find a job in my field, and I was fairly certain I didn’t want a job in that field. What to do? Get a job that paid the bills. That’s not a bad plan. Raging depression raged, tearing apart my insides, my motivation, my hopes.

I couldn’t live to just pay the bills. There was something more to life.

There had to be something more, something that would explain the path God took me on from 1993 to 2003, which contained wonderful opportunities mixed with God’s heavy hand of shaping and guiding, putting up walls in every direction, shutting doors for me that were opened to others. Enlightening me to the glory of God’s identity, squelching my ability to celebrate this in community, or with myself, or with God. It was a dark night of the soul.

Dark nights, one hopes, make for bright mornings.

In 2003, darkness still sought to consume me. Now Patrick was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The waters were not still, they were a tempest.

There was a crossroads. Stay in Pasadena. Get a job. Try to keep up with other people who were trying to keep up. Try to be rational and responsible. I tried that for a little while.

I was on a date when I realized I had hit another wall. She was nice, but the evening was horrible, horrible in an entirely polite way. Boring. It wasn’t her (well maybe a little bit of it was). It was me, mostly. I was bored with who I was on that date. I was utterly bored with myself, with my prospects, with my setting. I was broke, faced with working in order to fund my boring reality to keep up with others who were entirely boring to me. Everyone was playing a game, a game to seem more interesting, to seem adventurous, to eat fine meals and be at fine places.

Beneath the surface, there was emptiness, boringness. Everyone was anonymous. So was I.

Depression split the sinews of my soul.

I began to write. Between applying for jobs I hated the prospect of getting. A degree in ministry really isn’t all that helpful to other vocations. Sales jobs were available. I did a sales job before. Despised it. Despised myself in it. I couldn’t do sales again. I wanted life to matter. I wanted to find light. To offer something of worth. I wanted to live, not just exist. I wrote of those things. I wrote stories.

Those stories were not about me, but they were. They tapped into hidden or disguised longings. The process of writing was the only effective anti-depressant. I felt possible after I wrote. I felt alive. For a moment, a flash, until the seeping depression reminded me of all my failings and frustrations.

A road was before me. Rent was due. I had missed rent the month before. I had a gracious roommate, but could not make him bear the burden of my confusion. Get a job that I hated but paid rent. Or… or…

I turned 29 in October of 2003. I left Pasadena. I moved in with my parents. They lived in the mountains, in a forest. My mom was sick and could use some help. So, there was some other practical reasons.

There were also very impractical reasons. I wanted to write. To find what was right. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Near the end of October, the forest caught fire.

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