Archive for May, 2009

Hitting the Wall

Talk for any length of time to any serious long-distance runner and the conversation will eventually turn to a discussion of the Wall. Usually experienced at about mile 20 of the 26.2 miles of a marathon, the Wall is the place where mental and physical exhaustion threatens to end the race for many runners. Legs turn to rubber, breath comes in gasps and the brain begins to scream at the runner to give up this crazy endeavor. 

Though not a serious long-distance runner  – 3 miles is a great start to most days – I have experienced the Wall in my faith journey. I know others who have as well. Sometimes the Wall appears through a crisis that turns our world inside out. Other times it comes from a disillusioning church experience, shattered dream or a sense being lost in the spiritual desert. In my case, the Wall caused me to question myself, my calling, my faith and eventually God. I could utter platitudes like “God is in control” and “God works all things for good.” I could sing about victory in Jesus but the truth was that I had hit the Wall. 

St. John of the Cross referred to the spiritual dynamic of hitting the Wall as “the dark night of the soul.” In his classic book of the same name written over 500 years ago, St. John described our spiritual journey as going through three stages: beginners, progressive and perfect. To move out of the beginner stage requires that we receive God’s gift of the dark night or the Wall. He described this as the “ordinary way” we grow and move along our spiritual journey. 

Experiencing the dark night or hitting the Wall is often characterized by feelings that God’s presence has evaporated. We sense our prayers are falling on deaf ears. A sense of failure, helplessness and barrenness fill our souls. Even the spiritual disciplines that have served us so well up to this time become simply hollow rituals. 

God’s desire is not for us to remain in the dark night. His purpose is always that we might delight in Him and know true peace and rest. His yearning is for us to move past the Wall into a more intimate, passionate love relationship with Him. That’s why St. John of the Cross could write that God sends us the “dark night of loving fire” to free us from the spiritual imperfections that impede our journey toward Christ-likeness.


Meaning in Activity

Our weekly Worship Gathering had to be postponed this week. This was the first cancellation of a Gathering in my personal ministry career. If ever there was a good time for something like this to happen, it was now. We’ve been on a journey of discovery as a faith community. One of those discoveries is that all action, even routine action, has a sacred dimension. The sacred is not limited to small group gatherings or the big Sunday event. The Kingdom of God – the sacred – is all around us and in us. Transformation begins when we reconnect to the sacred and allow that connection to spur us outward to the community around us. How do we make this happen?

Author and Pastor Alan Jones suggests that we have to learn to be in two places at once: grounded on the earth as members of the human race and defined by our destination in heaven, living into an identity that is open and formed by God. I love that concept. Being in these two places at the same time gives us the opportunity to be both aware and responsive to the sacred dimensions around us.  The key is allowing each to inform the other. This kind of awareness requires intentional effort if it’s to be infused into our daily lives.

I’ve been in this process of intentional infusion for the better part of a year. The concept itself is not difficult to comprehend. Putting it into practice is another story. Intentional practice of awareness requires both focused energy and a relaxed vigilance while constantly removing any obstacles that keep me from seeing with the eyes of my heart. 

Do you want to begin cultivating this kind of awareness? Consider choosing an ordinary task – any task that you like from doing the dishes to mowing the yard – and keep your awareness attuned to God as you do it. You may be amazed at how the sacred springs from the ordinary!