Last week I began reflecting on my spiritual journey in the last four years as a result of realizing that perhaps I may have been unfair to casual observers of my life who do not have the insight into all that I have experienced during this time of deep depression and spiritual reformation. In my blog post, The Way and a brief on my personal spiritual journey, Part I I refer to the concept of the light post:
“Those familiar with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia remember that the first place Lucy comes to in the new world of discovery is a light post, it serves as a marker between the new and the old. As the new is completely unfamiliar, threatening, and disorienting the light post serves as a marker even when they return home. Interestingly enough as the books progress the light post fades and the characters are almost fully engulfed in the new culture, they are changed with little need for the physical light post.”
My goal was to share three, the three most significant that I could recall and an interesting thing happened with that. This week as I prepared my heart and meditated on this post, a flood of light posts have come to mind. In what was certainly a desert time in my life of restoration and healing God did not leave me alone and did not feed me like a prisoner in concentration camp, rather I was like a person in cancer treatment where food does not taste good and any nutrients seem to merely pass through me at the same time I am being nourished.
One other thought I had this week was regarding this idea of lamp posts, in my neighborhood in Baltimore we used to call them streetlights. There were a ton of kids that I used to play with in the neighborhood and we basically ran the streets, yet the rule was when the streetlights came on it was time to head home. This was a universal signed for my brother and I that the day was over and it was time to rest. What is amazing with these streetlights or light posts is that I had no idea that I was being call to head home, as at the time if felt as if my home had been taken from me and I was alone. When you leave a denomination like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) who if there is one thing they do well it is to be “correct”, by implication if you leave those who are “right” you are naturally now a person who is wrong. For someone that has struggle with shame for most of his life this idea of being wrong was not that I could merely be wrong theologically, but rather I was wrong at my core, disobedient, and wayward. All of this was a lie as I know realized that I was being called home.
Lauren Winner spoke roughly one year ago at the Kindlings Winterfest on Orcas Island, the topic was My Spiritual Journey (So Far), Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. If you are interested you can check out the series of lectures on the the Kindlings website. As I had been deep in depression for more than three years, I was very interested in what Lauren had to share. To provide some background for those who do not know Lauren, I will give a heavily commentaried version of what I heard about her experience though she would likely share it much differently. Hopefully my description will be roughly accurate and not misrepresent Lauren at all, if it does I am glad to be corrected. After growing up as a child in a wonderful intellectually and spiritual challenging household, Lauren a practicing Jew converted to Christianity at some point in college. Lauren being the great thinker she is wrote a terribly popular book titled, “Girl Meets God.” This book was hugely successful within the evangelical community and because of the thoughtfulness and dramatic nature of Lauren’s conversion she became a darling. She was living proof that God converts smart people and everyone needed to know about it, for many Lauren’s story may end there as they know it. The next two books did not have the same impact as I understand Girl meets God had, Mudhouse Sabbath and Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Then Lauren went through complete deconstruction of this new faith (both Lauren and I would argue there was nothing “new” and conversion was not an accurate term for her transformation) she had found as her marriage dissolved. It is here that a Mid-Faith Crisis took hold, leading her to give up so much of what she understood as good and end up couch surfing at the home of a priest. Not only did the talk at Kindlings Winterfest come out of this time, but so did a book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. This book according to Christianity Today was called an instant spiritual classic.
I had visited my doctor during my depression for help as I had a period of six months where I was sleeping no more than two hours a night. On one visit I was talking about all the reading that I had been doing on depression and my doctor asked me if I had read anything related to a mid-life crisis. I laughed as a thirty six year old it sure seemed odd that I may be suffering from a mid-life crisis, but I followed my doctors instructions and was surprised. In short I had accomplished man of the goals I had set out to achieve including career, home, children, wife, and even had run a church. All of these things left me feeling short of complete and there was no great shot in the arm that could change the fact that I broken and dissatisfied. Fight Club put it like this:
Lauren Winners told me that there was a wall, this wall is one that God places in your life. The wall appears to be something placed in your life that is holding you back from moving forward and at first it is natural to fight against it, but all the fighting is worthless, all the talk is on deaf ears, and all the struggle is breaking down the life and the person that you have created and ultimately the god that you have created in your image. The fight breaks you and there is a point where you simply wait at the wall. There is no resolution or fix, after three years of depression I heard, this is meaningful and unchanging. Yes, there were the anti-depressants I went on to help me sleep that flat lined me emotionally but allowed me to function at work and at least contribute on some small level as a participant in my family. Though they did not remove the wall, the wall remained and until I heard from Lauren that it was okay I had no peace. Slowly over time the wall becomes not a hindrance but rather a place of stillness, rest, and ultimately comfort. This comfort is a similar for me as running a marathon or ultra, the body may be in pain but the mind is focused and enlightened through the discipline and discomfort. The Wall provided the same for my soul. Yes, reality as you once knew it breaks and you are left as a new person. Knowing that a fellow traveler had walked this path before was all I needed as a lamp post. Lauren Winner did not fix or change anything for me but she held up a light, and as I describe that all I can hear is the song This Little Light of Mine. Again Fight Club:
I still blush at the advice I gave to so many while I was a full time vocational pastor, a young man with great hope and naivety. There were many who I counseled that were going through depth that at the time I could not relate to. Yes, Jesus has suffered in every way you and I have, he has undergone even greater suffering then we can imagine. That is true and in the right moment something to remember. Though I learned that the Wall is so high at times that you may not be able to see the cross, the doubt is so strong that sitting in church makes you feel like a refugee to your core, the walk seems so long and hard that throwing yourself off a bridge seems like the best solution for everyone. The deep gratitude I have for Lauren Winner she cannot know, to journey to the wall is hard and then once again to share her life in public with many who are incapable of understanding the depth of what she has gone through. She is brave and courageous, and a great inspiration to me.