July 23, 2008

…So there I was, nursing a Sam Adams at the Chili’s at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, waiting for my flight to Phoenix. It was only mid-morning, but I had been up since 3 AM so I could catch my 6 AM flight out of Boston so it felt like past noon – it’s five o’ clock somewhere, right? Even though the bar was noisy, filled with a bunch of corporate big-wigs excitedly anticipating some Vegas convention they were all heading to, my thoughts were focused on the past week and my visit back east – a rather hectic one filled with hurrying and scurrying around, chasing after wireless connectivity for my parents’ PC in their new apartment and my own stray golf balls on the Cape. Neither of which, upon reflection, I seemed to have performed with a fair amount of charity and good humor.

What bothered me was the fact that, having committing myself to a return to a more disciplined prayer life, I couldn’t remain spiritually focused when not doing spiritual things. Or, at least turning what might have appeared (at least on the surface) to be non-spiritual things into spiritual things for the glory of God. After all, what good is a spiritual life if it is lived under a bushel basket, and not on a lamp post for others to see? It’s easy to be quiet and contemplative in one’s daily offices, quite another when one is out there in the crazy world we live in these days.

And when I got right down to it, what I realized was bothering me was my own inner frustration at attempting to live a life completely out of balance between the spiritual, social, and professional lives I was somehow trying to reconcile between themselves – working 12 hour days, trying to leave time for Tracey and the rabbits, my blogging, a bit of Red Sox or the Fox Business Channel, and, on the weekends, working in church, housework, some surf music listening, and various errands. All the while trying to turn each of these into some kind of Brother Lawrence / practicing the prayer of God kind of thing. And my frustration at the vast difference between where I long to be, and how I long to live spiritually, and where I actually am. Were I more mature spiritually this kind of thing wouldn’t manifest itself in frustration, but rather a kind of inner joy. But I’m not, so I guess it does. Frustration within leads to frustration without.

I was thinking about these things while flipping through Henri Nouwen’s wonderful book “The Road To Daybreak”, his journal of a year’s time spent between leaving a faculty position at Harvard Divinity School and taking a position as a priest-in-residence at Daybreak, a L’Arche community for mentally handicapped people in Toronto, when I came upon a particular entry in his diary. And I realized this was not just one of many poignant and deeply personal entries contained in that book, but a mirror image of myself staring back at me. Contemplating the Gospel lesson of that day, Nouwen had written:

“…The rich young man loved Jesus but couldn’t give up his wealth to follow him. Nicodemus admired Jesus but was afraid to lose the respect of his own colleagues. I am becoming more and more aware of the importance of looking at these fearful sympathizers because that is the group I find myself mostly gravitating toward.

I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when those plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God.

So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues, and expressed his guilt by bringing to the grave more myrrh and aloes than needed or required.” — The Road To Daybreak, pp. 147-8

“So I am like Nicodemus…”. Boy, not only did Nouwen have himself pegged at that point in his life, but at me in mine. Heck, I could have written virtually the same damned thing. Nouwen was writing out of the frustration that arises from the tension existing between God calling you to a specific place (figuratively speaking) in your life, and your resistance to that calling. Perhaps in my case there’s a little bit of self-preservation going on there – after all, I once thought God was calling me to the priesthood but I didn’t handle that calling very well. And now, not knowing exactly what that particular calling might be, I want God to show me His cards before I’m willing to lay down my own. But that’s not the way the way of the Cross works, and certainly not the way God reveals Himself to undisciplined, impatient, and spiritually immature clowns like me.

So this is yet another challenge, another self-awareness kind of test God is laying before my feet. Another fork in the road where I am being asked to choose a direction – one that involves greater faith and trust in God, or one that doesn’t. The stakes couldn’t be higher. As Nouwen asked in closing out his entry that day:

“Can I stay a Pharisee and follow Jesus too? Doesn’t that condemn me to bringing costly spices to the grave when it is too late?”

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 18:14 | Comments Off on Goodboy Nicodemus
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