In the Present Tense

July 23, 2010

Stage V the Outward Journey

Filed under: Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 10:33 pm

At the completion of the Inward Journey, one feels a renewed sense of purpose, of identity.  Having survived the dark night of the soul, one feels newly energized. And with all this comes a feeling of responsibility, a sort of “survivor’s guilt.” Not really guilt, but a sense of obligation, like the apostle Paul describes himself, “a debtor.” We want to help others facing the dark night.

But the dark night has taught us that growth is not necessarily welcomed by all. Some will not want what we have to offer. Some will not be ready to receive it. Still others may not understand it. So the Outward Journey begins.

We begin to reach out, but carefully. An old proverb says “Knowledge is proud it knows so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows so little.” The new knowledge gained in the dark night has given us wisdom, has humbled us. Even though we know we have valuable answers, we also realize that not everybody is asking the questions to which we have found answers. And even some asking do not want the answers we have, true or not.

And that makes up much of the Outward Journey. Seeking those whom we can help, those we might help, those who will allow us to help. Finding out how and when our help will help.

Finding others who have made the Inward Journey and begun the Outward Journey can help. Those who have never experienced the Dark Night will not understand us, and it will be difficult for us to help them.

Just as everyone’s Inward Journey is at once typical and unique, so will be the Outward Journey. So we can learn from others who have gone or are going through the experience, but we cannot simply copy them.  That’s good and bad news.  We can benefit from the experience of others, but we must find our own way.  God does not repeat Himself, nor make any of us mere duplicates.  So the Outward Journey will be a continuing journey of discovery, as we explore ways to share our authentic selves with others seeking their own authenticity.

It will be, as John Ciardi once described writing poetry, “Not easy, but joyfully difficult.”

July 8, 2010

The Inward Journey

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 3:18 am

Resuming the stages of faith and leadership.

The “Dark night of the soul” provokes The Inward Journey. The questions of the dark night lead us to wonder about our purpose in life, about our identity. These questions are about our inmost selves.

I have seen several ministers who came up to the dark night and simply shied away. It’s too frightening. In phase II, Discipleship, we learned a the rules, al the disciplines, all the right things to do. In phase III, Success, everything worked. Now, in phase IV, we discover that the disciplines and rules don’t actually work. They seemed to in level III, but that was a shallow III. Now we must look beneath the rules, beneath the disciplines, beneath the doctrines and proof texts. This is a crisis of existence, an existential crisis. And that’s what makes it so frightening.

There is no way out except through. It feels like a long, winding tunnel. And long before we find the light at the far end of this existential tunnel, we have to leave the light of certainty and proof behind. Thus, this is also a journey of faith, not sight. For we lose sight of the light behind, and must feel our way forward. Only then does the light ahead become visible.

And this new light is a light from within. Not that we become our own light, but that the light God has put within us becomes visible to us.  And the reward for letting go of the light behind, of the certainty and proof of the early stages, is that we gradually are able to reclaim them, and make them our own.

If we are willing, we can emerge from the dark night of the soul and the resultant inward journey with a new confidence, a new and deeper sense of identity. We hear all the same texts, the same explanations, but now we see new and deeper meaning in them. That’s because we have more meaning in ourselves.

Accept, even embrace the dark night, and we emerge with a depth of understanding, a new sense of identity, a greater confidence in God’s design and purpose. Reject the dark night, out of fear or discomfort, and we reject the opportunity for growth.

The psalmist says that God “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” I have seen such people. Stunted in their Christian growth, with a broad but shallow ministry. And the tragedy is . . . they almost never realize their loss. They literally don’t know what they’re missing. And they often look on those who are going or have gone through the dark night as either foolish or lacking in faith.

If you are facing a dark night of the soul, be of good courage. Like Elijah in the cave, running for his life, you will discover that after the whirlwind, after the firestorm, after the earthquake– God is there, in the silence. And you will hear His voice.

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