Tuesday, January 20, 2015

At the Crossroads

"Had St. Paul been convinced that he was nothing more than a wandering weaver of carpets, he certainly would not have been the man he was.  His real and meaningful life lay in the inner certainty that he was the messenger of the Lord.  ... It was not the man Jesus who created the myth of the god-man.  It existed for many centuries before his birth.  He himself was seized by this symbolic idea, which, as St. Mark tells us, lifted him out of the narrow life of the Nazarene carpenter."  -- Carl G. Jung*

I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.  I've noticed recently that when people ask me what I do for a living, I have a hard time answering in a way that feels authentic.  On forms I write "home-maker," even though it just doesn't quite fit.  My mom was a home-maker, and she was great at it, but all the things she did wonderfully well are just not my biggest priority.  Sometimes I say, "I used to be a mathematics teacher;" or  "I volunteer at my church a lot."  But neither of these sits well, either, especially these days.  Sometimes I laugh and say that I officially have a job as a substitute teacher with the community college's adult education program, but have worked only one day a year for the last two years -- last year I made $64, almost twice what I made the year before!  The other day I said, "I used to volunteer a lot, but now I'm just a stay-at-home mom, shuttling my three boys from place to place."  Afterward, I had such a sour taste in my mouth that I had to stop and think.  Why don't I say with pride, "I take care of my family"?  Why don't I tell people I write a blog about faith, or that I'm writing a book about faith?  Why do I never say that I participate in several life-enhancing faith discussion groups at church? 

Why is it so hard to talk to people I don't know about what is really important to me in a way that acknowledges its importance? 

I'm going to have to figure this out, because lately I've been feeling compelled to do just that:  to talk about faith in conjunction with life, in my community -- beyond my church, my family and friends.  To actually talk about faith with people I don't know, in person, and not just write about it.

Is God really calling me to do this???  To facilitate a faith discussion group with perfect strangers even though I have no degree in theology, no seminary training whatsoever, and am not even certified to be a spiritual director yet?  Not to mention all my failures to draw a crowd in faith formation classes at church, or my inability to connect with some of the youth in our church youth group, let alone my inability to pass along my faith to my closest family members.  What am I thinking?

I've been reading Jung's "Man and His Symbols," in an effort to understand his theory of unconscious archetypes better, and I came across the quote above about the power of myths to give meaning to our lives.  It certainly resonated, at least in part, with my own recent reflections.  But, although Jung believed in a supernatural presence in the world, it doesn't seem as if he believed this supernatural presence actively compelled people to do things they wouldn't normally do.  It almost seems, from the quote above and others I could copy, that he believed Paul and Jesus were inspired by the vision of being a "god-man," like some people are inspired by King Arthur legends to re-ennact jousting tournaments.

Granted, I've occasionally thought of doing something like this over the past few years.  I'd like to help people who are curious about, or want to feel closer to, God, but don't feel connected to a faith community.  And, I have wanted for a long time to be part of a more eclectic faith discussion group than can be offered at my church.  However, I doubt that I would ever actually move beyond thinking about it, if I didn't feel increasingly compelled to do so by God.

In recent months, I have come to appreciate even more the faith study groups to which I belong.  They are my church within the church.  For in them I am able to hear God's guidance just as well as in a pastor's sermon.   And in my school for spiritual directors, I've been able to compare one-on-one spiritual direction to group spiritual direction, and refine why I prefer study groups, in particular.  While there is always the possibility of someone getting in the way of God in "direct" spiritual direction, where someone listens to your specific concerns and tries to help guide you forward, there is less likelihood of that happening in "indirect" spiritual direction, where you just happen to hear or see something that connects to your concerns as you discuss something else. That kind of synchronicity is how I recognize God's guidance.

It's that kind of synchronicity that compels me now.  For example, a month ago I was thinking to myself,  "Where should I do this?  The new coffee shop that just opened up, with a small room in the back, or the library?" Almost immediately, a woman in my study group at church talked about the Hebrew people being at a crossroads when Jesus came.  Her comment seemed to come from nowhere in our discussion of "Anam Cara," the book of Celtic spirituality, but it resonated with me because the name of the coffee shop I was considering is called Crossroads.

When I started to second guess myself, wanting to know if it will work well or not before I try it, I read about how Brussels lace is always made in the dark with only a small window for light to see the patterns, and this summary: "If you are in the deep shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid.  Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting." (Streams in the Desert, Dec. 13) and in another devotional on the same day I read, "Begin at once; before you venture away from this quiet moment, ask your King to take you wholly into His service... Never mind about tomorrow, one day at a time is enough..." (Daily Strength for Daily Needs, Dec. 13).  And later that day,  I saw a license plate that read, LETSTRY.  It seemed as if God was saying, "Let's give it a try and see what happens, both of us together."  It made me smile. 

When I felt that my past failures prevented any future attempts at faith formation, I read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and how their perceived failure (they were thrown in the fire, after all) became a victory.  And I had to acknowledge that I've learned a lot from my failures.  I could go on.  Each time I have asked a question, or expressed a concern, I have been given an answer, or encouragement, in a surprising way.  There is very little doubt in my mind that God is wanting me to do this.

So, do I see myself as a god-man, or in my case, a god-woman, as Jung claims?  I don't know. 

I had a dream the other night in which my pastor asked me if I thought I was like Jesus.  No, I said, not like Jesus, but I do think God wants me to listen to him, like Jesus listened to him.  From this dream, and from what I understand of Jungian psychology, either my unconscious was offering up to my conscious an awareness of this god-man archetype to balance out my inferiority complex, or my inferiority complex was balancing out my god-man tendencies! Either way, it's a balancing dream, like most archetypal dreams.

Personally, I'm not sure that Jesus saw himself as a "god-man," a divine being in a human body, as Jung explains.  Unlike Jung, I think Jesus was just listening to God, and following God's will to the best of his ability, because to do otherwise was not possible for him.  In terms of the Incarnation, it makes more sense to me that Jesus was flesh made into Word, that he became the Word of God over time, rather than that he was the Word made flesh, that God was born into him from the beginning.

In a book I began re-reading yesterday, Henri Nouwen's "Life of the Beloved," to prepare for an discussion this Wednesday evening, I found an affirmation of that idea and many others.  In this wonderful little book, Nouwen writes that we need to beware of our tendency toward self-rejection, and instead claim our belovedness.  "...we will not rest until we can rest in that truth.  From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. ...Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.... Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do.  It entails a long and painful process of appropriation or, better, incarnation."  (pg. 43-45).  According to Nouwen, we are the Beloved and we are forever becoming the Beloved, on whom God's favor rests.

So, at this new crossroad, maybe it's about time I truly acknowledge that I am God's Beloved.  And maybe it's time I meet other people at The Crossroads.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


* from "Man and His Symbols," by Carl G. Jung (Doubleday ed., pg. 89)

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