I was born into the church. It has shaped me, my life and my vocational choices. Imprinted early or to use current vernacular—the neuro-pathways of my brain–established a religious view as truth and loyalty. Other people’s faith about God has had a profound effect on me and in many ways shaped both my interests and confusion about the church, belief and all that goes with it. While others were marching in the streets, protesting great injustices within my baby boomer generation, I was attending a small conservative Christian college not because I wanted to, but because my father wanted me to, my sense of loyalty to his wishes I could not quite manage to overcome, because truth be told, I wanted to march with the best of them—march for justice and hope and freedom and opportunity. My sense of self was not my own: I was part of the church and its belief system, part my father’s deep and lasting desire for me to be a “good Christian woman”. Through the years, I’ve realized as do many, that these two halves do not make a whole. Change then is opportunity; though it may be disorienting, and we may even become quite lost for a time. Making simplistic observations about change is unhelpful and not really in keeping with good theological reflection.
Here is my view: change shakes power structures, change rattles the expected roles of influence; change frightens individuals more than we know; change requires a different kind of skill in navigating pathways be they river, ocean, land or sky. Taking cues from the lost art of finding our way, which is the title of a new book by John Edward Huth, on average, lost people are found relatively close to their last known position, even though they may have wandered a considerable distance in a convoluted path to arrive there. He observes that if one constructs a probability map—the last possible position of the person—that probability is the greatest clue to where a disoriented in “woods shock” person can be found. There is a “behavior of lost persons”. This is analogous to redefining the meaning of change in the feeling if not the direct experience of lost in a post-denominational, or whatever post-word you wish to use here. One might even say post-individualist belief systems, which then by definition, allow space for the person, for the resurrection of the authentic person or the real person through new forms of community and belonging. Authority to define lost for religious folks, who claim the right to define has changed, and it leaves institutions disoriented and dare I say it–lost. Huth’s continuing observation is valid once again I think: “We often learn a lot about systems when they fail. The state of being lost is a failure, a breakdown, in the mechanisms of orientation.” So, who is lost, is it the institution or the person or both or maybe this is simply a new way forward yet to be tried. Many lost folks create a loopy path that can often double back on itself. As one person observed, “I’m in the exact same spot I was two hours ago.”
There is a personal and community/national/ cultural and social resonance. Looping back and around—repeating patterns. Neuropsychology research would support this understanding I think. Looping may actually get us somewhere if you think about it. Being lost serves us if we do not panic or settle out of fear for that which takes us nowhere but back to the lost space again and again. This reveals both the complexity and without meaning to be binary—the simplicity revealed in being lost. To be lost can become a possibility which prepares and clears the mind, again if panic and fear do not set in. The advice of rescue personnel is to stop the panic by building a small fire and keeping it burning. Gather what is necessary to keep the fire burning and stay put. This is metaphorical I know—and there are so many complicating factors in the case-by-case real life situations in which people become lost and loopy. I acknowledge that and yet here in the literature about those who set out camping or hiking and become lost is a certain crossover wisdom; a form of contemplative practice if you will. Wendy Farley, in The Wounding and the Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth, speaks to this practice in a way I like, writing that contemplation has a variety of meanings. She explains that the one most explained is a practice in which one seeks unity with God. Farley’s view is to deepen and broaden the purposefulness of practice (much like building a small campfire and staying put to lessen anxiety) by beginning to recognize a “conscious desire to enter more deeply into the divine Eros that flows through all things as delighting, compassionate love, together with processes and practices that nurture that desire.” The connectivity with recurring patterns of “lostness” then is in the practice of calming and clearing a space, lighting a fire. This act is agency allowing in the stillness, in the contemplative moment, opportunity that “shifts can gradually occur in the body, in the emotions and in understandings, beliefs, vocation, and relationships.” And so, I come back to the beginning of this blog: Getting one’s bearings, recognizing that there is a quality of the human condition from birth, which consistently loops back to old patterns, old behaviors, work or community as strangely familiar and comfortable is changed as one (and institutions, too) recognize that to be lost might be a new beginning.
A blessed Advent and Merry Christmas,
Farley, Wendy. The wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth
WJK Press, 2005, 16.
Huth, John Edward. The Lost Art of Finding Our Way, Belknap Press, 2013.