A Delight-Filled Day…

This past Sunday, I spent the day with my son. I began school this past week and have been hard at work trying to get my life together, purchasing the tools I will need for the next three years of classes, ordering the books, trying to find a vehicle to save time cycling to and from work, and beginning my first tentative academic responses to the mission laid out for me by each class. I rented a car for the weekend in order to save time and aid in my search for a pick-up to buy. So, Sunday I decided to go downtown and hang out with Baird. Originally, I thought I would go to church where I usually do, and pick him up for a late lunch. Instead, I asked Baird if he wanted to go to Jacob’s Well in mid-town KC. JW is a cool church. I love the vibe of the music, which has an alternative feel. I also loved the speaking of JW’s founding pastor, Tim Keel. Tim has since followed God’s call on his heart to New Zealand… I kinda wish God would call ME to New Zealand… JW has been searching for a new “teaching” pastor for a year, and is in the final stages of deciding on which person to extend an invitation to. Before the divorce, we attended JW, and it holds a unique place in my heart.

So I called Baird and asked if he would like to go to church with me, eat lunch at Gates Barbeque… Best bbq in Kansas City and therefore the WORLD!…  and then hang out at Broadway Café in Westport. Baird loved the idea… especially Gates… and we decided that I would pick him up at 10:15, to make it to JW by the 11:00 service.

I was looking FORWARD to Sunday!

Before classes started, I began reading a book titled: “Sabbath” by Dan Allender. It is another book in The Ancient Practices Series published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. I only read into the first chapter, and had to lay it aside once school started. However, the introduction and first chapter made a distinct impact on my understanding of Sabbath. The faith tradition in which I grew up aligned the concept of Sabbath with going to church on Sunday: Sunday School at 9:30, Church at 10:45, and then church AGAIN at 6pm that evening. They also defined Sabbath more by what you WEREN’T supposed to do, rather than what you WERE supposed to do. For instance: Don’t work, don’t eat out, don’t watch TV, blah, blah, blah… Therefore, I have always had a low level of guilt which accompanies each Sunday. Thankfully, I am breaking out of that dysfunction. Looking back at my past and most recent experiences in church, I find that there are two ends of an emotional spectrum to which the Church has difficulty expressing, or giving room for expression corporately: Joy/fun and Grief/sadness. The concept of Sabbath, as defined by Allender fits into the Joy end of the spectrum. Allender defines the experience of Sabbath as, “a day of delight that delivers us to joy.” In fact, the manner in which Allender describes Sabbath sounds more like a party than a somber day spent mining the depths of the ontology of God. Instead, it sounds like God walking through the expanse of his creation with a smile on his face as he encounters the beauty there, followed by a deeply significant word… “That’s just VERY COOL!”

 Another aspect of Sabbath which Allender suggests is experiencing “the holy”:

“The holy is not located in one designated and agreed-upon space, such as a church, a monastery, or a stunning vista that captures a breathtaking view of a mountain range. The holy comes in a moment when we are captured by beauty, and a dance of delight swirls us beyond the moment to taste the expanse of eternity in, around, and before us.

The holy usually comes in unexpected, utterly surprising moments where the gift of goodness opens our heart to wonder and gratitude. It may come as we are traversing a familiar ski run and the play of light and shadow creates a stage of grandeur; or in awakening in your new home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after six months of language study and realizing that for the first time you dreamed in the native language. These moments of delicious surprise are pregnant with delight.

Delight doesn’t require a journey thousands of miles away to taste the presence of God, but it does require a seperation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives.” pg. 3-4

These thoughts were in the back of my mind as I gained speed on the entrance to I35 heading north into the heart of Kansas City. As I drove, I listened to a cd I had recorded with some of my favorite artists. I was listening to Santana when a guilt-producing thought came into my mind: “It’s Sunday, you really SHOULD be listening to Chriiiiiiiistian music!” Old habits rarely die easily, and guilt is firmly entrenched in the crevices of my brain. Suddenly, from the recesses of my mind, came a thought:

“You are driving with the windows down, the wind blowing through your hair, listening to music that you love…. Isn’t that delightful? Allow yourself to enjoy the blessings of the experience and this beautiful day. THAT IS SABBATH!”

I took this new thought to be the voice of God to me. And I think he said in a slightly quieter voice, as if under his breath: “…besides, I like Santana too!”

Although I could be mistaken on the last part…

I was then able to become fully present in the beautiful moments of that day:

The light coming through the old stained glass windows of Jacob’s Well…

The music…

Being in church with my son…

The children dancing in the aisles to the music…

The incomperable briscuit at Gates which is always served piled between two pieces of plain white bread…

The bread sticking to the roof of my mouth…

The Cafe Mocha with the beautiful foam artwork on the top from Broadway Cafe’…

The wonderful conversation with my son that always begins, meanders from subject to subject, and never seems to end until it must end, with each of us knowing we will pick it up again… later…

Joy!

Delight! 

Simple things which were certainly, “… a seperation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives.”

Sabbath…

Deep Survival…

Last Wednesday evening, I went to a meet-n-greet  at a church I’ve begun to attend.  We gather every Wednesday for three weeks to meet other new people, some regular attenders, and members of the church staff. We met in a coffee shop in the church and sat at round tables seating 6 people per table. I was at a table with a couple in their thirties with kids, who were new to the church. The other couple at the table were older than I, but not much. They had been attending for a year or so, but were fairly new to the Kansas City area. They originally lived in Hayes, Kansas and had for their whole lives, so were suffering suburban culture shock.

 One of the ice-breakers they used was to have each table plan a trip. We had to decide our destination, how we would get there, and what route we would take. The group I was in decided we would go to the mountains of Southern California by way of Washington state. We decided to travel by RV with tents so those who wanted comfort were happy and those liking it a little rougher were also satisfied. We decided to take turns driving, and once we got to Seattle, we would travel down the Pacific coast. We did say our destination was Big Bear, California… I don’t really know where that is, but I figured I could find it with a map. We decided to take our time and not stop for every largest-ball-of-rolled-up-string, yet stop where we could take time photographing the beauty of nature, because there were other photography hobbiests in the group. The fantasy was fun. After a few minutes, the pastor leading the activity introduced the point behind our fantasy trip. He introduced 4 categories within which he suggested people fell into when it came to faith in Christ. Our next task as a table, was to identify which group we each were in……

The people were all nice, the atmosphere light and friendly, the deserts good… a relaxed vibe….. But….

If I were someone with no church background and apprehensive with meeting christians in a foreign environment… I don’t think I would feel comfortable with such immediate forced intimacy, let alone have no life experiences to be able to answer the question, so I would sit there feeling very awkward.

Secondly, I have a distinct problem with trying to divide my spiritual journey into categories. Do we really ever know what category we are in? I much prefer the metaphor of relationship when referring to matters of faith or that of a journey. Yet even those metaphors only give a dim presentation of a life of faith.  So, I understood what they were trying to get us to do: quantify where we were on that day in our journey of faith, and then to define a destination. And that’s a good practice.

During discussion about what category we each fell in, I refused to follow the rules of defining my relationship with God according to a category. I started to talk about a relational journey. The older guy at my table started to interact with me about the journey metaphor and where he was in life. He was now living in an area very foreign to him, and was trying to adapt. I also got the distinct impression that he, too, was going through the re-evaluation that is common at mid-life. I mentioned that sometimes when our destination is Seattle, Washington and we think we are in Helena, Montana, we suddenly find that we are actually in Lincoln, Nebraska. Sometimes we think we are much further down the road in life than we actually are. I said that I believed when we hit our 40’s, one of things that happens is that we actually start to look around to see where we are. Life has begun to slow down a little. The kids are older, and more self-sufficient. We have been in the grinder of work and financial pressure for long enough to become wiser about what is really valuable, and what only appears valuable. So we stop to evaluate where we are…. Are we happy? Are we living according to our giftedness? What have we valued in our lives previously and do the values have long term worth? What about our relationships?

Tim Keel, a wonderful christian communicator and former pastor of Jacob’s Well in KC, introduced me to a book I am going to buy: Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. The book relates the process of getting lost in the wilderness, and how people respond. The other day, I found it in Border’s and began to thumb through it. A great read.  Although I haven’t  gone into the depth of the book, yet, some things jumped out to me about what happens to a person in the process of getting lost.  One concept which is very basic to life and also to someone going into the wilderness is a mental map. We each make a mental map: “a schematic of an area or a route” which guides us in our daily lives. As we travel a route more frequently, our mental map is laid down  in the hippocampus region of the brain repeatedly and we are able to retrieve the map with greater ease. Actually, if the hippocampus region is injured, in particular a specific region of the hippocampus, our ability to form a mental map is compromised, and we will always lose our way. The problem with a person getting lost is that the mental map they have formed doesn’t fit the actual map. This can happen for a variety of reasons: taking a wrong trail, not sure of the destination, not certain of the route, etc. So they think they are going in the right direction, but aren’t. They begin “map bending,” trying to make the location they are actually in fit their mental map. As they try to make the two fit, they frequently begin travelling more quickly, thinking, “…it’s just over this next hill…” yet it isn’t and anxiety begins to affect their decisions.  The best way to regain congruence between the mental map and real map is to retrace their steps to a location they are sure of.

In explaining the process of getting lost, Gonzales shares the story of a particular hiker: Killip.

“Psychologists who study the behavior of people who get lost report that very few ever back track. (The eyes look forward into real or imagined worlds.) In Killip’s case, there were other factors, too. He’s walked all day, exhausted, dehydrated, cold, and wet, probably now feeling like a fool in York’s (a friend who left him because he was moving too slow) eyes. He’d come a very long way, and his gut told him that it would be a long and painful way back, which would not lead back to water. Rock Lake (and rest and water) had to be close at hand. If he’d been able to reason more clearly, he could have understood that he was not on the route to Rock Lake. But logic was rapidly being pushed into the background by emotion and stress. So, by the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, he was about to cross over from mild geographical confusion to a state of being genuinely lost.”

My personal story is that, at the age of 45, I believed I was in one place, i.e. Helena, Montana, but was actually in Topeka, Kansas when I was trying to find Seattle, Washington. I was married, with one child about to finish high school and the other about to begin high school. I had a good job and a hope of getting more involved in ministry according to the way God designed me. But that was my mental map… that’s not where I actually was. The landscape of my world completely changed in the space of a couple of months, yet I tried to deal with it according to my mental map. I was in denial and continued to live as if the old reality was still in place. I kept putting one foot in front of the other for 2 years, until it became obvious that I was lost in a place I had no understanding of.  So I have begun the process of going back in order to go forward. I have returned to being single, although we won’t actually file for divorce until the first day of next month, I am single in every way except the legal paperwork. I am one year of high school away from being an empty nester. Thankfully, I have a good relationship with my kids and love being together with them. My major purpose has been to back track to find who God made me to be. I am finding that, although I admit that I still struggle with finding my identity and worth from the opinions of  others, or at least my perceptions of those opinions, my mental map and reality are closer. I am getting healthier. Times of solitude, although forced upon me, are allowing me to talk to God, the map maker.

I have stopped, regained my bearings by back tracking, and am close to going forward.