Romans 12 tells us that we are not to be conformed by the ways of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Over the last year, I have been engaged with group Spirituality and Practice established by Mary Ann and Frederic Brussat. We have been studying their Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. As we come to the close our our year, we have been asked to complete a final project that captures how we have applied an alphabet practice and how it changes how we see the world.
In college, when I was very young into my faith and actively seeking a calling to the ministry, I became enamored with the Romans 12 quote noted above. At one point, when involved in Campus Ministry, I led a talk on Romans 12 that essentially looked at the life- long journey one takes to become transformed by the renewing of our minds.
For this final project, I want to reflect on three practices this year that have brought me much reflection on the last 25 years since that retreat in college.
The last 25 years have been about questing, following a vision and standing in awe of the wonder of it all.
The Brussat’s note that “questers venture into the unkown, confront difficulties and dangers and return home with new understandings of themselves and of the world”.
Questing. Native peoples around the world use questing as a right of passage into adulthood and other times of transition. In the America’s. young children as early as 7 or 8 are taken into the wilderness by an elder for a night apart, later, this evolves into a vision quest and sweat lodges. My questing started when I was 17 and recieved my first call to the ministry. I believe my first quest was surviving Army Basic training and in my school to become a medic, I was given the opportunity to go on a retreat by the chaplain of our unit and again, I recieved a call to ministry. Approaching the chaplain, he would pray for me and told me to contact my priest when I got home, which I did. My home priest set me up with the diocesan formation director and I began a formation process that lasted two years. During this time, I was challenged to look at what kind of priest I wanted to be.
I thought I had it all figured out when at 20, I met a pretty red head who fed me tacos. We would fall in love, graduate together and get married. I would reestablish my ministerial pursuits in The United Methodist Church, but would again abandon them as I desired to be a social worker instead. God had other plans, I would end up at Methodist Theological School in 2001 and serve my first chruch the weekend after 9/11. The old saying goes that seminary will ruin your faith, it did. At 25, I became a dad; and I would poke at itinerate preaching for 5 more years and at 30, my career recieved a terminal diagnosis; at 40, I had found a new career and had started over, by 41, the terminal diagnosis of my ministry career had brought in hospice and by 42, the last chapter of my career in the church closed.
Questing has been a process of discovery and at 45, I realize that there is so much to go as I watch my now 20 year old daughter experience the struggles I faced when I was in college. Brussat’s line, “Questing also serves as an antidote to the rigidity of certitude thinking that you already know it all” speaks volumes to me at this middle age. As a student of Buddhist and contemplative thought since those early days of my ministerial call all I have learned thus far is that I have a lot more to learn.
Vision. The practice of vision as I would learn this year and the striving to be “transformed by the renwewing of my mind” led me forward. Humanity has often found time to go out to the wilderness and connect with the spirit or the divine and to seek out answers to problems in this lifetime. The vision quest offers ontological and existensial answers to life’s mysteries. Over years of seeking, I have grown in maturity, understanding my responsibility to myself and others and my environment. As I have matured, I have found that I have outgrown the faith of my youth, alienating me from the religious institutions that I once sought to serve. Statistically, my age does not fit in the “none” category, but I feel I identify with this crowd.
My vision has changed over the years and at 45, where once I wanted to save the world for Jesus, now I want to save the world from the church; from the toxic theologies; toxic parenting practices and overall loss of love and respect that each person inherently has onboard as a human. A practice that I began several years ago was offering a blessing to all I leave or depart from. The cashier at the grocery store, “Have a blessed day”, my client walking out the door, “Have a blessed day”. Inspired by Merton’s Fourth and Walnut mystical experience, I have cultivated the vision of seeing myself inseperable, “that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers”. This has been a long journey from my evangelical days when I “judged” people by who was saved and not saved.
Transformation and Wonder
I don’t really know how I got here.I have been with that pretty girl 25 years now. We have 4 teenage and adult daughters, I am “little more older and a lot less bolder than I used to be”. Humble pie has been in my diet quite a bit and it has been, well, humbling.
And yet, here I am. According to the Brussat’s, wonder “arises from our natural curiosity about the grand adventure of life”.Vision arises then when we allow this curiosity show us “fresh insights”. The Brussat’s offer the word accept in their description of vision and this has become for me the driving awareness to make the quest bearable. There is an “isness” the journey. There are the fun times and then there are the dark moments that cloud all vision and makes one think that all hope is lost. It is vision that challenges us to see the Divine in all things and in all people. The Calypso poet Jimmy Buffett also tells us that wrinkles only go where the smiles have been.
I stand in awe of this grand experiment, wondering where it will take me next. My grandpa taught me to smile, to laugh. I am reminded of Thich Nhat Hahn who reminds us that “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion”.
As of this writing, I have not returned home, I hope that I have at least another 35 more years before that time. The stories that I can tell from this journey thus far are amusing, hearbreaking and inspiring. I look forward to the stories I will collect in the next 35 years.