Study Leave and the Need to be Steady
The leadership of the church where I've been a pastor for the past 13+ years has graciously granted me a study leave this summer, which means that, while I'll continue to preach on Sundays this summer, most weeks I'll be relieved of administrative and pastoral responsibilities, free to focus on study, prayer, long range planning, vision casting for the future of our church, and the development of one or two book proposals. I'm trying to keep a journal throughout this time, and will occasionally be posting an entry from my journal. Today I offer my entry from yesterday's journal, and as always, I welcome your comments.
June 17 – Tuesday
Spent most of the morning finishing up the reading of Narcissus and Goldmund. The book (about two men whose different paths embody the fruits of choosing either duty or indulgence), which I’ve now read twice, became more powerful to me this time for two reasons. First, I’m vitally aware of my own struggle between the flesh and the spirit, between the mind and the body, between the constraints of righteous living, and the excitement inherent in indulgence and autonomy. The pull of the latter is sometimes powerful for me (don't be surprised - the flesh and the spirit battle is real for everyone, as seen in Galatians 5), and has been all the more powerful in recent months, perhaps because I find myself increasingly drawn into what at times feels like a highly structured and institutionalized lifestyle, a lifestyle I’ve actively resisted most of my life. I often want to break free, not from my marriage and family (see monday's post), but from all my urban life and obligations, and move to this cabin where I sit right now, and simply write, teach, ski, do search and rescue, raise a few goats and chickens, know my neighbors, and somehow embody the kingdom of God in the midst of it – all the while imbibing life, enjoying taste, beauty, sound, sexuality, wood, flowers, birds, and the physicality of living in the mountains in contact with the earth. And yet, at the same time, I know that I’m called to live right where I am – in urban Seattle, serving, loving, teaching, living, celebrating, and working for the good of that city. And I want that too. It’s tension that I need to live with, and sense I've been granted the privilege of a little bit of both, perhaps I need to just relax and enjoy fully, wherever I am.
The second reason for intrigue with this book comes from reading about Hesse. Born in 1877 on the edge of the Black Forest, he was brought up in a missionary household, but had a religious crisis in 1892 which led to his fleeing from seminary! So much of his writing seems to embody his struggle with the faith, not in an outright rejecting fashion, but in a way that reveals his ambivalence, as he ponders whether integration of the two sides is possible, a pondering which is often mine as well. It seems to me that the tension between obligation and indulgence, between stability and wandering, feels like a choice between life and death. Still, I can’t escape the deep belief and hope that it’s possible to know both, but to know both within the measure and confines revealed by Jesus. His ways will challenge those who love stability to push out their borders and expand their boundaries. Those of us who love adventure and newness will be challenged, without giving up our love, to learn stability and responsibility. All of this is part of what it means to become a disciple.
I found similar ponderings in Nouwen’s book, “Sabbatical Journey” where he writes about seeing the opera “Carmen”:
“Carmen was sung by Denyce Graves. Her portrayal of the sensual, seductive, self-confident, fatalistic gypsy woman opened up in me the real tension between faith and fate, the obedient life and the ‘wild’ life, agape and eros, and Christianity and paganism.
In Carmen, Jose, the Spanish soldier in Seville who has to obey his military superiors and cannot let ‘love’ distract him, stands for many of us dutiful men and women who feel that life kills our vitality. Carmen’s irresistible energy enlarges Jose’s life but finally, destroying them both, represents us as people who want to break away from the constraints of normalcy but hesitate to pay the price.
Can the tension be resolved in an integrated life? Can the ‘wild person’ in us be tamed without the cost of losing our vitality and creativity? Many forms of meditation, Buddhist as well as Christian, strive for this integration. I do no believe that we have to repress our erotic energies in order to live ordered lives. Nor do I believe that we have to give up order and discipline in order to get in touch with the wild energies of existence. But it certainly requires concentrated effort to find our own unique ways to become whole people. The literature and art of the west show that few people have accomplished this wholeness.”
Lord, I long to live increasingly as a whole person, glorifying you through my body, soul, and spirit. Such living, I know, takes wisdom and revelation, openness to learning and humility, courage and discipline. I ask for these, that I might follow you more fully, to the end that you might be seen more clearly.