The Task for Advent: Awakening the Already-Awake

flight_egyptThroughout my 20’s, my spiritual life was a process of asking, searching, and wondering. Around the age of 21, I realized that I was not convinced by the idea of Jesus’s divinity, and so I began to seek a spiritual community where that doctrine was not espoused, or at least not essential. I ended up worshiping with a Friends’ meeting for more than two years. But I ultimately felt that there was something still missing, and so I ended up searching farther afield–I began reading about Buddhism and Islam and attempting to practice some form of meditation, as well as integrating elements of Islamic prayer into my prayer life.

Ultimately, by the age of 27, I found myself returning to Trinitarian Christianity. After having actually studied the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity more closely, I came to realize that my earlier repudiation of them had been based largely on my own ignorance. I joined the Episcopal Church at the age of 28, and my spiritual and religious identity has been stable since then.

After spending the better part of a decade searching, seeking, and asking, this stability was welcome–I felt that I was finally able to really dig into the tradition I was committed to, instead of constantly gliding over the surface of various communities. Yet, over the last year or two, I have felt a sort of dis-ease in my spiritual life. Although I think there are many causes to this–the process of discerning ordination, the grind of academic life, raising a young daughter–lately I have come to recognize a new dimension to it. I think that I have begun to miss the sense of seeking and questing in my spiritual life. Throughout my 20’s, spiritual truth was this elusive quarry I was chasing, and though at the time I only wanted to end my search, now I find myself missing that chase.

Or–not missing that chase per se, but missing the sense of wonder and discovery that came with it, To accept that, somehow, in Jesus, God is revealed and present is, in one sense, to end the journey of seeking and discovering. To rest in the peace and power of Jesus Christ is to accept that no further search is going to reveal a greater or deeper truth. Of course, I might still research other faiths, both out of curiosity as well as respect towards the diverse systems of human spiritual and religious thought. But the sense of yearning, even of desperation, that drove me before, is no longer there.

This is, of course, a good thing, and yet it has also led to a stultifying of my spiritual life to some extent. Not feeling that desperate yearning, prayer and meditation now have less emotional and existential draw. Because I now have a spiritual and religious life that is intellectually satisfying and more or less complete, I don’t have the same energy behind my spiritual practice.

But reflecting on these thoughts and feelings has only revealed to me how foolish I am; even at thirty-five years of age, I am still so ignorant. Just as I showed my ignorance at 21 in rejecting doctrines I didn’t even understand, these last few years I have shown my ignorance in thinking I know and understand far more than I do. It’s one thing to say that in Jesus, God reveals Godself to me. It’s another thing to really know what this means. I can say that God is revealed and even present in Christ, but I then have to immediately add a qualifier–this revealed presence is utterly mysterious. If I utter the name of Jesus, or reflect on the Incarnation, or receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, I do not suddenly have some total conceptual clarity about what it means to call Jesus divine. I can–and do–say these things, think these things, and do these things, all without really uncovering the mystery of what it all means.

In truth, then, my sense of spiritual stability was really rather temporary. My identity as a Christian is not changing, and yet what it means to be Christian remains really beyond my comprehension. I stopped journeying, asking, seeking, and questioning, not because I had actually reached some final point of truth, but because I was both tired of the search, I think, and also because I put too much stock in my own intellectual abilities. I thought that the deepest mysteries of being, of life, of existence, were just puzzles to be solved, instead of realities beyond the horizons of human consciousness. I stopped the journey, but I was not at the destination.

So one of my tasks, I think, during this Advent, is to really accept my ignorance, to recognize the depth of the mystery of Jesus’s divinity, and to thereby rekindle my spiritual curiosity, and to reengergize my prayer, meditation, and devotional practices. Christ calls us to remain awake, aware, and vigilant. This is a call meant, I think, most of all for those of us who think we already are awake, aware, and vigilant.

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