The Season of Perplexity: Finding Hope in the Questions

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This month, "Camp Journey," which we call our community during the summer when most everyone is traveling, is continuing our traditional book series on Sunday evenings. We're reading through Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality, and on Sunday we introduced the season of Perplexity.

Brian's defines the season of simplicity as a time of spiritual awakening, trust, and thankfulness. The season of complexity is a time of repentance, mastery, and comprehension. In perplexity, we find ourselves facing a very daunting brick wall. Either our personal experiences or our knowledge of the world, or our very own curiosity of learning has found us with questions—big questions, the kind that have no easy answers, and sometimes no answers at all.

For our community at Journey Church, Perplexity is a well-known place. Most, if not all, have found our way to Journey because of the questions we've had about what we thought we once knew. Life in perplexity brings us a lot of very shaky ground, and a significant dose of cynicism.

Brian says, "If simplicity is smooth sailing and complexity is like running rapids, sooner or later you smash on some rocks . . . your little boat of faith springs a leak, then two, then five or seven, and no matter how hard you bail through confession, petition and intercession, you have to acknowledge that the water level is rising, your boat is going down, and the roar of more rapids awaits you downstream" (p. 145).

This sets perplexity apart from the other seasons, because unlike the other seasons, nobody chooses to move into a season of perplexity. Nobody says, "Well, now that I've mastered everything in complexity, I'd like it all to be torn to bits." No, perplexity is unique in that it is a season thrust upon us, much against our wills.

One of the words Brian uses to describe this season is "When?" In addition to "when," we gathered around Psalm 13's opening question, "How long, O Lord?"

In our gathering, we talked about how we've encountered that question and what we've learned. When we find ourselves in the season of perplexity, what gifts do we need to receive, what lessons do we need to learn, to help us become who we are becoming? In response, I heard words like honesty, trust, patience, hope, courage, compassion, prophetic endurance. One member, Luke, said one of the tasks is to learn to ask the right questions—and the danger of spending all our energy on questions that are something else. Whitney said in perplexity you learn to wait—you have to wait—and so you have to practice patience, and in so doing, you find yourself hoping for a redeemed ending.

We talked a lot about this silver lining of hope hidden underneath the shadow of "When's" piercing question. The mere utterance of the word belies the power hidden in it. When we ask "when?" we confess our deep belief that whatever we are going through is not permanent and will eventually end. This is what people not experiencing a season of perplexity often forget about those who are. That cynicism can be caustic and cruel, but it is not an abandonment of all faith. There is a lining of hope even in those most mired in the desert of perplexity.

Chris brought up a really important point. He said he was a little uncomfortable with the idea of perplexity's questions being a season, because it can possibly assume a sort of patronizing ending, a pat on the head from others who say to us, "Sure honey, we had those questions once too." We all agreed that if our season of perplexity taught us anything, it's that the questions aren't going anywhere. Once our eyes are opened, there is no closing them. We wondered if perhaps the questions seem most overwhelming and consuming in perplexity, and the coming season of harmony does not displace them or dismiss them, but rather finds them a proper and healthy place. To be sure, Journey has and always will be a place where those daunting and difficult questions are heard and acknowledged, even when they must go unanswered.