“Without maps and signposts, people search for their inner home in the wrong places: in professional success, material status, institutions, person, pleasure, and on and on. But none of these can be home. We end up spiritual refugees.” – Sue Monk Kidd
I’m blogging through Sue Monk Kidd’s 1990 book on midlife transition, When The Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction For Life’s Sacred Questions. (Click here for earlier posts in the series.) Chapter 4 is called “Crisis As Opportunity”, which sounds like a business school pep talk. Instead, Kidd situates her observations about midlife in the natural world. Think of the process of transformation by which a larva becomes a cocoon and a cocoon becomes a butterfly. She writes, “…there’s first a movement of separation, then a holding environment where transformation happens, and finally an emergence into a new existence.”
She describes the nature of this transformation via a series of crises in the prophet Jonah’s life. She references Erik Eriksen’s eight stages of life development and notes that it takes crisis, then resolution in order to progress/mature from one stage to the next. Another pressure point that draws us into crisis include an intrusive event like illness, divorce, unemployment or death of a relative or close friend.
In addition, she notes that our own internal world can force us into crisis. “An internal uprising could be as a vague sense of restlessness, some floating disenchantment, a whispering but relentless voice that says, There has to be more than this. Why are you doing what you’re doing?” Internal uprising might also include exhaustion, burnout, addiction or a crisis of faith.
“The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two characters. On top is the sign for danger; beneath is the sign for opportunity. That character graphically illustrates the saying, ‘Crisis is really another name for redirection’,” Kidd writes. “A minister friend of mine, who has seen countless Christians through crisis events, told me that he didn’t think most Christians knew how to have a crisis – at least not creatively.”
She noted that believers either surrender to the crisis with a “It’s God’s will” fatalism that keeps us from engaging with the transformation God is working in our souls. “People who have a crisis in this manner are generally after comfort and peace of mind,” she notes.
The other option is to fight the crisis like we’re at war. Rejecting it in this way can lead to cynicism and a loss of faith. Those who choose this way to deal with a crisis in their lives are after justice, she says.
She points back to the process by which transformation happens from larvae to cocoon to butterfly. Neither Christian fatalism nor mortal combat will resolve the crisis. Instead, she advocates for a far more difficult tactic: waiting.
“That way means creating a painfully honest and contemplative relationship with one’s own depths, with God in the deep center of one’s soul. People who choose this way aren’t so much after peace of mind or justice as wholeness and transformation. They’re after soulmaking.”
Throughout Scripture, God works through crisis to draw his people to wholeness. From the crisis of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised land. From the compromise of idolatry leading to deportation in Babylon to a return home. From the crisis of Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday. From the disciples lingering in Jerusalem to the empowerment of Pentecost. Kidd cites the tensions of her own internal crisis and the trapped sense she carried when she considered her long-time marriage as pulling her to the desert of the dark night of the soul, and recognized the value of symbols, rather than words, to orient her in her uncomfortable wait.
“Jesus also believed in the spiritual power available within symbols. I amthe vine; I am the door; this bread is my body; this wine is my blood; with these words he was creating symbols – images that point to much deeper realities – and giving us a way to contact those realities. Participating with symbols allows their deeper meaning to wrap around us and penetrate us. Through them, what is lost and unutterable inside us becomes real and accessible.”
I’ve found that the Evangelical and Charismatic world, on the whole, tends to speak of crisis and suffering in either a fatalistic or militaristic manner. We’ve been accused of being “mile wide, inch deep” people, which keeps us from knowing how to respond when deep calls to deep. “Deep” isn’t a well of chirpy cliches; it may be a single whispered word from God, an image, or silence. I am learning how to speak the language of “deep” through crisis.
How about you? How has your church experience helped or hindered you from learning the language of “deep”?
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