The life of the Spirit in the chaos of our day

“As soon as we feel at home in our own house, discover the dark corners as well as the light spots, the closed doors as well as the drafty rooms, our confusion will evaporate, our anxiety will diminish, and we will become capable of creative work.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.” – Thomas Merton

“As soon as we are alone, inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.”  – Henri Nouwen

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As I travelled on the light rail this morning re-enacting my everyday commute-liturgy, I felt a familiar feeling.  My iPhone beckoned with its perpetual morning whisper: Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-ladened, and I will increase your burden. My mind clasped onto its first priority – mastering the content of a lecture I needed to give on cultural engagement for our first class for the Newbigin Seminary Project.  Behind the tension was another voice.  Don’t screw up.  You can’t screw up.  We’re getting a seminary started, and good first impressions matter. My cell phone buzzed.  A call from Sara, my wife.  She has been ill for 3 days, yet pushing through it because I couldn’t miss my weekend Newbigin event and this important class.  Another voice:  You’re a bad husband for not bailing her out. Still another voice:  She ought to suck it up and get over this illness.

A sense of constriction pervaded my body and mind.  There was absolutely no room for Jesus in this cacophony of inner voices.  Some might say, “Just read a little Scripture,” or “Do the Daily Office.”  I’ve already thought of this.  One of those inner voices has reminded me, perhaps guilted me, into thinking that if only I’d more faithfully practice this discipline, I’d be free from the inner chaos I’m feeling.

The problem – there is no space inside for the words of Scripture or the Daily Office to land.  My inner room is cluttered.  It is at this moment, as Merton says, that “we must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.” Yet, choice begins with desire…a longing for space, an inner freedom.

A deeper voice within called Spirit says, “Relax.”  I close my eyes.  No one on the train has a clue what’s happening inside.  I breathe in.  A rush of air enters my lungs, filling them with air, but not merely air.  N.T. Wright explains:

In Genesis 2:7, it is said that God breathed into human nostrils the breath of life, so that Adam became a living being.  There is a strange truth here which we do not usually grasp.  If we even think about the act of breathing, we probably regard it as a purely “natural” or “scientific” phenomenon. Genesis regards it as part of the gift, to humans, of God’s own life.  Breathing sets up a rhythm that quietly gets on with the job of enlivening and energizing us.

As my lungs expand, a spaciousness ensues.  A divine de-cluttering is underway.  I begin to feel centered, aware, in the moment, awake.

The need to attend to my responsibilities does not go away.  I am still giving a lecture.  I must still respond to my emails.  I must wrestle with my responsibility to Sara.  But…a space is growing within from which I can do these things, all of these things, with greater creativity and love.  Somehow, the space which opens invites selflessness – that rare quality which moves me to begin to pray for Sara, for the participants in the seminary course, for the blank-faced commuters around me, for the coming of the Kingdom in and through real participation in the divine life of Christ.

From this place, my work becomes a joy, not a compulsion.  I am freed to live in the present.  The voices that demanded my attention retreat to the background.  Somehow, they seem content, as well.  They seem to trust that from this new and more spacious place I might even be more productive in my work and relationships.

I step off the light rail and into the rest of my day, breathing deeply of a life that only the Spirit can give.

5 comments

  1. Hi Chuck. I was, of course, at this lecture. Funny, I was wrestling the same way that day – responsibilities back home kept tugging at me during this whole conference and I was asking God, in my own way, for God’s spirit to de-clutter and bring focus so that I could enjoy my time with you all. A word of encouragement to you though: On each encounter I had with you in a group or individually I experienced you as one engaged with his community and desiring to be a conduit of God’s self-giving love for others.
    Peace,
    Bob

  2. Thank you. Your journey sounds much too familiar to me. Thank you for allowing us to walk with you as you allowed God to refocus your life that day.

    david

  3. Thanks for the post, Chuck! This is what I needed to hear this week. I have indeed been distracting myself on the outside in order to run away from the inner noises. And so I’m at that place, trying to make some space… working on that this weekend.

    – Chris

  4. Thanks for the post. I admire the honesty of the conflicting thoughts, but also the wisdom in not just merely pressing on or toughing it out. There is freedom in the Spirit not in my effort. I also appreciated how you ended that the responsibilities are still there, but that time of refocusing allowed you to move into a participation in the divine life with Christ and not just a git’r done mentality.

    Kevin

  5. Is that Merton quote from “No Man is an Island”? He’s got a quote in their about the immense courage it takes to recognize and live according to your own personal and spiritual limitations.

    It reminds me of how he has a way of speaking of the true self so that the notion doesn’t sound self-centered or self-agrandizing. It sounds like integrity, in the good old-fashioned sense of the word. Actually, like Calvin meant it as per your latest post.

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