This Pilgrim’s Regress

Has anyone seen this beautiful idea that’s been planted in my mind? I’m trying to locate it here on earth.

In the Pilgrim’s Regress, the main character (John/CS Lewis) sees a vision of a beautiful island.  He can see it, smell it, and hear it.  He then dedicates his life to pursuing the island and finding it.

*SPOILER ALERT*: the vision of the island is actually from God/The Landlord.  It is meant to reflect God’s beauty and love so that John will pursue and find God (which he does eventually, after finding his way through the maze of religion).

I feel like I have a similar vision.  Not of an island, but of a far-off beautiful thing… something I can vaguely see/smell/hear.  It’s something that gives me hope for the future, even if I don’t know what precisely that future will look like.

So this vision isn’t always satisfying… because when someone asks what my exact plans for the future are, I tell them “well it feels like this…” or “I think it will look like this…”.  Or I might even get more specific than that, “Well ideally I’d like to be writing songs and leading exploratory worship activities to push the boundaries of conventional practice in churches today….. but I have no idea how/when/where.

I think I know how the disciples felt when Jesus was explaining the Kingdom of God, “well it spreads like yeast, it’s valuable like a pearl, it grows like a seed, and you treat it like a treasure…”.  Sounds like playing a guessing game (“so logically, if she weighs the same as a duck… then she’s made of wood.”  “And therefore…”).

This stuff has caused me to redefine success for my life.  Nowadays I view success as staying true to the vision God has given me, rather than trying to hit milestones at a certain age.

That makes me feel like there’s a good reason why I am where I am, and why I haven’t been hired for the multitude of 9-5 jobs I’ve applied to over the past 10 years.  It makes me feel like there’s a reason why I write songs all the time, and why the money that I had saved up for studio recording (which paid for my hearing aids) has been mostly restored.

On Sunday, my friend Rev. Dr. Robert Johnson preached a sermon called “going down-side up”.  He related that to the Beatitudes, and how an empty cup is blessed in that it can be filled.  He talked about his time living in Pakistan, and how he was sustained by God because he had nothing else to rely on… he was willing to go there with an empty cup.  I feel that way a lot of the time.  It’s a bit like floating.

Many years ago, I attended a church study/counseling class on Overcoming Suffering, taught by my friend Rev. Scott Marshall.  He emphasized our reliance on foundations other than God and how that can cause suffering…. even if the bad foundation is a part of your belief system.  For instance: someone believes that God will never allow them to be in a car accident, and then they get hit by a car… it shakes/shatters their foundation because they created bizarre rules for God (stuff he doesn’t promise to do).  He likens those belief structures to pillars, and we often times set ourselves up for a fall when we build on a poor foundation.

My pillars like that had to be knocked away (because you know I’m not willingly going to step off the edge…. or at least not in a productive way).  But when I look back, the foundational ideas I had about life weren’t all that great. I was leaning/building on the stereotypes that I should be married by now and sitting behind a desk somewhere, but those things aren’t what I want (or need) at the moment.  In contrast, the idea of writing worship songs is becoming less of a silly notion and more of a serious vocation.  The idea that I could have some type of job that’s built around my actual skill-set and education (which up until now seemed like just-for-fun) is looking more like a reality.

It still seems a bit idealistic and unstable, because writing worship songs doesn’t provide enough cash to rent an apartment, at least not yet; but when I need something, God provides a way.  It’s a bit like floating, and if I trust in it then there’s very little worry… but if I start analyzing it, judging how far the fall is, realizing even more so that I’m relying only on God (and what if he doesn’t come through)… then the storm looks much more menacing, and it’s a bit like walking on water.

I felt this way in Thailand.  God came through for me in a lot of unusual ways while I was there (he even saved my life), but a lot of heartache comes with this floating lifestyle, depending on how much you love the pillars.  I came to rely upon a very unique kind of foundation during that season, and it took me a very long time to forgive God for knocking it out from under me.  My situation had some similarities to Henri Nouwen’s crisis, out of which came his Inner Voice of Love journal.

I relied on something too much for stability… far too much.  However, I had assumed that God brought it to me as something to rely on, and when he took it away (after I had set all my hopes upon it) it was the first time since I was a little girl that I thought God was hurting me on purpose.  This took a very long time to reconcile, because even though the circumstance surrounded a man-woman relationship, it was actually God who broke my heart.

It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my lifetime, and that’s saying a lot.   I can handle physical pain, and I can handle emotional pain (those are things I’ve had to build up a tolerance for)… but spiritual pain is on a whole different playing field.  When Jesus was drowning in sin on the cross, and God the Father separated himself… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

God broke his heart…. his spiritual pain was much worse than any other pain; it was the only thing that made Jesus cry out.

In my mind, relying on God alone sounds easy, but in application it’s incredibly difficult… and the effort needed to reject these other foundations causes me to have a lot of highs and lows (but then again I always have to do things the hard way).

One symptom of fibromyalgia is depression, because my brain doesn’t produce enough seratonin during the night (also because my body feels like it’s dying all the time).  So I’m always at war.

I know in my mind that God loves me, but my heart needs convincing every day.  In fact… I would say that God’s love is a rock through my window, always breaking my heart anew.  Even with all of his blessings, and all of his peace, I still often forget… I forget how good he is, I forget why he loves me, and I lose my footing.

But he’s the Great Dreamer, the one who plants visions in my mind and grows hope in my heart… he has more faith in me than I do. There’s also a schemer, someone who throws shadows around to make the light appear dark, and to remind me of all my failures.  His scavengers pick at the softest flesh of the body, and their whispers of doubt speak to the most vulnerable places of the heart.  They often tell part of the truth too… they remind me of all the things I could be using as my foundation (jobs, relationships, material possessions).  They remind me of what I haven’t been able to accomplish, and how foolish I am to trust in God, and how foolish God would be to love me.

And it is foolish.  But thankfully, that’s kinda my style.

I do feel very foolish sometimes, when I stay home all day writing music and wondering whether or not it was a waste of time.  But when I play it at a service and people come up to me crying, I don’t feel so foolish then.  When I’ve played concerts in the past and not even my close friends showed up, I felt pretty foolish.  But this year I had NO money to record music, absolutely no financial pillar to rely on… (my hearing aids cost nearly $4k) but I went ahead and met with producers anyway, and my tax refund was about 10x the amount that I got last year (for no real reason), I didn’t feel so foolish then.

At times I’ve felt like poor Job, with all his pillars ripped away… scraping the skin off his bones… sitting there on the bathroom floor cutting through all my dead wood, stripping off the bark in hopes of finding something green underneath, some promise of life and future.  That’s when a scavenger comes with a mirror, to show me how dead the tree looks, and how all of the leaves/all of the flowers were lost long ago.  But the only power that evil has is in its ability to lie… and a lie can change your entire life.

A lie can end a marriage, a lie can end a pregnancy, a lie can cut a life short.  However, the primary reason why anyone lies is because they’re afraid of the truth… and this is true of evil.  The truth is that a tree doesn’t die in the winter when the leaves fall, it goes dormant and actually thickens/fortifies inside and becomes stronger.  And though the trees have no clue when Spring is finally going to come, they know it’s gonna get here… Spring is their vision.   I feel like that’s true of me as well.

I have no idea if this vision is a job that I’ll end up with, or if it’s a lifestyle, or just a direction to walk in… and let me tell you, this path has lead me through the desert, but I feel like it’s important for me to stick with… because I am followed so closely by attacks and miracles that they might as well be man and wife.

So I’m going to stick with the advice of my friends… I’m going “down-side up”, and I’m leaving that cup empty to be filled rather than cushioning it with the world’s idea of success.  I’m kicking away false pillars; I won’t build a foundation that’s based on achievement or relationships.  I won’t use this vision itself as a pillar, which was John’s mistake in “The Pilgrim’s Regress“.

There’s another book that helps me with this enormously, it’s called “The Art of Being”.  It helps me to cut off all of the noise and chaos, and start at square one: being who I am, and letting God be who he is.  It helps me to kick away the crows who would tear into my fears of being unloved, and helps me find identity within the gray area of musicial vision (not knowing where it will go or how it will fit in).  It reminds me that the vision isn’t something we make ourselves (it’s part of a larger story), and that helps me to guard against manipulating it for my own purposes, or unknowingly playing a role in destructive stories.  It reminds me that tragedies don’t mean the story is over, and that failures don’t mean I missed my only chance.  It says that what is valuable isn’t always measurable, and within the realm of creativity there are lots of ways of being productive… but the most important part is being.

When I forget to be, and I allow others to decide how I’m going to look and act, and what I’m going to do with my life, and upon what foundations/pillars I’ll stand… then I’m not allowing God to be in my life either.  To follow this vision (my particular chapter in this story) is to just be myself, fully, unquestionably so.  It sounds pretty easy, but I feel like everything is against it.

I think that’s what Irenaeus was talking about: “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.”

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2 Responses to “This Pilgrim’s Regress”

  1. Devin Green Says:

    Keep on running the race…… Hebrews 12

    Devin Green = )

  2. Deborah Koontz Says:

    Oh Sarah….what an awesome sermon God has written through your life! Amen soul sister:)

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