Monday, April 30, 2012

Living Two Lives

For as long as I can remember, I have had two lives. For about the last half of my life, this has troubled me. But the trouble, like the distinction between lives, was so subtle and subterranean that it was really only about once or twice a year, when searching my inner canyons, that this would make its presence felt to my thinking. Sometimes the things that are closest to us are the things of which we are most unaware.

It's not hard to understand where this dichotomy came from in my circumstance. Probably where it comes from in everyone's circumstance. The world "outside" myself looked dark, scary, dangerous and lonely. I could not trust that world, and so I retreated from it. We do it in so many ways, but I did it by taking my soul and running away. Figuratively, of course. People who drink or do drugs or join gangs (etc.) are more obvious about their running. I'm still not sure what to call how I built my second world. But I hid the best I knew how.

God pursued me, because that's His way. My hiding place, too, had become a scary place. Chronologically here I'm still talking about early childhood. I remember lying in bed at night crying and begging God that He wouldn't let me die. I wasn't sick, and no one or nothing ever threatened my physical life. Still, I cowered even within my hiding place and was terrified.

We started going to church consistently when I was a late-single-digit child, and so I was able to hear the basic gospel of God's love and redemption in Christ, and the call to follow Him. Though it took me a while to hear it, I didn't need to hear the invitation twice. Here I am, Lord, send me. So ready to be sent I was but not at all aware of how the Lord wanted to change my heart.

I brought that experience of Christ into my ran-away soul. I literally hid in my closet to pray, and would hide my Bible like one might hide pornography, even though Bibles were perfectly acceptable in my household. (Just not actually used.) I remember writing in my diary that the only reason I read the Bible was as an excuse to stay up later at night. It wasn't true, and I knew it, but I couldn't even admit the truth to myself.

For about five or six years I stumbled along trying to be a Christian this way. I started ravenously listening to Christian radio and reading magazines. The closest I ever got to interacting with another Christian person was by writing letters to a lot of these ministries and asking them to pray for me. I got on a lot of mailing lists that way. One day that I'll never forget, a woman from Focus on the Family responded to one of these letters I'd written by calling me. She asked if I had Christian friends at church. No. She asked if there was someone in my family who prayed with me. No. I was so shocked that a human made contact with me that I hardly answered more than those syllables. That might have been the first time anyone knocked on the door of my hidden soul.

I got older; a lot of proverbial shit hit the fan, and I began to allow God to be bigger in my life. God has always sent me the weirdest circumstances. Like the 45 year-old-drug addict/thief I met when I was 19 who, when I was being the stand-in girlfriend because his other one a handful of years older than myself was visiting her parents and not available for hours-long phone chats from his jail cell, taught me enough theology about the Holy Spirit to open to me entirely new spiritual vistas (all the while manipulating me mercilessly into making me believe I was helping him reform his life). See, I was always very good at being able to ignore huge, raging red flags of danger in the "real world" because I didn't live there. I have a pretty powerful guardian angel, by the way, who has prevented, I'm sure, numerous "real world" catastrophes for me.

The pattern continued of God's mighty power unfurling in my inner life and my ignoring the concrete world around me as much as humanly possible, to the point where this became my theology. I belonged to a fellowship (i.e. church) that associated sin with "worldly pleasure" which included things like reading secular newspapers, certain types of music (of course), ice cream, movies, etc. etc. All such worldly things were to be forsaken for the good of following Christ. I bought this completely and somewhat easily, because it was the essence of the Manichean way I'd lived all along.

But then that inner life started feeling dissatisfied and hungry. My soul has always been ravenous, I think, and in a few short years with that fellowship I'd devoured everything I could to the hilt, but found nothing more. God struck and began wooing me to the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is so not Manichean.

The more I said Yes to the Lord's wooing, the more riches I discovered and the more riches I discovered the more I wanted. Suddenly I was face to face with Christ incarnate in the Eucharist and I knew I was beholding that which my inner life had longed for all this time. I was absolutely flabbergasted to find Him in a Catholic Mass. (Here's that whole story.) It was Christmas Eve to boot. God had a huge megaphone to yell "I created this physical world! It's mine! It points to me!"

Tons and tons of redemption follow. I went to Japan as a missionary, had a God-awful time because I tried to live based on my previous belief that the external world around me doesn't matter. I return to the US admitting God into my external world. From now on, yes, it matters and yes, Lord, you get that part, too.

Tons more redemption follows. But do you see where I'm left? Jesus Christ is Lord of my inner life. Jesus Christ is Lord of my external world. It's all good, right?

I have two lives. Very, very subtle.

And all of a sudden I discover that God has been busy trying to integrate them. I don't know which analogy to use to say this in a most true way, but recently that integration spilled over/burst asunder/ joined together. That two life status is changing.

God has never brought me through any change that hasn't been good, but I also can't think of any change that hasn't been difficult. In this case, though, I feel as if my place is to allow the Divine Surgeon to do what is needful. He is the Redeemer; I am not. I am being born again yet again, and as such I enter this new world like a baby, to learn from the One who gives me life what His world truly is.

Jesu ufam tobie

"Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?" says your God.

Isaiah 66:9

No comments: