317. let me introduce you to Bob
Something strange happened last night.
My church held the first of a two-part seminar titled, “Space to Breathe: Worship and the Arts.” It was one part experience (they made us do stuff) and one part discussion (they made us talk about stuff), both meant to help us explore what worship is or what it can be. Because worship is so much more than a (sappy) musical genre.
I went in not quite knowing what to expect, but excited at the same time because I have lots of questions about worship and I’m always excited about any way to get the arts back into the church. Having both in one seminar sounded almost too good to be true. And while I did learn some great things about worship and art, I also learned something far more profound and important about myself.
But I’ll get to that further down.
Well the night began with a kind of improvised labyrinth. The chairs (we don’t have pews) were arranged in such a way that they created paths that led us to three stations, each of which had a kind of spiritual focus. There was a tidy little handout that led participants through the labyrinth with one page guides that provided hints and suggestions as to what to do at each station. I forgot to bring my handout home with me so I may get this wrong but I believe the three stations were rest, reflect, and respond.
The first station, rest, was the simplest. It was just a little corner of the sanctuary where we were asked to sit and wait and acclimate ourselves to the spiritual nature of what we were embarking on.
And thats when the strangeness began.
I think I knew I was in trouble the moment the darkness and the quiet began to envelop me.
It wasn’t a voice, it wasn’t the awareness of the nearness of the Holy Spirit, it wasn’t anything that felt at all spiritual. That is to say, it wasn’t something outside of me that I felt. Rather, it was something really deep down inside of myself that was making itself known. And when I say “deep down inside,” I don’t mean physically because I’m only 5’5″ so there’s not a lot of deep to go down into. I mean deep down in my spirit/psyche/soul – whatever it is that makes me me and not just a sack of proteins and enzymes.
Now I don’t mean to break the narrative, but it’s going to be difficult to continue writing this if this “something” that I’m referring to isn’t named. And so I’m going to call it Bob. And if you’re wondering why I’m doing this, try reading the rest of this post substituting the words “this something” every time you see the word “Bob,” and you’ll understand.
Bob was down there wanting to push through to the surface and make himself known. I knew this was happening because for some reason, Bob was trying to go through my tear ducts. And maybe that makes sense because if the eyes are windows into a person’s soul then if something from within that soul is trying to make its way back out, well why not through the window?
And I didn’t fight it. I knew this labyrinth thing was a spiritual exercise and I wanted to experience whatever it was that was there for me to experience. I let myself shed a few small tears but somehow I knew that wasn’t going to be enough for Bob.
I spent quite a bit of time at that first station. I knew part of the exercise was to rid ourselves of our need to rush from thing to thing. And I wanted to give Bob a chance to do or say what he wanted. After I felt as if I had given myself and Bob enough time, I moved on to the next station – the reflect station.
This station was set up at the front of the sanctuary. On stage were a bunch of candles – big ones, small ones, lots of those tiny tea light candles. It was quite an array. But I didn’t get all that good of a look at them. At least not at first because Bob started using my tear glands as punching bags. And I let him wail away. I cried that kind of hearty, convulsive cry – the kind that babies cry because they have no other way of expressing what they don’t know how to express. And I didn’t know what I or Bob was trying to express either but it must have been important because it wasn’t going to wait for words.
I told a friend once that unexplained crying episodes were kind of like taking a shit for the soul. Sometimes we stuff things down and do our best to keep it down but then we get all constipated and the soul can only hold so much in before it starts getting ill and so it gives us the teary version of diarrhea. All that nasty shit that we didn’t want to deal with at the time, all that stuff we thought was over and behind us, it all comes spilling out through our eyeballs and our nostrils.
I covered my face and wept into my hands. I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself and disturb the other worshipers and so I wept in silence. And of course I wasn’t expecting this so I didn’t have any tissue on hand. Once I was done with my little crying fit I realized I had two handfuls of tears and snot. I suppose the normal course of action would be to get up, go to the bathroom and wash myself off but although I didn’t understand what I had just been through, I knew enough that I wanted to stay where I was as gross as I was. I wiped a bit of my messy onto my pants and spent a lot of time just looking at the candles on stage.
I switched back and forth between just being there in the moment and trying to analyze what had just happened.
Normally after a crying fit, a kind of peace descends because, to return to my shit analogy, the bowels are empty and clean. But that’s not how I felt. I still felt broken somehow. I knew that Bob wasn’t done with me yet, not by a long shot. And so I waited and tried to analyze and when I realized that though there was still work to be done, that Bob was done for the night, I moved on to the next bit of the labyrinth.
I never really made it to the last station – the response station. I mean, I walked over there but saw that it was set up as a kind of makeshift painting studio – there were paints and brushes and heavy paper and the floor was covered with tarp. But I didn’t feel like painting. I thought about just grabbing a brush and some paint and letting loose on the canvas but I’m no painter. If I had gone that route, most of my time would have been spent thinking and hemming and hawing and not putting anything down. And so I went to the bathroom, cleaned myself up and went back to looking at the candles.
After a while, I and everyone else made it over to yet another part of the sanctuary where we finished up the discussion part of the night. It began with talking about what we had experienced in the labyrinth. A few people shared their thoughts but I kept mine to myself – not because I didn’t want to share but because I had no idea what Bob was trying to do or say to me.
And I still don’t.
But I have a few ideas about what Bob might be trying to get at.
This has been a really strange year for me. Lots of ups and downs (to put things into perspective, losing my job was probably the least of my downs). I think part of what Bob is trying to relay to me is that I’ve spent far, far, far too much time trying to help and fix others and not nearly enough time on myself. Another thing I think Bob is trying to get me to deal with is my spiritual life. I need to work things out with God.
And maybe that last bit about me reconciling with God sounds a bit odd or surprising seeing as I’ve done a bunch of posts about church and Christianity. But that’s theology which may be another way of saying theory. A friend of mine (and fellow Quest blogger) recently put up a post where he talked about how the academic study of theology is often far removed from the actual work that the Bible is telling us to do.
In a similar way, it’s far easier for me to ponder my own thoughts about what’s wrong with the church and Christianity than it is to deal with what’s wrong with me and my own Christianity. Part of the way I’ve been able to get away with this has to do with one of the problems I see with contemporary Christianity. I think far too much of it is focused on individual spiritual development and not enough on the work to be done out in the world. I use that as an excuse to not deal with the junk in my own trunk. It’s a classic case of speck versus plank. I busy myself with specks while ignoring the freaking giant sequoia growing out of my own eye.
Bob probably has a bunch of things he wants to work out with me and now that he’s made himself known, I’m going to try and not ignore him as much. Because he’s not going anywhere. And I probably can’t deal with all of Bob here in my blog but I’ll cover as much as I can. Because writing is the best way I’ve found for me to work through issues and because writing for an audience forces me to be real and cogent and it forces me to flesh out the backstory – the history that gave birth to the issue in the first place – and that helps me as well.
And so, I introduce you to Bob.
Bob says, “hi.”