381. an unexpected (lenten) journey

Alternate title for this post: Bob redux (part 3)
Part 1
Part 2

[PREFACE]

I’ve been in a writing frenzy these past few weeks.

That little crying spell did quite a number on me – a lot broke open within me, a lot of really old, hidden longing and discontent and anger.

But in a strangely ironic way, all this outpouring of angst and bile was prompted by an initial glimmer of hope – a hope that I want to remind myself of.

And that’s the topic of this (likely last) installment of the posts about Bob.

[END PREFACE]

A few weeks ago, I posted this tweet:

tweet

Honestly, I put it up as kind of a joke. I didn’t actually mean it at the time.

And then I thought about it. And then I realized that it was actually kind of a good idea. And then something really unexpected happened.

The (emotional) shit started to hit the fan.

Again, some backstory is needed here to give you some context.

For just about all of my adult life, I’ve had terrible self esteem issues when it came to dating and relationships. Back in this very early post I described myself as someone who

accepted the thought that for whatever reason, I was chronically unappealing to women. I thought that perhaps because of some genetic defect, instead of releasing come-hither pheromones when attracted to a female, my body released a subtle, toxic go-yonder scent that made it impossible to hold the attention of anyone I was remotely attracted to.

There’s low self esteem, and then there’s self loathing. I used to have a really bad case of the latter. Let me share a brief story to illustrate how deep this loathing went.

Photo by: Adam Foster

Photo by: Adam Foster

 
Back in 2007, I had just moved to Seattle and was just starting to attend Quest Church. And that’s when I started to notice someone I came to call Quest Girl. She was smart, pretty, funny, fun – in short, she put the rush in crush (LOL). When I joined up with one of the church’s Bible studies, I ended up going to the same one she did (not entirely coincidentally).

Like most Bible studies, after the formal study portion is done, people hang around to mingle and catch up with friends. So a few months after joining this group, during one of these social times, Quest Girl walked across the room to where I was and started small talking. To me.

This was the first real conversation I had with her, so it was all really surfacy, chit chatty conversation. But you know how in small talk there are these pauses where two people normally break off the conversation and move on to talk to other people? There were a bunch of those pauses between Quest Girl and I, but here’s the thing. She didn’t move on. Each time one of these awkward lulls in our talk would crop up, she’d just stand there – sometimes looking at me, sometimes down at the cup in her hand. But she’d stand there until she or I (it was usually her) would find some other politely bland topic to chat about. And then there’d be another pause. And she’d stay standing there. And then we’d talk about something else.

It was painfully obvious (even to someone as utterly clueless when it comes to signs of attraction as I) that she was waiting for me to do something – something like asking her out for dinner or drinks or coffee/tea or walking her out to her car or asking for her number – something, anything!

But I just stood there like a fish, opening and closing my mouth as empty, insipid bubbles floated out.

Photo by: Luca Cerabona

Photo by: Luca Cerabona

 
My problem? On the inside, my brain was melting down. It was a train wreck up there. In addition to the “hurricane of terror screaming at me to bolt for the door” that I talked about in this post, there was something else in play, utterly frying my synapses.

Looking back on that time now, I believe I was suffering from an extreme case of cognitive dissonance – a condition where a brain tries to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. It’s like this. When you try to hold two magnets together with the same poles facing one another, the poles repel and it’s impossible to get them to touch. The stronger the magnets, the stronger the repellant force. While Quest Girl was standing in front of me, almost pleading for me to ask her out, my brain was struggling to bring together two opposite and opposing ideas:

Women I’m attracted to never find me attractive or want to go out with me.
I’m attracted to Quest Girl and she’s wanting to go out with me.

 
As hard as it tried, my brain could not hold these two ideas together but it also couldn’t let either of them go. And so in the midst of that struggle, it’s no wonder that it wasn’t able to string together these seven simple words: “would you like to go out sometime?”

Can you see how strong my doubt about my desirability was? It was so powerful that even when this woman that I had been crushing on for weeks was standing right there in front of me, signaling in no uncertain terms that she wanted me to ask her out, I still couldn’t overcome the belief that I was unwanted, unattractive, undesirable.

That, my friends, is what a shit ton of self loathing can do to a man.

PostSecret

Image from PostSecret

 
That was six years ago. Many things in my life have changed since then. I’ve worked through copious amounts of bad theology and shallow church teaching. Years of counseling have helped me work through a number of unhealthy self-denial patterns and relational issues. But this fear and loathing attached to asking women out goes WAY back – even before the church heaped guilt and shame on top of things. I’ve simply had really shitty luck when it comes to women, a trend going all the way back to high school. (In particular, one short-lived relationship that turned out especially awful early in college left me acutely cynical about me and my self worth.)

The law of averages have not been kind to me when it comes to dating.

And so, to return to the tweet that I started this post with – “This year for lent, I’m going to give up singleness.”

That tweet was a direct result of finishing a post where I was able to identify why it was that in the past few years, I was always abandoning relationships with women just as the relationship was getting good. That was quite a breakthrough for me and I was eager to get myself back out into the dating world to see if I could do different. I started to ask women out (yeah, plural). So I sent out the tweet in a kind of triumphal, celebratory pronouncement of my newfound dating bravado.

And then…

And then all those old fears and feelings of self-loathing started to creep up again. I found myself thinking very old, very cynical thoughts – thoughts like,

“yeah, maybe she said she’ll go out with you but that’s just a sympathy date. She’s gonna dump your fat, ugly, repugnant ass the first chance she gets. I mean, why the hell would anyone want to have a relationship with you? I’m telling you, that was just a sympathy “yes,” not a real one, so get over yourself.”

And if you can’t tell from the context, thoughts like that pop into my head right after getting off the phone with someone who just agreed to go out with me.

It happens that fast.

Photo by: Leeky-Boy

Photo by: Leeky-Boy

 
In the following days and weeks, as doubt and fear about dating again swelled within me like a mushroom cloud, I started sending out tweets like this:

I want to believe, but… (Mark 9:24)

and this

The problem with wrestling with hope is that it doesn’t put up much of a fight, even (maybe especially) when you need it to. #whereimat

But…

But then I started to see Quest pastors tweet things like

Lent is not meant for a 40 day challenge but a changed life. (Pastor Aaron)

and

When you give up something, replace it with something beautiful. Removing weeds without planting something…only produces more weeds later. (Pastor Eugene)

And then I went to Quest’s Ash Wednesday service where, upon the imposition of ashes, these words were spoken over me: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

And all of these lenten affirmations made me realize that this season really is an opportunity for me to take this liturgical season and my tweet about giving up singleness with the utmost seriousness. I also realized that it wasn’t necessarily singleness that I was giving up for lent, it was the debilitating cynicism regarding my singleness that I needed to fast from. I could choose to silence (or ignore) the voices trying to convince me that I’m undesirable. I could choose, instead, to believe that I’m awesome – that I’m so money, I don’t even know it.


 
Pastor Aaron’s tweet reminded me that I could take up a new conception of life and Pastor Eugene’s tweet challenged me to replace my self-loathing with self-belief. And the Ash Wednesday liturgical phrase reminded me that “…it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

This isn’t going to be an easy battle. These doubts around dating are old and entrenched. They’re reinforced by awful dating experiences and by bad church teachings. I’m not saying I’m going to emerge from this lenten season with a girlfriend, but I am saying that I am NOT going to let fear get in the way of trying. It’s me versus Clubber Lang and I’ve gotten my ass beat by him before, but that was then and this is the rematch.

Doubt is staring me down, saying, “I’m gonna bust you up.”

And I’m saying, “go for it.”

GoForIt

Who knows what this unexpected, unconventional lenten journey will bring. Worst case scenario, I go out on a bunch of dates with some really great women and none of these encounters blossom into a full blown relationship. In the mean time, I get to practice my swagga and gain some new confidence.

Best case scenario…

Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

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380. Bob redux (part 2): the “blessings” of chastity

Photo by: fensterbme

Photo by: fensterbme

[PREFACE]

(Click here for part 1.)

Someone once asked the painter, Jackson Pollock how he knew when one of his paintings was done. He famously replied, “How do you know when you’re finished making love?”

Even though I was able to come to a fuller understanding of some things that had been troubling me in my previous post, I knew that there were aspects of Bob that I still needed to unpack.

To use Pollock’s metaphor, I sensed that I wasn’t done making love… to Bob.

And so I bring you…

[END PREFACE]

In my previous post about this metaphor I refer to as Bob, I was able to (finally) recognize it as “the piece of me that’s been screaming for love – God’s love as well as the love of others (more specifically, the longing for a woman to know and love, and to be known and loved by).”

But I also sensed something new – that in the years between encounters, Bob had also become about something more, something edgier, something much darker.

Luckily, this time around, it didn’t take me four years to understand what this new bit of Bob was about. This time, I knew exactly what this new bit represented.

In the past few years, I’ve written a bunch of posts about how damaging church teachings around sexuality have been in my life. But I think the scope of all that I’ve missed out on in life and love is only really hitting me now. And I’ve missed out on so very much. It makes me deeply remorseful. And it makes me furious.

Image by: Hugh D. Crawford

 

I wish I could find those former purity-centered teachers and ask them:

Did I do it right? Is this how things were supposed to turn out? I’m turning 41 soon and in all these years, I’ve been unable to sustain a relationship with a woman because of the fear and guilt and shame that you cultivated within me.

But I’m still a virgin so it’s all good right?

And that’s not the only thing I did correctly. I’ve also never gotten anyone pregnant. I’ve never had an STD. I’ve never “ruined” my “purity” by having sex outside of marriage.

If these are the blessings of chastity that you wanted for me, congratulations. Mission accomplished. Job well done.

But do you want to know what else I’ve never done? I’ve never held a woman’s hand in mine while walking down the sidewalk. I’ve never felt a woman’s lips pressed upon my own. I don’t know what it’s like to watch a movie with my arm wrapped around the shoulder of the woman next to me. I’ve never slow danced with a woman without being awkward and uptight. I’ve never gone out on more than a handful of dates before having to inexplicably flee from the relationship because of internalized shame.

I’ve. Never. Been. In. Love.

Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted? Are you proud of me? Are you proud of yourself? Did I do it right? Is this how things were supposed to be?

I’ve thought a lot about the problems purity culture has sown in my life, but in my recent crying fit, all the things I discovered about how toxic the church’s teachings have been in this area of my life moved from my head down into my heart and out to rest of my body. I felt the weight of all that I had lost, all that my life has missed out on – all of the missed opportunities for warmth, intimacy, and touch; all the beautiful, amazing women I hurt as I left them hanging, just as things were starting to get good; all the love that I never let in; all these potent, vital life experiences that I let slip by. It all hit me, all at once, in a gush of molten, bloody tears.

Photo by: Mazda Hewitt

Photo by: Mazda Hewitt

 

O, my God, my God. I have forsaken so much. I have wasted so many opportunities to love and be loved. I have sacrificed so much of my life on the altar of a false Purity idol.

And what have I received in return?

Self loathing.

See, all those relationships that I rejected? I didn’t know back then to blame the poor teachings of the church. If anything, those confusing experiences reinforced the idea that maybe the church was right – that relationships are dangerous and harmful and that I should just wait until God drops someone into my life like manna, magically falling from the sky. I didn’t blame the church and so I blamed myself. I would think, “well, that relationship didn’t work out. I must be doing something wrong – that’s what the church would tell me. Or maybe it’s me – maybe I’m just wrong.”

I thought my failure to find intimate, loving relationship was my fault. I thought either I sucked at relationships or I just plain sucked myself. I felt utterly undesirable. I had no confidence, and of course that’s unappealing, so in the few instances when I worked up the courage to ask someone out, it’s no wonder many of them said no. And then I’d feel even less desirable. Or in the even rarer cases where they said yes, we might go out for a couple dates but then my fear-and-shame trigger would go off and I’d flee. And when that would happen, I would blame myself. And then I’d feel even less desirable than before.

It was a pretty vicious cycle of despair.


“…and the book says we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us!”

Indeed.

And I’m sorry (actually, I’m not) for this bitter, melancholy post, but this is not the end of Bob. Not yet.

There’s a dim ember of hope flickering deep beneath this near-infinite sadness and regret.

I’ll write more on this hope in a future post but for now, I leave you with these lines from The Smashing Pumpkins.

“On a distant shoreline, she waves her arms to me
As all the thought police, are closing in for sleep”

379. Bob redux (part 1)

Photo by: Alesa Dam

Photo by: Alesa Dam

 

About four years ago, I wrote a post about something (not someone) I called Bob.

Basically, I was writing about an experience I had at a contemplative church event. I won’t recap the events of the night (you can read about it here), but right near the beginning of the night, I experienced a huge crying fit. This is the kind of crying that comes from the depths, from way down deep in the psyche where the skeletons hide. I didn’t know what had prompted this crying and so I blogged about it and ended up calling this something, Bob.

A few months after that post, I put up another post where I made a rather astute observation.

…but before I can get to that, some backstory is in order.

Something shifted in me back in 2006. Prior to that year, I lived with an intense longing to be in a relationship. I used to complain about it all the time – how lonely I was and how none of the women I approached would go out with me. More than that, up until that time, praying for a girlfriend was the one consistent prayer of my life. But in 2006, something shifted. I don’t know what it was, but just like that, all that old longing for relationship was gone.

And so back in that other post, I made these speculative observations about what I thought Bob might be:

  • …it’s taken me a long time to realize this but… and this is really hard for me to admit and write here… I wonder if I’ve lost my desire for and ability to love. And I don’t just mean love in the context of romantic relationships. I mean love in all contexts. And I know that sounds like hyperbole, like I’m being overly dramatic for the sake of making my blog worth reading but in this case, I mean it just as I’m writing it. I don’t think I give or receive love very well, if at all.
  • I think that Bob is the part of me that still wants to love and be loved.
  • I wonder if, after all those years of being an unhappy single person longing for love, some subconscious part of me got tired of being lonely and frustrated and so it just amputated that part of me – lopped it off and buried it away somewhere. And maybe it thought that was that. And I didn’t think all that much about it because I was more than happy to be rid of all that old longing. But maybe it wasn’t just the romantic love part of me that got put away. Maybe love can’t be so neatly dissected. Maybe all (or most) of my ability to know/give/receive love got buried as well.

That was four years ago. I had just started grad school and I hadn’t started seeing a counselor yet. I’ve changed and learned so much since then, but all these years later, I’m only now realizing how on the money I was in that post.

See, here’s the thing.

I had another run in with Bob a few days ago – my first since that time four years ago. Out of nowhere I found myself in the midst of another random, primal, cathartic crying session. Bob was back, but things were different this time. This time I knew exactly what Bob was. Turns out, I was spot on when I wrote, “I think that Bob is the part of me that still wants to love and be loved.”

Photo by: Campbell

Sculpture: Device To Root Out Evil by Dennis Oppenheim – Photo by: Campbell

 

In the past two years, many of my posts have focused on two topics: the problems with the way the church today deals with sexuality and my evolving thoughts about God. I thought the two topics were separate but it turns out, they’re far more related than I ever could have guessed. And I never imagined they had anything to do with Bob, but they did. Turns out, they were all about unmasking Bob.

The posts about sexuality helped me to see how really bad church teachings around singleness led me to a life that feared intimacy – so much so that I self-sabotaged all of my dating relationships well before they could become anything significant, well before love entered the picture. The posts about God led me to a theology premised on the idea that the simplest and most profound way to talk about God is to say that God is love – that God (in all of God’s mystery, elusiveness, and transcendence) is primarily known and experienced through the love that we experience in our lives here on earth.

Do you see what the problem for me is? Taken in reverse order, if God is primarily known through love and if past church teachings have led me to a way of being in the world that has kept me from loving and from being loved, then it’s no wonder that a few weeks ago, I could post a poem like this on my blog:

God is dead, and yet I pray

I reach out into the void, without anticipation

and my hands come back empty

And yet I pray

And yet, I pray

Or post a tweet like this

I want to believe, but… (Mark 9:24) #vaguetweet

In short, Bob is the piece of me that’s been screaming for love – God’s love as well as the love of others (more specifically, the longing for a woman to know and love, and to be known and loved by). Whatever happened back in 2006 that relieved me of my yearning for a girlfriend, it somehow severed off, entirely, the part of me that seeks to love and to be loved. In other words, Bob represents my long lost desire for intimate, loving relationship.

coney island bird man

Photo by: Barry Yanowitz

 

Unfortunately, because of really bad theology and really bad experiences in past relationships (more on this bit in a future post), this longing somehow got shuttered away back in 2006.

But the thing about the desire for relationship is that it’s an integral part of how we humans are wired.1 So when that longing and that desire went away (probably a kind of compartmentalizing, psychic defense mechanism), it’s as if Bob got pushed underwater. Bob was robbed of oxygen and these intense crying fits were like little moments when Bob was able to claw his way to the surface and grab a tiny bit of attention and air – air that his lungs had been burning for, burning since 2006.

So what happens now – now that I finally see what this Bob thing has been about, now that I finally recognize my own need and desire to find love and to be loved?

…and here I apologize but the answer to this will have to wait for the next post.

Photo by: Eke Miedaner

Photo by: Eke Miedaner

 

1In the realm of psychology, attachment theorists tell us that humans only become healthy human beings in the context of relationships. Social scientists say the same as do many philosophers. And certainly, the resurgence of Trinitarian and the wide umbrella of relational theology reveals God as a radically relational God who is known primarily (if not exclusively) in our loving relations to fellow human beings and the rest of creation.

322. tell me about love (part 3)

[PREFACE]

(Part 1 here. Part 2 here.)

This has been one of the hardest posts to write in a really long time.

According to the journaling software I use to write my posts, I started it way back in January 19th. That’s almost a month ago.

It was a hard post for many reasons, but mostly because I think I’m being even more open and vulnerable than I usually am. On top of that, I’m not even sure about what I’m writing about and so being vulnerable about something I’m not sure about doesn’t make for easy writing.

But I’m glad I got it out and I’m glad I’m putting it up.

This has been a tough nut to crack but now that it’s done, I’m hoping to finally get back to posting at least one post per week.

Anyway, this is all just my (lame) excuse as to why it’s taken me so long to put anything up.

[END PREFACE]

So I’ve written before about how since the start of 2006, I’ve been content as a single person.

That was an interesting time in life for me. Prior to 2006, my one aim in life was to try and find someone to love. More specifically, someone to love who would love me back (an important distinction). I used to complain endlessly about being single to the point that my friends would politely suggest that I shut the hell up and just date someone already.

And then 2006 rolled around and all that longing went away all by itself. I mean there wasn’t any sort of grand epiphany that I had or any major life lesson that got me to change the way I felt about finding a girlfriend. Those longing feelings went away so cleanly that I didn’t even notice that they had gone until a few months had passed. I was just driving around one day and somehow noticed that I wasn’t pining for a relationship anymore.

In the months following my realization, there were two things going through my mind. First, I was wondering how long this contentment would last – I thought that I was somehow experiencing some sort of temporary reprieve from desperation and that one day the really bad, really lonely feelings would be back. Second, I wondered if there was any price to pay for this contentment. That is, I wondered if, in losing the longing that had plagued me for so long, I had lost something else at the same time.

Well two years have passed and I can say that I’m still very content with being single so I’m no longer worrying about that first bit. But the second bit? I think I’m beginning to realize that there was indeed a kind of price that I paid for this newfound contentment. And I’m beginning to think that the price may have been far higher than I ever thought it would be.

A little over a month ago I wrote about something that was eating away at me, something deep and hidden and ugly. I didn’t know what this something was so I decided to call it “Bob.” Anyway, I’m beginning to think that, in some way that is still unclear to me, Bob is a part of what it cost for me to have contentment as a single person.

And I realize I’m being obscure and vague, but it’s because the connection isn’t entirely clear to me either.

Let me see if I can write my way out of this.

There were lots of different reasons why I longed for a relationship prior to the liberation of 2006. Among them were these: I’ve always found women fascinating – the way they thought differently about the world, their soft skin, all the different ways they knew to do their hair, etc. I also longed for relationship because I wanted to know what it felt like to be loved by a woman. I wanted to be there for someone – someone who would be there for me as well. And of course I wanted to learn what I once called, “the warm, buttery language of touch.”

I had all kinds of different reasons why I wanted to be in a relationship, but I think the main one was always – to learn about how to love and how to be loved. I remember at one point, I got close to having a girlfriend. It’s a pretty long, pretty gory story (if you must know, see post 174) but suffice it to say that before it went bad, it was really good and I still (vaguely) remember how wondrously, vitally alive I felt during that time. And a big reason why I was looking for a relationship back then was to get that giddy, amazing feeling back – that feeling of loving and being loved.

And this is where I think I’ve paid a huge price for my contentment with being single.

See, it’s taken me a long time to realize this but…and this is really hard for me to admit and write here…I wonder if I’ve lost my desire for and ability to love. And I don’t just mean love in the context of romantic relationships. I mean love in all contexts. This is very difficult to write because it’s embarrassing to admit and hard to face but I think I need to go there if I’m to get through. And I know that sounds like hyperbole, like I’m being overly dramatic for the sake of making my blog worth reading but in this case, I mean it just as I’m writing it. I don’t think I give or receive love very well, if at all.

Actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought and written about this. Back in post 284 I wrote the following, “What if I have no idea what love is? Because . . . I don’t think I know what love is.”

Maybe I’ve lost my ability/desire to love. And maybe that’s because I don’t know what love is.

I don’t know.

But here’s what I think.

I think that Bob is the part of me that still wants to love and be loved.

Because love is at the core of what it is to be human isn’t it? But even if it isn’t, then love is certainly at the core of what it is to be a christian.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:7-12

See, I wonder if after all those years of being an unhappy single person longing for love, I wonder if some subconscious part of me got tired of being lonely and frustrated and so it just kind of amputated that part of me – lopped it off and buried it away somewhere. And maybe it thought that was that. And I didn’t think all that much about it because I was more than happy to be rid of all that old longing.

But maybe it wasn’t just the romantic love part of me that got put away. Maybe love can’t be so neatly dissected. Maybe all (or most) of my ability to know/give/receive love got buried as well.

But love is important, integral even. And if love is a large part of what it is to be whole, then despite the fact that I’m enjoying being single (being free of that old longing for a romantic relationship), something is very wrong in my life.

And that’s what I think Bob is about. Bob may be that submerged longing for and need for love working its way back up to the surface. And love is patient, love is kind and perhaps that’s why Bob only breaks through in moments of stillness and quiet and vulnerability.

So what now?

I don’t know.

But something needs to change because I think this not knowing how to accept, not knowing how to give, not knowing how to ask for love is affecting me in more ways than I’m aware of.

Because (and this is also very hard to admit) there are times when I wonder about God’s love for me. I mean, I know in theory that he loves me but I don’t know how to experience, how to sense, how to feel that love. And turing that around, I’m not sure how to love God.

Maybe it’s the perfect time for me to be attending Mars Hill Graduate School (I just realized that I haven’t blogged about this yet…stay tuned, I will). Maybe working towards a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology will help me work through these issues of love.

I don’t know.

And so tell me about love. Is anything I’m saying making any kind of sense? Am I suffering from mountain-out-of-molehill-itis? Am I still missing the point about Bob?

I don’t know.

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.”