Courage to Wander

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Since its inception in 2002, the top-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold more than 32 million copies worldwide. It has also been translated into more than thirty different languages yet transcends all languages by the asking of the most basic of questions, “Why am I here?” Now I’m not writing to explain how this book has answered the deepest questions in my life. As a matter of fact, I have never even read the book! My point is this, for a book to sell so many copies worldwide is a clear indicator of how many people have felt lost in their lives. That sense of feeling lost has a way of unnerving us on our deepest levels, despite the great Tolkien truth, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I suppose for some the feeling is mutual, wandering and lost. It comes with a sense of a lost purpose and meaning, precisely why a book like The Purpose Driven Life sells. It’s part of our human nature to be connected and to have purpose and meaning.

It’s not, though, the way many live their lives. Some feel as if the world, life, the government, whomever, is out to get them for one reason or another and have a sense of being trapped in life. It can be finances, relationships, or even a sense of duty that has a way of yanking freedom from our lives leaving us depressed and outright angry towards life. It comes in all walks of life, bitter men and women who have an axe to grind. I life less examined is a life unlived. It will certainly leave anyone feeling lost and alone, lonely despite the people that surround their lives day in and day out. In the end, we still lie down at night by ourselves and with the weight of a day and unexamined life, the darkness seems to hang just above the tip of the nose, weighing us down even in our moments of supposed rest. Rest becomes restlessness.

We have so access to so much at our fingertips. We have more information than our brains can even begin to process and understand. We look to win arguments rather than listen. We practically look for a fight simply to prove our rightness, a shadowed pride needing to be tamed. We resort to the lowest common denominator out of the shear fact that it’s the way we have lived our lives. The unexamined life has no other choice but to settle and to live in fear. We have convinced ourselves of being deserved nothing more out of life. Our sense of duty is incomparable to anyone else but the price leads us further consumed by our own pain that has left to often rot within our core. We have lost our sense of purpose and meaning and somehow it’s everyone else’s fault for the way I feel. The life of constant victimhood has no freedom because it has yet to take responsibility for the choices made. The life of victimhood and blame lacks meaning and purpose because it still chooses to trust the most ill-trusted voices, the voices of others who live an unexamined life.

Yes, we do have it all at our fingertips, but the desire for meaning and purpose will never be found in a book and nor will it come from some authority dictating life for you. If it is, they too have yet to examine their own life and are negligent in the landscape of the heart. We have become, at least by appearance, a heartless people. We are clueless in the matters of the heart because of the pain we carry with us as individuals and as people. Vengeance and bitterness, yelling, needing to prove rightness, are all matters of the ego, and a wounded one at that! Allowing ourselves to be consumed by pain moves us to a heartlessness separating us from our own humanity.

We settle for religious leaders who themselves are wolves in sheep’s clothing. We settle for political agendas to dictate how I am to think and what I am to believe. We settle for political leaders to be a moral compass, despite their own desire for power. We settle for lies over truth because we no longer know what truth is, a marked indicator of that separation from our humanity and a broken heart. We settle for duty, often to things we hate, simply because we lack the heart and passion to catapult is to a more fulfilling lived life. We are a hurting people who are trying to navigate the heart’s landscape with damaged ego’s leading us further into lostness and no longer wandering.

It would seem as if this is all gloom and doom and have the desire to simply throw our hands up and giving up. However, it is that passivity that leads us to that sense of powerlessness. Our natural inclination is to react to it and abuse that power against others, positions, taking advantage of others we have deemed less than ourselves. However, to live a life with purpose and meaning requires us to take control of our lives while at the same time surrendering it to the unknown. Quite frankly, it is what scares us the most. The unknown feels like “out of control” and feels like “falling” and feels like “lostness” and even like “hell”. It is, though, our ego that desires control and status quo, stability, safety, despite the very fact that none of it is true. The landscape of the heart, in some ways, requires us to go against the grain of what we have been told and taught. It’s an act of unlearning so much of what has been learned, for good or for ill. It’s an unlearning of thought patterns and beliefs of self. It hurts and is painful but no less than the silent pain we live with daily when we refuse to look into the arid landscape of the heart, an unexamined heart and life.

We all desire meaning and purpose. It’s at the heart of who we are. We may not always know what it looks like, but we know it evolves over the course of our lives. The way we parent or are friend are different from when we are 25 and when we are 50 and 70 and beyond. It not much has changed and we live with bitterness and resentment, then we have work to do. It doesn’t matter the age. As long as we have been given breath for another day we have the opportunity to live an examined life. It may come in the form of working with a therapist, coach, counselor, psychiatrist, or simply a loved one who understands and has done the hard work of an examined life and heart. If you’re unsure, a good indicator is the way they empathize. It’s not about sympathizing, as if they don’t have the ability to walk in your shoes. Rather, about empathy, walking with the other. They come with wisdom and the ability to simply listen without judgment. Their heart breaks with you as you wrestle with your life and what has been clung to over the years.

More often than not it is our pain we hold onto. We are a people that hurts and have been convinced of the only way of dealing with that hurt is to run and literally get lost. We have been convinced of consuming when we hurt, buy up all we have and yet resulting in a pain that only runs deeper, as if seeping from our toes. Meaning and purpose is possible for everyone and doesn’t require anyone else to change but you. It begins to change the way we see the world around us and most importantly, our own self. A life and heart examined reconnects us in ways, moving us to wanting more out of life and finding ways to seek it, no longer lost but wandering. Yet, no longer wandering through a lost world, but through a heart that we have yet to know. As if wandering through our favorite place but now with a sight that sees.

Do yourself a favor if you find yourself looking for meaning and purpose, don’t buy a book telling you to follow certain steps, and all of a sudden, it’s found. Rather, buy yourself time. It’s the cheapest thing you can buy for yourself and yet the most beneficial. Make the time for silence. Make the choice to seek out wisdom figures who can accompany you on your journey, who can listen to your pain without judgment or condemnation. Choose to turn off the television, especially while listening to the people you simply agree with; it feeds the ego like a rabid wolf. Find the time for you even if it means disappointing others. Care for something or someone beyond yourself, even if it means digging your hands in the dirt. Digging in this way can do more for the heart and soul than any book! In time, the fear of losing control, surrendering, and falling will become swallowed up by courage, not to conquer the world, but simply take a step to a new way of life. It’s not only that you should demand such a life but the world needs you now to live that life, one of purpose and meaning.

Meaningful Wandering

Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64: 2-7; Mark 13: 33-37

Although no expert other than what I’ve studied in Christian classics, I do know that one of the main themes in the writing of Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that of wandering. Tolkien saw wandering as a journey in and of itself and necessary, even if we don’t particularly care for it or if it feels lost. He is the one that coined the phrase, “Not all those who wander are lost.” If you’ve read or watched any of the stories you know the characters are often on the move from one place to another, often facing obstacles, at times wanting to give up and questioning the purpose of it all. Yet, they remain persistent in the pursuit of what he’d consider the idyllic or archetypal king, just as we do during this season as we seek that idyllic king in the birth of the Christ at Christmas. Wandering, even as the Magi will do, is necessary in order to create the space necessary for something new to begin to take shape.
The same is true for people Israel. As a matter of fact, they have made an art out of it as part of their history and the same is true when we hear from Isaiah today and will through these weeks of Advent. They find themselves on the backend of the Babylonian Exile, a life of bondage and enslavement, and as they return home they return thinking they can pick up where they left off, that home would be the home they had always known, despite history telling them otherwise. More often than not they believe it is God that wanders from them, abandoning them in their hour of need, but Isaiah in his lament towards God, speaks of how they find themselves in this position that they have been all but familiar with of wandering from what they have known and still creating space for what is new.
However, they hold onto the expectations of returning to normalcy and they return with the expectation that the way they’ve experienced God before would once again be the same. They wanted to return to what was, but after years of exile and now wandering themselves they begin to see that that’s not true and they can’t return home in the way they left. Home was no longer home for Israel. They feel lost and alone. Isaiah, though, at the very end of his lament reminds them of who this God is, the one who has seen them through the Red Sea and the one that has once again brought them out of exile to return a changed people. He uses the image of a God who is like a potter and the people his clay. And like the potter and his clay, it’s always being reformed into something new, softening the edges, molding it into a new masterpiece. It is a finished product that is never finished but refined as they turn their faith and trust to the one that has remained steadfast and faithful, this God of mystery that leads them from what had been known into the great unknown. Like Tolkien, Israel searches for that idyllic king and not always recognizing that it is them that are being called to change and to become.
The same is true of Mark’s community as we now switch gears from Matthew’s Gospel. Mark is very bare bones compared to Matthew and very much focuses on his community in Rome and learning how to hope even in the midst of suffering, just as it often was with Israel. Mark’s community was in constant tension with Nero who was a tyrant and bully towards them. They were often to blame as a minority for all wrong-doing and so they consistently felt the wrath of him and his people. It was a city that lived in fear of what he was capable of at that time and Mark’s community was an easy target. Today we hear near the end of the Gospel as Jesus’ death is soon imminent. Much of this chapter is filled with this ominous language that seems more like doomsday. But that was the reality in which they lived. It wasn’t so much God that they feared coming in the dark of night or early morning, it was the political leaders of the time under Nero and so they had to be at watch and aware while resisting the fear that was imposed upon them. Needless to say, this often led the community to feel like they had no home, wandering aimlessly and suffering at the hands of others. The language we hear was a message of hope for Mark’s community, as Isaiah was today, for faithful followers of the way who had no home and needed to continue to trust this faithful God who has seen them through and is constantly molding them into something new. They find themselves wandering from what had been to a new life being formed even through their suffering.
As we begin this rather brief Advent season, we come mindful of our own wandering. In many ways, in the world we live, we seem to always find ourselves in transition from what has been known and yet wait with anticipation for what the newness is that God is inviting us into and to trust entering into the unknown. We too seek that idyllic king who is always molding and forming us, more often than not when we find ourselves wandering and waiting; not necessarily lost but often feeling that way. We pray for the grace to wander as a people, in our very hearts and souls that are being called to be cleansed of our old way of thinking in order for that space to be created for the embodiment of love at Christmas. It’s hard. It’s painful. And at times we want to go back to what was, clinging to our old gods. In moments of grace, though, we are invited to let go and surrender as we wander while opening ourselves to the gift of new life and the embodiment of God’s word in our lives, changing us forever and yet still being molded and formed into something new and unknown.