Thursday, 13 March 2014

Navigating the Sacred and the Secular as a Student

I'm writing an essay at the moment for an English class at school and the main themes of the essay, the main ideas that I've been kneading out lately, are the intricacies of the body, the spirit, and the mind. I've been thinking over basic questions like "what does it mean to be human?" and "what is this empty space in our spirit that propels us to search for meaning and fulfillment?"

Of course, as a Christian, I have the easy, Sunday school answer to these questions: Jesus.

And yet, I'm still wrestling with the themes in these texts I'm analyzing. There is a fundamental lack of hope and a cry of desperation ringing in them. They are wrung through with rebellion. The main characters are lost souls searching for love and fulfillment and meaning in all of the wrong places. The texts deal with a burning anger toward Capitalism, absent fathers, injustice, and an overall sense of numbness and despair.

I can't gloss over these themes and write an upbeat, optimistic essay that preaches "These people just need to become Christians and all of their problems will be solved." Of course I believe that Christianity and belief in Christ is what offers us hope and joy and life and everlasting peace. Of course I believe at the very core of myself that all these gaps are the absence of God, that these people are lost and searching and I know what they are searching for. I know what could redeem these stories, these poems, these films.

The problem with being a Christian at a secular University, studying secular literature with rough edges and gaping questions, is that not all the edges are pinned down so neatly. (Frankly, I don't want to pin them down so neatly, either). There is no opportunity for me to bend these texts in a way that points to Christianity and Jesus without sounding superficial or judgmental. It wouldn't be appropriate to slide in a "Christian perspective" paragraph at the end that neatly boxes the whole package into a compartment of hope and cozy theology.

This is an essay of analysis, not opinion. I don't write everything for school with a Christian slant by any means, but lately I've decided to critically look at how I can have a strong voice in the world of secular academics and literature without slipping into a safe category of "inspirational," or kicking every topic toward the same theme.

I believe that Christian literature and writing has its place (hence this whole blog and the foundation of most of my own personal writing), but I've also been thinking about how to expand my reach, my arena, my worldview. I don't think that every Christian has to get a Christian job or go to a Christian school. These are options that must be critically assessed. For some, these areas will be the perfect fit. That will be the place where they thrive and grow and bless and minister in the best way. For others, though, being strapped to the Christian bubble beyond their church community will be restrictive, unrealistic, or suffocating to them. Some people will weave in and out of both circles.

What am I trying to say?

As Christians, there is a delicate balance between becoming immersed and connected within a solid community of believers, and engaging beyond ourselves. Both are extremely important to pursue. However, there are sometimes grey areas between allowing our faith to propel our love, our values, and our opinions, and brushing up against, or creating the perception of, manipulation, judgement, or exclusion through our actions, our art, and our words, both written and spoken (even if it is unintentional). Is it fear or comfort that is binding us to our Christian circles, or is it the foundation of community, a passion that thrives best there, or a genuine calling?

As I said before, I don't write all of my essays through a Christian funnel, but I've been realizing that I am standing in a unique position right now as a student and a young adult. I should think about how my beliefs colour my studies, my relationships, and my work, especially my creative work. I've become aware that I have a voice and that is both a privilege and a humbling responsibility. I'm beginning to see this seam between the sacred and the secular more clearly than ever now. In some ways, I've witnessed a skillful and loving bridging of the two, in other ways, I still see a clear divide, and, in a few contexts, I've found a dilution of one into the other that mixes contradictions to produce a confusion of loyalties.

So this is the wild mess that I am picking through right now. I have a fairly clear vision of the road that I am personally walking, but I don't want to overlook new lessons I can learn here and now. I have no easy answers, except to navigate these issues through prayer and to continually align my focus through reading the Bible, becoming familiar with Jesus' character, and following in his footsteps. I want to remain discerning, malleable, open-minded, yet anchored, as I ask questions, press deeper, and wander through this journey we call the Christian life. It's a tangle of brokenness and hope.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Slow Release

Last week was a hazy sweep of work, laughter, emotion and action. The days smudged together and time warped and Friday night was so welcome. The week exhaled to a close.

I've been thinking about Lent in between all of the chaos. I have a few blog posts written and saved in a document on my laptop that wander through my thoughts about Lent, but none of them seemed authentic enough to share.

Last year, I engaged in Lent for one of the first times and it altered something in me on a very deep level. It taught me about looking outward rather than inward. It taught me about trust and prayer and walking on the edge of wonder and anticipation.

I prayed for five different people over the forty days of Lent. I didn't decide to do this because of Lent, but it happened to come up around the same time, so I ran parallel to it, grafting myself into the practice. The five people didn't know that I was praying for them, but I saw very direct and clear answers to my prayers manifested in their lives. Something fresh and rich grew up in me during that time and I point to that season as one of the most healthy and vibrant periods in my life.

I wanted to recreate that experience again this year. I wanted to have a focus and a direction and, to be honest, a cool story to tell about it. I've been trying to bend myself into Lent by attempting to find something meaningful to give up. Lent has already started and I still haven't pinpointed what to go without.

What is really resonating in my spirit right now is a quiet "wait for me." I think that I might simply need to use this Lenten season to sit and wait in expectation for God. Something in me pushes back against this. I don't want to wait. I want to see. I want to experience. I want the miracle and the transformation right now.

On the weekend, I engaged in a worship session that brushed up against a callous place in me. I realized that, somehow, I've been gripping burdens like a lifeline and their weight is pulling me down, suffocating my spirit, squelching my joy at times. I don't know what exactly I'm holding onto, but it is allowing fear and insecurity to seep in around the edges.

I thought I was done with this. I thought that I had found freedom from all of my fears already. I can't believe I've come full circle. I didn't properly guard myself against relapse. All of these thoughts caved in on me as I realized how heavy and ingrained these burdens are. They have begun to grow and intertwine like vines to build up a protective layer, a shield, a wall of distance.

A constant unclenching of the fist. Really, isn't that the essence of Lent? Isn't it about giving up, about going without, about regaining focus and grasping meaning in the hollow space that has been channeled into your life? What will fill that gap? Will it be new truth, or a conviction, or simply some air for breathing room?

Maybe, instead of giving up coffee or committing to a different way of prayer for Lent, I need to wait and reflect and begin to loosen the knots that have blunted my spirit and my trust. This whole season must be a slow release, an uncurling of the fingers. It takes time to pull away the layers. The deepest lies are not easily redirected. The heart of a burden is buried deep.

Rather than letting go at the beginning, this Lent will be a journey of release.