The more I delve into Christian spirituality the more hopeful I become. This might surprise anyone who has been around me recently, as hope is not likely on the list of characteristics they would submit if asked.
But, thatís part of the reality of much Christian hope. Itís not the sort of hope like, ďI hope My Name is Earl is new this week.Ē A quick check on the Yahoo television listing says that it is, and thus that hope is quite easily given a boost.
Or, itís not even like, ďI hope she likes meĒ. Though that sort of hope has a much more potent reality behind it and in the lifting up or the crushing down can mimic in all sorts of ways the deeper spiritual emotions. Which is why some folks bounce around in romance so often, of course. The hope of anotherís validation and commitment is so much more palpable than coming to terms with God, who never rejects but doesnít often seem quite as close on a Friday night.
Because we are all made in the image of God, romance has hints of the divine running all through it. It tastes of that ideal community which we all, in our deepest selves, yearn for. To be sure, those that find it, even if for a season, make it appear perfection and salvation especially for those not so predestined.
But itís a taste. And it is a taste that oftentimes requires our becoming another sort of person in order to achieve. We will sacrifice great swaths of who we are in order to meet the checklists of a judging world to find ourselves in positions of acceptability.
The hope of Christian spirituality is something different, which is why thereís so much angst involved. If you think there is no angst involved than you are not delving into Christian spirituality, as everyone who is anyone has said there not only is but also more than you ever expect. Christian spirituality has as its goal the reality of becoming. This seems quite Buddhist, I suppose, and maybe there is here a slight sharing of paths. But the object is different in each, as is the ultimate reality and most everything else.
The Christian is not about becoming a repressed automaton. The Christian is not about dividing up into teams of followers or leaders. The Christian is not about becoming a nameless, faceless servant at the bidding of divine representatives in order to make enough heaven tokens so as to pay Peter at the gate.
The goal of Christian spirituality is to live life as a dance, a dance with wind and water and fire. It is to live fluidly in this life, even in challenges especially in joys, always discovering new steps and moving not to set pattern, but improvising with the music in learned ways. The goal of the Christian is not to lose self to the authority of a secret club but instead to become our best selves.
What does that mean? This is at the heart of the spiritual gifts, and at the heart of the Spiritís work in restoration. When we are called by God we are not called into loss but into gain, not only gain of Godís satisfaction but gain of realizing who we truly are, who we have been made to be. This is the joy of the spiritual life as we encounter ourselves fully for the first time, and the intrepid sorts are willing to wade not only through the joy that is becoming but also the darkness that sticks like tar to the inner self.
The best self involves washing off this tar, sometimes with a hose, sometimes with tweezers. It also involves discovery of that which is representative of who we are in this world. In the Church this is our constant, daily, active, and promoted use of our particular spiritual gifts, which is a phrase made into much more than it really is. Do what God created you to do, Paul is saying. He made you in a certain way, so do those things and let other people do the sorts of things that He made them for. Empowered by the Spirit our very essence in action points back to the Spirit, thus to Christ, thus to the Father.
Our best self isnít limited to Church, however. Thank Goodness. Our best self is also discovered in the daily grind of life, in our vocations, in our relationships, in our loves and hates and habits.
It involves letting go that which the world suggests is our best selves and discovering for ourselves the whispers of the Spirit.
In college I wanted to become a lawyer. I likely would have been a good lawyer. Only that path didnít move forward for a lot of reasons, a lot of which had to do with my prayers that it move forward. I would have been a good lawyer, most likely, but I would not in becoming a lawyer become my best self, that path seems to have insisted on seminary rather than law school ó though it might be quite the opposite for someone else.
Best self is that quality of personal achievement in which we are fully doing that which most exemplifies our particular gifts and lessons and experiences, maximizing our contributions to others and to ourselves. While the non-spiritual seek to do that which maximizes income, or power, or ego, the one who seeks Christian spirituality seeks something deeper and broader and fuller. Such a person seeks not to resonate to the world in this moment but to resonate to the world for eternity, tapping into the fullness of Godís work so as to participate in the manner of Godís ordination. Tapping into that brings a person from existing to becoming, and in so doing is a discovery of profound importance.
Where should we be that we are fully who we are? That is the dance. That is where the music is leading us. That requires, all too often, tearing and confusion and frustration and alienation and isolation as we break free from the constraints of a temporal world and begin to see according to the Spiritís rhythms and listen to the Spiritís melody and discover the eternal reality of which faith in us opens up.
It is Peter stepping off the boat. It is also Peter stepping into the Temple and preaching Jesus. And Peter stepping to Rome to find his own death. It is Peter preaching in the streets, and Peter embracing the fullness of Godís promises that have no boundary of life and death. It is the Peter whose name we know because in following Jesus he became himself most fully. We donít know the names of those who found Jesusí teachings too difficult and so walked away, likely back into lives much more explicable. The rich, young ruler kept his riches, and didnít become the writer of 1st and 2nd Antioch, which might have followed the book of Hebrews.
In discovering our best self through the Spirit we wade through the utter angst so as to push it aside and leave behind that grinding, aching, angst that so many endure throughout their lives and justify by pointing to the supposed security of their existence. This is, of course, why they are not content in all circumstances, because it is an artifice that can easily be destroyed by illness, or rumors of illness, or disaster, or supposed conspiracy.
This is why I have hope, even now in the middle of a particularly deep muddle. The present road may be long. It may be full of shadows and long stretches with not a taste of even brackish water, but it is a road to discovery, and in casting off that which points otherwise I have in mind the discovery of the Spirit, which is the discovery of my own best self in not only worship and eternal destination, but more powerfully the discovery of my becoming in whole the person Christ called.
The road may be bumpy now. It may be lonely. But, there is peace ahead. There is a river of living water. There is hope that is so utterly grounded that it seems palpable even without seeing. There also I will finally meet myself, and meet others who have traveled this road, where we can become, and do, and help those who struggle for the same.
Patrick Oden lives and works in the mountains of Southern California. Education web design pays the bills. Writing and enjoying the beauty of God's Creation fills his soul.