Much of my life revolves around questions. As someone who enjoys theology, I love posing a question to, or about, the divine from the crux of my doubt or unknowing and then wrestling with it. As a writer, journalist, and storyteller, I love asking others questions about their lives and personal journeys so that I can share a compelling story with the world. The other day, however, I was confronted with the interesting notion that perhaps two of the things I enjoy the most in my life—theology and storytelling—have somehow become pursuits that help me to avoid dealing with my brokenness within. In this sense, as meaningful and fulfilling and helpful and transcendent as these pursuits may be to me, I’ve begun to realize that they can also become distractions—avenues that help me avoid directly confronting my brokenness. In a single week, both my friend and my counselor at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte confronted me with ideas that reflected this question: Have you ever asked yourself questions with the same fervor and intrigue that you ask God questions and the same curiosity that you ask the subjects of your stories questions? Though this was directed toward me, I believe this idea is for all who are reading this. We all have questions about the world and our existence. But far too often these questions are exterior-focused (Why did he/she do that to me?; How could my boss treat me like that?; Why did God allow this to happen?) rather than interior-focused (What are my blindspots in relationships?; Why I am afraid of leaving this job or moving from this city?; What does my spiritual approach or prayer life say about my God-view?). I recently heard a parable from Irish philosopher Peter Rollins about a man who was undergoing intense psychoanalysis because he was convinced that he was a seed. The man was eventually released to return home because he finally began to believe that he was not a seed. However, when the man saw his neighbor’s chickens, he ended up back in psychoanalysis, crying hysterically and having a mental breakdown. His therapist asked him, “What happened? You know that you aren’t a seed,” to which the man responded, “I know that! But do the chickens know?” Many of our problems might seem as if they are on the exterior—the chickens of our lives—but usually the root of the problem is somewhere within us, where real change, growth, and maturity needs to take place. The more we can gain energy from within, the more soundly we will approach the exterior, the cruelties of this world. If I can awaken more to who I am and who I am not, I will not be so fearful of being eaten. I’ve divided this post into two primary sections: “mystic of my mind,” a challenge for me to apply my same mystic-like intrigue and wonder to the temple within, and “seeker of my soul,” a challenge for me to apply my same journalistic curiosity in seeking to understand my own story. I hope this post will be an encouragement to you—to be your own mystic and journalist as you explore what my pastor calls the “universe within.” As St. Teresa of Avila writes in The Way Of Perfection, “Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge.”
Mystic of my mind We are all mystics, in sense, because there are things about our present reality that we do not understand. In Peter Scazerro's brilliant book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, he discusses the metaphor of an iceberg—how 90 percent of an iceberg is beneath the surface of the water. What’s visible to others is rarely the entirety of our struggles. So how will I further explore the density of the dangerous and deadly icebergs in my mind, my psyche? Am I willing to plunge into the freezing waters and evaluate its magnitude and explore what might be contributing to the iceberg’s existence?