The Celtics called them “thin places”. Places and moments where heaven and earth collide and, just for a moment, we get a glimpse and experience life as it was meant to be.
Last week I was on a long awaited spiritual pilgrimage in Iceland. The word epic is over-used today, but in this case it fits. It was a journey that was beyond words, and on several occasions, I did experience those thin places. There is this place—one of the very few spaces in the world—where the continental drift has caused the North American and European continents to collide. It’s incredible! Rock cliffs go straight up to the sky, and in-between those rock faces is a thin place. Standing there was very profound as I reached out toward two continents.
I just stood still and took in that moment. I felt really small.. It was hard to deny a creator at that moment.
We encountered many other thin places on this journey in Iceland:
- The sheer power of towering waterfalls.
- The moment time stood still in a little church as we starred at a bible dated 1584, and we wondered what that missionary journey must have been like
- The journey through fire and ice
- And of course the continued pursuit of “the cliff”
And so many other places none of us wanted to leave. My son Dylan said it best; ”these were days that God gave our band of journeyers, just for us as a gift… just a days to be overwhelmed by his abundance.”
As I soaked in these thin places I was reminded again that God cannot be tamed, contained or boxed in and you just never know when these thin places open up. It’s hard to not try and hang on to those moments, even though you know it is not possible.. I find myself hoping for more… actually aching to experience those moments again…
How about you? Any thin places you have experienced lately? Keep your eyes and ears open…
Breakers off the coast of County Clare, Ireland
This weekend, I am speaking about a crazy group of radical christians, that has intrigued me for years: The Celtic Christians. I have been captivated by their music, their customs, their close identity with nature, and their fiery and resilient faith through incredible circumstances.
A few hundred years after the birth of Christ, the Roman Empire had fallen and a spiritual darkness was overtaking Europe. It was actually one of the darkest times in human history. In the midst of the darkness, this bands of radical Christians emerged in northern England and Ireland. These enduring, mission-driven, resilient, faith warriors were later referred to as the Celtic Christians. They associated their spiritual journey with nature, and they referred to God/the Holy Spirit as The Wild Goose. That name has always given me pause. It hints at the mysterious, untamed, nature of God that has remained undeniable throughout history. It serves as a reminder that the spirit of God cannot be tracked, tamed, boxed in, or controlled.
Wild geese are…, WILD. They change course and move. They make noise. They fly in formation, yet they are free; free to change course, move and adjust. For me, wild geese are a reminder that when it comes to God, there is an element of discovery, adventure, intrique and unpredictability that seems to be absent from our spiritual journeys today. There is something about the idea of the wild goose that is compelling. It calls us out. It forces us to embrace the mystery of God that is so lost in our culture.
And it readies us for whatever He has in store…
I think the Celtic Christian had a sense for something we may have missed.
I wonder how I have tried to tame, control, or box in this wild goose. And as a result, I also wonder if I have just settled, and lost some of that passionate pursuit that has, at times, made me dangerous in my faith.
I hope that pursuing the wild Goose is the real thing. I hope and believe that it can truly be something different than what we are used to, or have been taught.. And I think it just may be way more mysterious and adventorous , un-certain and full of risk, than many of us may think.
So I was watching some of Batman Begins the other night. It was not the lame portrayal in the new Batman v Superman saga. It was the “real” Batman with Christian Bale.
Anyway, there is a point in the movie when Bruce Wayne, is contemplating the creation of the Batman character. Alfred tells him something to the effect that the people of Gotham will never understand, that they are lost, and that they may not be worth saving. At this point Bruce Wayne replies, “…Sometimes people need dramatic things…. they need big encounters that will shake them out of apathy.”
I was immediately reminded of the many apathetic seasons I have walked through in my spiritual journey. Seasons when I just felt flat, uninspired, void of any passion, and not sure if I cared enough to keep chasing this mysterious and often what seems like a silent God. As I started to think through some of those times in my past, I found myself remembering what it was that jarred me out of that spiritual apathy and the resulting doubt that had settled in.
Often, but not always, it was a crisis.
Sometimes, it was something more simple: music at the right time, or a scene in a movie (like what happened this week), a random conversation,or an epic moment in nature when God just showed up. But too often it has taken something significant like a crisis to really shake me up, and compel me back to seeking God with total abandon.
It happened on the heels of losing my dad in my twenties.
It happened in the midst of a long-term struggle that one of our kids has gone through.
It happened after a tough battle with depression years ago.
I wish that this did not have to be true in my life. I wish that it didn’t have to be true in the lives of others. But it does often seem to take significant, dramatic events to awaken us from our apathy. That seemed to be true in Gotham, it is certainly true in this country, and true in my own life as well.
Think through some of those times when you have just been coasting, settling, uninspired. Maybe you’re in one of those times right now. In the past, what did it take to get you moving? I know that being in an extended season of apathy sucks. I don’t want it for myself and I don’t want it for you. So even as I write this, I am more determined than ever to not let it go on so long. I need to get myself in a place where the emotions, the passion, my mind, and the pursuit of something greater, gets stirred up and moving.
As I think about this idea of “hanging on to faith” it does not seem very compelling. Who wants to just hang on to anything? It feels like an energy drainer and a passion killer. If that is all this faith journey is, then count me out. There has to be more. In fact, I know there is more, because I have seen glimpses of it. But even as I say that, I know there are seasons where just hanging on is all I’ve got; times where waiting for those moments, those windows where God breaks through, is the best I can do.
Over the last several years my son has been on a tough journey—a journey that has continued to assault him with one dream-crushing disappointment after another. After his junior year in high school he was being recruited by several division one basketball programs. Two of those programs were part of this year’s NCAA tournament. But after his junior year, a rash of injuries hit him and started a multi-year frustrating journey for all of us. What has followed the last four years has been three surgeries, multiple doctors visits literally all over the country, countless hours in physical therapy, and one set back after another. Now I could write a book about this journey. Just a month ago we met with a specialist in Florida, and had great hope of improvement. Then, while I was on a trip meeting guys from the RHYTHMinTWENTY and Rogue groups I work with, I got news he was in the emergency room with pain.
Now perspective is critical. This is not life threatening, and there is so much to be thankful. He has become a young man who is much deeper, and is a steady anchor for many others who are in rough waters. As a result of what he has been through, he has a weightiness to his life that is just different. But it has been four years, and it does not change the disappointment and or explain the seemingly relentless quiet that comes in response to the prayers and the questions.
As a as a dad who has turned over every stone to help him get better and to chase his dream, my choice now seems to be to hang on, or to say, ”Forget this. I am done with trying to understand where God is at in the midst of the challenge, struggle, and disappointment that life throws at us.”
Facing the cliff, and at times just hanging on, has caused some random thoughts over the years. —lessons from the edge, so to speak— on this specific issue:
- I have a son who is stronger, resilient, and steady, and more ready for whatever life throws at him, as a result of his time of hanging on.
- Through the last several years, there has been a cumulative effect of other struggles that have made this one even more difficult. But through it, I personally have pursued God, sometimes in anger, but always far more , when I’m hanging on, then when I am on the downhill or coasting. And
- Finding a place to get brutally honest with God, and with trusted others, has been absolutely key. For me, as I have watched him, and others go through things like this, time with my journal, an occasional micro-brew with good friends, and staying connected to things and places I am most passionate about has been a difference maker.
- Keeping my eyes, ears, and emotions tuned in, listening, watching and remaining open to experience those badly needed “God moments” has been critical as well.
And, no doubt about it, those moments have happened. More on that later. For now I am hanging on…
Sometimes this faith journey is just about hanging on.
Yesterday I was on a much needed bike ride, on a rare warm February day in Nebraska. As I crossed a railroad bridge, my mind flashed back to this place my friends and I would venture to during our teen years.
There was a long, old railroad bridge that crossed the Platte River. We would climb to the outside of the metal section of the bridge, and when trains would go by we would hang on. It was quite a rush. That entire old bridge would shake and we would hang on, literally with our fingertips, with all the strength we could muster. If the shaking was too great, the only danger was falling a few feet into the river, although our accounts of the adventure claimed that we were at risk of a much higher fall.
That is often what the journey of faith is like. Sometimes, it is just about hanging on. I have been close to a few couples lately who have been down the heart breaking road of infertility. One of those couples, after years of trying, and after walking through so many disappointments and heartbreaks, finally saw that miracle arrive. I know the last few years have been tough for them. Lots of questions and understandable struggle. Many times they were just hanging on.
I remember another couple I heard about who had waited years for a child. After their daughter was finally born, complications set in and they lost her. The answered prayer became much more painful than the unanswered prayer ever was. What do you do with that?
It is hard to know what to say, or what to do in situations like that. There are just no words for it. With all that life can throw at us, sometimes we really are just hanging on. I have had a few of those moments—well, really longer than moments, more like seasons over the last few years where I was just hanging on in the faith journey. So many questions… and during those times God has seemed so silent and detached. And I wonder why? Why does it have to be that way? Why so often does it feel like he leaves us hanging?
I will write about some on those in the next few weeks. For now, I am going to head back out on the bike and find that bridge again. Yesterday was a great reminder that sometimes you just have to hang on.