The Irish poet Cecil Day Lewis observed, “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” I have come to accept this as an axiom of my existence. Although my training and discipline emphasizes effective, clear communication, increasingly I find a strange solace in ambiguity. Like the folds of a warm blanket on a cold morning, these nuances are comforting against the demands of certainty.
I’m certainly not the person that I was just a few years ago. Strange how just a short amount of time can give place to an enormous amount of perspective. I was listening to a podcast the other day and the subject of the conversation was described as an “Evangelical wonder boy.” I don’t think I was ever a wonder boy, but I certainly was a Pentecostal poster child. I now spend significant portions of my life reflecting on the history of North American Pentecostalism, working through my own histories with this enthusiastic and dogmatic sect, and trying to decide what to keep and what to discard. It reminds me of cleaning out a closet, desk, or junk drawer, or whatever space is designated as a catch all, eventually it must be cleaned out and then comes the sometimes-painstaking task of throwing things away. The problem with me is that I can sometimes hoard items that are no longer helpful to me or anyone else. These incongruent beliefs remained lodged in my heart, even though I’m able to organize the space in my head. The dichotomies between heart and head are ever present.
Philosopher James K.A. Smith says that we were never intended to be “brains on a stick.” I think he is right; our emotions are just as important as anything that happens in our minds. In fact, to be a flourishing human being then I’ve got to understand or at least process what I’m feeling in healthy ways. But the feelings are often inconsistent and contradictory. So, my mind organizes, categorizes, retains and discards, and then second guesses my choices.
For example, this morning I was watching the CBS Morning News. There was a story about the Hurricane Ida recovery efforts in Louisiana. It featured the story of a 77-year-old man who lived alone with his dog Nixon. The local Sheriff received a message from the man’s son to please check on him. The media followed the officer to the man’s home, and when he opened the door the police officer greeted him by saying “Your son is worried about you.” The elderly man responded, “I’m worried about me too!” and then gave the police officer a hug. I got emotional watching this. Sometimes I feel as if I am perpetually caught in an emotional hurricane, cleaning up in the aftermath, and having to decide whether to rebuild or moveon.
During all this vitriol of my personal and our collective existence, are these sweet moments of concern, care, and love. This collection of self loathing juxtaposed with sweet moments is challenging to navigate. A complicated beauty all its own.
Some people continue to define me by my past, some define me by my present, I often get trapped into defining myself by my imagined futures. All these definitions are incomplete. What is true for me is true for all of us. We aren’t what we once were, we aren’t yet what we will become. We just are. This should be enough.
“I’m setting the stage for, the things I love.
And I’m now the man I, once couldn’t be.
Nothing on Earth could, now ever move me.
I now have the will and, the strength a man needs.
It’s my will, and I’m not moving.
‘Cause if it’s your will, nothing can shake me.
It’s my will, to bow and praise you
I now have the will, to praise my God
Complexity haunts me, for I am two men.
Entrenched in a battle, that I’ll never win.
My discipline fails me, my knowledge it fools me.
But you are my shelter, the strength that I need.”
From the song My Will by DC Talk