a personal spiritual story

Back in 1986, I moved to Brazil with my wife and kids. I remember the first year as this crazy, exciting, frustrating, whirlwind of  Portuguese learning, culture adapting, food tasting, furniture buying,  music listening, church going, friend meeting, etc, etc, etc. Everything was new. Everyday was a new discovery. And I learned that I actually thrive on this kind of stuff…..up to a certain point.

And that point came in the second year. The point was that spiritually I felt as dry as sun-baked, cracked-up mud. (To be fair to myself, I was also on the bottom curve of the cultural stress phenomenon, where many of  the “quaint & interesting” things in a new culture have become frustrations.) In any case, I felt like I had been blindsided by a spiritual 18-wheel truck. Things used to be fine between me and God. I had been attending church all this time, just like a good little Christian. What had happened?

So I found myself one day contemplating my dilemma. In reality I was setting the table for an elaborate, High-Tea-type pity party for myself, where I was pouring tea into every spiritual excuse, complaint and whine that would dare approach the table.

This is not really my fault, I told myself…

  • I go to church, but I don’t get anything out of it because it is in this language that doesn’t give my heart that warm and fuzzy feeling…
  • My closest Christian friend isn’t around, and we can’t meet at that Chinese restaurant where we talked over so many things…
  • I’m tired of the few Christian music CDs that I brought and I can’t buy anymore…in English anyway…(remember this was the pre-internet age)
  • That certain radio Bible study I liked was no longer on the AM dial…
  • I can’t find challenging new books at the bookstore…again…at least not in my mother tongue…
  • And I’m sure my list when on and on…

After getting all of this out of my “tea pot”….I thought to myself, If God showed up to my little pity party, how would he react to what he’d surely heard? 

God would probably have said to me, “Hey bud – So…it looks like it is just you and me now!

This thought immediately cleared the table. It yanked the table cloth completely off, sending my fine-china, pity-party tea pot crashing to the floor.  And there we were. Just the two of us.  It was now me and the “Big Guy” with elbows on a bare wooden table, eye-to-eye.  And I was ready to push back.

Sure, just you and me! Oh, that sounds great doesn’t it? But…umm….has anyone ever told you that YOU ARE INVISIBLE! Surely someone has brought this to your attention before!  AND YOU NEVER SAY ANYTHING! …Sure, I know, you “wrote” the Bible….BUT IT’S NOT THE SAME THING! Beside, it’s boring! Boy oh boy! THIS IS GOING TO BE ONE GREAT RELATIONSHIP, spending time with my invisible friend who never says anything! Can’t wait! WHAT IN THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THEN?  If it’s really “just you and me now”??? Please, do tell! Go ahead, I’m listening!

Well, if I was directing this movie – at this point, I would have Jesus gradually fade away into a light mist, not responding at all to my question. Well, maybe he’d have just a parting smirk on his disappearing face. But, you see,  it’s not that he can’t handle a little push back…well, ok…ANGER from one of his humanoids! No, in fact I think he likes it! (another David complained quite often.) Jesus faded away and didn’t respond because like a wise teacher, he knew the answer wasn’t an easy one. That “3-steps-to-a-healthy-relationship-with-God” type talk really doesn’t work for long. That, in reality, I had just taken the first step toward embarking on a long adventure of finding the answer for myself. This was in stark contrast to the above list of well-worn crutches,  the people or things I depended on to keep propping me up.

It was about this time I had the brilliant idea of stringing up my hammock on the small veranda behind our house. There, suspended between heaven and earth (great metaphor, heh?) I began having sessions with the “invisible One who never speaks”. Other metaphors came to my mind… Ok, here’s the deal, God…I want to forget everything I know about you up to this point and start over. I’m going to reformat my spiritual hard drive. I’m leaving the systems on it (basically: you love me and I’m trying to love you back), but everything else is going to be re-evaluated or re-learned. I’m starting over from zero.

But, starting at zero was not easy. I honestly didn’t know what to do!  I imagined myself as an insecure, zit-faced, twelve-year-old boy sitting on a park bench with the most beautiful twelve-year old babe I had ever seen. And we’re supposed to have a “relationship”? I can’t even look down toward your legs without feeling totally awkward, much less look you in the eyesor other parts of your body! Oh sorry…

It was also about this time that I became aware of a tiny little fact, that was a real game changer for me…that spirituality and creativity are from the same side of the brain. It is like these two play on the same brain playground, they know each other, they trust each other, they pour sand in each others hair, they’re friends. So with my new blank canvas…(or reformatted spiritual hard drive, to stick with the same metaphor) I began to allow myself to apply more creativity to my spiritual relationship dilemma. I experimented with new and interesting ideas…unexplored techniques… My old narrowly-defined ideas about “prayer” weren’t around any longer to say,  Hey, you’re not supposed to do that…or….that’s not reverent enough…or…what would your pastor think about this?  I would read out loud to God. I would make long lists of people for whom I was thankful. I would try to recall and say aloud every name of God I could remember in the Bible.  I would make up simple new songs and sing them to God. I wrote poetry. I walked around and around. I jumped up and down. I laid with my face to the ground. I sat in stillness. I listened to the birds. I doodled. I read the same inspiring scripture over and over until I could taste it. I lit candles. I lamented for friends who were grieving. I often prayed for victims of robbery, for parents of children who suddenly died, and once I pleaded for weeks for friends who had been kidnapped. And more than once I fell peacefully asleep in my hammock.

The more I did these things, the more I got the feeling that the Babe on the park bench definitely seemed to like it. My image of myself changed from the zit-faced kid to a confidant adult friend. The metaphor of the park bench evolved into two lovers meeting there and asking each other...what do you want to do today? Just be with you….then they proceed to improvise something for the moment, whether it’s a walk in the rain, or a quiet head on the shoulder, or crazy dreaming about the future, or silent gazes into each other’s eyes.

So what’s the “take away” from my little story? Well, if you haven’t already…

  • may you take a vacation from your spiritual crutches
  • may you have a good rant w/ the Big Guy at the table (he can take it)
  • may you reformat your spiritual hard drive
  • may you forget what you have formerly known as ‘prayer’ and get creative with it
  • may you meet your Lover on a park bench and do something crazy together