A couple days ago, my good friend and fellow blogger ER posted this, which has the most marvelous title, "No Map For My Wandering Pilgrim Way". The post got my mind churning about saying something a bit personal, as it were, and then, lo and behold, I came across the latest installment of the Progressive Bible Study over at Street Prophets, which considers the whining of the people to Moses in Exodus 17. I guess that clinches it, I thought, so I will offer here some very personal thoughts. Always dangerous. . .
Without going in to gory detail - which I am not interested in doing anyway, and would bore most people - the worst time of my life (a period stretching from sometime in 1989 through late 1990) was marked by a kind of spiritual risk aversion on my part. The reason I love the title of ER's post so much is simple - there was a time in my life when I wanted, indeed even prayed for, a map. I wanted to know what my life held for me. I didn't want anything left to chance. When things in my life started to fall apart, and they did so rather rapidly and precipitously due to my own inability to handle the rather mundane problems life throws at you, I became even more risk-averse, cowering and running to various places of safety, rather than deal with things as they were.
I do believe that has been a part of my life ever since. The last time I stood on the edge of a deep chasm and leaped, eyes open, was a long time ago. I have been playing it quite safe - not just spiritually but in many aspects of my life - for so long, while talking a good game, I realized very recently that "cowardice" is a good word for one of my defining character traits. Of course, there is a fine line between "cowardice" and "caution" in life, especially as we get older and our responsibilities pile up. Yet, we ignore the reality that so much of what we call "responsibility" is a fake security blanket we toss over our lives so that we can pretend that we don't live on the edge of a bottomless pit.
Playing it safe is all well and good at times. Yet, when it becomes a habit, it betrays a dearth not just of faith, but a capacity for taking life as it comes, and discovering all sorts of joys - and, yes, pains, too - that are out there for the taking. Life without risk isn't really living, but marking time. It also isn't the life God wants for us. After all, God asks so little of us - just our lives, and the death we all must face anyway. Why hide behind the trappings of a false security - call it money, or family, or success, or even a home - in order to hide the fact that we don't want to put any of this in jeopardy. We'll sing songs praising God on Sunday, but please don't ask us to quit our job on Monday because we work for a company that's screwing its workers or dumping toxic waste. We'll pray for the kingdom to come, but make sure our lives aren't disturbed all that much by the event. It's always someone else, some other, whose life becomes topsy-turvy because of the way our lives go.
Along with the story of the children whining in the desert, I would also recall another Biblical story - the parable Jesus tells of the wedding banquet. We have no idea when, how, or for what purpose, God will call us, or in what form that call will come. In St. Matthews' telling, please recall that all those good, sensible folk who pleaded that life interfered with their ability to answer that call ended up in the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing their teeth. This isn't a game we're about here. Every moment is filled with the potential for ultimate meaning, if we are open enough, and brave enough, to risk it.
I no longer wish to hide behind all the trappings of life and say that I am being sensible, when really what I am is a big, fat chicken, unwilling to face the truth that to live is to risk. Obviously, every risk has the potential to pretty much destroy everything - just look at the past seven years in the United States, and the sad state of our affairs - but it also has the potential for the biggest, most wonderful payoffs. Running scared because the possibility of loss exists isn't living, and, to be honest, I want to live.