Bill Long 1/2/05
What Am I Trying to Resolve?
The question of the day, then, is what are we trying to resolve, or dissolve or melt or bring to successful conclusion/completion in our lives? What is the interior "soul work" we are doing? In this regard the image of self-improvement is really not appropriate. It is not as if we are trying to "resolve" things in order to become better or "improved" people; rather, we seek to "resolve" things because we need to find the basic rhythms of our lives and to live in those rhythms. Resolving the hard spots, those tough-to-get grease spots of our lives is the act of one who fiercely loves him- or her-self but feels that s/he is not fully free to live his life.
Something is holding us back; something gnaws at us, debilitates us, nips at us, draws away our attention from the task we thought we were "called to" in life. Maybe, and this is a frightening thought, we are really not called to that great task that we have been envisioning all our days. Perhaps, in contrast, our task is simply to work on issues, to try to "resolve" things, to try to clean up that big spot in our hearts. Before we carry that idea too far, however, I want to muse on the items which I am trying to resolve as I speak.
Might as well start with the really big one. I began to love God fiercely around age 16. God was a sort of replacement-love for me, however; at first I was going to set the world afire through my athletic prowess, but a career-ending injury at Buck Shaw stadium in September 1968 changed those plans. I almost effortlessly shifted my allegiance over to God and, in this case, the God of Evangelical Protestantism. It was not an anti-intellectual God, however; I was a Presbyterian and my pastors/spiritual advisors were all "Princeton-certified." How did I love God? With all my heart and mind and strength, though I am not sure I loved my neighbor as myself.
I cultivated this love primarily through study, mastery of Scripture and the Reformed theological tradition, prayer and other spiritual disciplines. I began to memorize large swaths of Scripture, which remain much more deeply embedded in me today than Shakespeare, law or almost anything else that is identity-shaping. I got the highest score ever on the Presbyterian "Bible Content Exam," the first in a series of competency examinations administered to aspirants to the Presbyterian ministry. I felt that the promises to Israel and the earliest disciples were spoken directly to me, too. I felt that the God of the Bible was as real to me as He was to any person who had called upon Him for guidance or closeness over time. I felt as if I was tapping directly into the primal power-source of life.
But life happens and catches up with early idealism. It took me years to realize that the pain of clinging to a view of God like this in the midst of some confusing vicissitudes of life wasn't worth it. I had to abandon the view of God as a personal power pack into which I could tap at will for ability to live life in triumphal fulness (whatever that might mean). But where does that leave God? That is the big question for me.
I have known people whose views of God were so shattered by the dissonances of life that they abandoned God completely. 'If God would permit this to happen to me or my loved one(s), He certainly can't be worthy of my adoration,' is a common plaint of friends who were brought up to revere God. They join the ranks of the disillusioned, the hoodwinked, the ones who feel wiser but slightly abused in the process of gaining wisdom.
But that is not where I am. I will quickly add that I don't really know where I am. I am not who I was but I am not where these other people are. Sometimes I think that I still play/toy/engage with the idea of God because biblical images and passages come to mind so readily for me that I would have to abandon my first language if I gave up God. It would be like an immigrant who came to this country at age 45 and had to learn new languages but was forbidden to use the one's mother-tongue for the rest of one's days. I don't delight in church, but I could see myself some day setting up a shingle saying "Speaking about God." If I did this, I wouldn't want to talk to people about their mothers, their sex lives, their physical ailments or their political leanings. All I would want to ask them about is where they stand on God.
Just as Marilyn Chin keeps writing poetry to try to resolve the horrendous pain and guilt she feels at her father's abandonment of her family when she was 7, so I want to keep asking questions of people about God. "Tell me what you have thought about God during your life. Tell me what God means for you today. Do you pray? Do you study? Do you talk to others about God? Why do you believe? Or, why have you stopped believing? Is God still something that occupies your mind?"
I known I have not resolved where God fits in for me. The Evangelical voices that just screamed internally at me when I wrote the previous sentence just said, "But the more important question is where you fit in for God." But that voice is not a true voice now. It is a false scream, a kind of shout of a child who says that someone is beating them up but, in fact, it is all part of the children's play as they mingle on the playgrounds of life.
But I see I have only talked about one issue. There are others to resolve for me.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long