Embracing The Suck

Yeshua says, “If you are searching, you must not stop until you find. When you find, however, you will become troubled. Your confusion will give way to wonder. In wonder you will reign over all things. [*Your sovereignty will be your rest.]” (Gospel of Thomas, Logion 2, translated by Lynn Bauman.)

Jesus said, “Let him who seeks not cease seeking until he finds. And when he finds, he will be troubled. And when he has been troubled, he will marvel and he will reign over the All.” (TG, Logion 2, 1959 “raw” translation from the Coptic.)

*The bracketed portion does not properly belong to the Nag Hammadi scrolls found at the end of WWII, but does belong to scrolls known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri found earlier elsewhere in Egypt. Bauman’s translation is a bit of a mash-up or a “composite text” that may help the reader see more broadly.

Oxyrhynchus fragment

These two Jesus sayings from the “Gospel” of Thomas sound a lot like similar sayings found in Matthew 7 and Luke 11, where the gist is “Seek and you shall find.” “Knock and it shall be opened to you.”

Thomas offers it to us a little differently, with a little more conditionality. “IF you seek ….” It both requires the effort to go seeking, and an urgency to do so with persistence. “You must not cease” if you go seeking. And then it also throws this disconcerting thing in here about becoming troubled. I mean, yes, there is also the promise that, if you go through this seeking and finding and becoming troubled bit, you will wind up in wonder or amazement at what you find. And not only that, that this wonder will be the source of your “sovereignty.”

I’m not here to unpack all of that. That’s your task … IF you seek to do it. 🙂 But what I am saying here bears on what we’re going through right now in the midst of our pandemic.

Before I jump right to that, though, allow me a bit of a sideline.

Back around 1969, Thomas S. Kuhn wrote a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The book itself was a revolution because it called into question the “incremental” model of scientific discovery that held: scientific discovery happens with a small breakthrough, and then little by little, that theory is built upon until a newer, bigger theory is fleshed out. Kuhn argues that this isn’t what really happens.

He says that there are scientific paradigms – ways in which people believe for a certain amount of time … until scientists have to start making more and more “exceptions.” “This theory works this way, period. Well, except for X and in Situation Y, and then maybe not at all in Case Z.” The more exceptions that need to be made, the greater the realization that the paradigm which had been the reigning idea for quite a while, doesn’t exactly hold water. And so somebody has to come up with a NEW paradigm that seems to work better.

Inevitably, adherents to the old way are going to dig in their heels and insist that the old paradigm was correct and that those following the new one are a bunch of idiots or heretics or something. But in any case, there comes about a “malaise” as the old falls apart but the new isn’t yet emerged. Liminal space. That’s what my earlier post talked about.

Making that leap from the realm of science to the realm of lived experience, we find ourselves frequently in this odd position of realizing that the old way of things, for whatever reason, just doesn’t work anymore. It’s broken and there’s no going back. Deep down we know there’s no going back, so we’re left with the choice of denying the brokenness, or finding ourselves in free fall as we seek the emergence of the new paradigm.

What’s interesting here is that the crumbled old paradigm of “church attendance” is something that just fell apart overnight. Nobody chose this. Some tried to cling to the old pattern, saying “God will put a hedge of protection around his faithful.” And lots of them died. Because what they had wasn’t “faith:” it was misplaced certainty in a deus ex machina – a god that pops out of the box at the end of the play and moves everything toward a happy, Hollywood ending. That idea of God died on the cross outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, sprang back up, and died in the death camps in Poland and Germany during the Second World War, springs up again from time to time in various places and dies over and over and over again. That paradigm is broken. The paradigm that BEGINS to emerge time and again is the one that Paul knew about (I decided to know among you nothing but Christ and him crucified) and Luther taught about in the 16th century in his “Theology of the Cross.” This is a co-suffering, self-emptying, all-loving God who reaches out to us time and again. But we keep forgetting.

In any case, knowing that God is the way Luther and Paul and the Gospel writers described him, not like Zeus or any of those other boxed up gods, we have a ground upon which to build a new paradigm in preparation for the new arising of what God’s Church is going to look like.

We’ve been saying for years that the gathered church isn’t the ONLY form of the church. We are church when we’re gathered, yes; but we’re still church when we’re gathered in different ways (online, for example) or even when we’re scattered through physical distancing. THAT isn’t the problem.

The problem is: now that we’re searching, now that we’re finding the brokenness of the old paradigm, we’re becoming troubled. I said last time that this is an opportunity. And, even though it has taken me a zillion words to get here, I have some practical things that we can all do as we seek to Embrace the Suck of the broken paradigm and the absence of the new one.

As one of my spiritual mentors suggests: “Build a stomach for free fall.” Get used to it. Come to see it as the opportunity it is instead of viewing it only as something to be mourned. Yes, it will feel as though we’re throwing away something that has taken us lifetimes to build and cement into place. But we’re reminded not to build up storehouses for this world because things of this world simply don’t last. Instead build up storehouses for “higher” treasures. “Wonder” is a higher treasure. In Awe is where you will reign. Here your CAPACITY will be deepened, your ability to find what’s truly important, not just for you but for the whole world. Stand in amazement at where God has brought you.

Rob, you said this will be practical. Were you yanking our chain?
No. I wasn’t. But my answer may be a little “troubling.” You can take it or leave it, but what I’m going to suggest here is the adoption of a rhythm for life with some spiritual practices. At some point, we can unpack this stuff if we decide to take these things on communally, but for now, here’s what we’re looking at:

* A daily practice of sitting meditation (Centering Prayer). This is where it starts.
* Lectio divina (“Divine reading“) – a prayerful, meditative reading of Scripture.
* Chanting Psalms – not just saying them, but the intentional breathing and intonation of words
* Balancing each day with prayer and work (not over-balancing one or the other)
* Balancing solitude and togetherness
* Practicing “kenosis – pouring out, letting go, making space for something else to happen, such as the movement of the Holy Spirit – not asserting your entitlement

These things won’t “solve” our problem, but – even if you just choose one and stick with it – they will expand your perception, transform you so that you can deal with the problem in a way that won’t cause you anguish and suffering.

I’ll bust these things open over the next weeks, one or two at a time. Of course, nobody is obligated to do any of this. I wouldn’t do that to you even if I had the authority or power to do so. I’ll just remind you that, “if you seek, you must not cease seeking until you find.” While you may “become troubled, your trouble will give way to wonder,” and what a glorious place to be!

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