Monday, April 27, 2009

Let's Go Shopping

But all love was troubled and made cold, and Maleldil's voice became hard to hear so that wisdom grew little among them. - C.S. Lewis, in Perelandra

I heard a story once, in law school. I don't know if it's true or not. The story goes that a transactional lawyer much like myself was once at a presentation being given by another lawyer who did public interest work. After the presentation the transactional lawyer, much impressed, caught the presenter and expressed his sincere admiration for the cause he had just heard about, and the work that the presenter was doing. "Why don't you join us?" asked the presenter. "We could always use more attorneys on staff."

Feeling a little guilty, the transactional lawyer declined. "The work I'm doing here is important too," he said.

To his surprise, the presenter agreed. "Yes," he said. "The world needs people that do what you do. But if it ever feels less than heroic, give me a call."

For most of my life I have been - overall - quite content with where I was, and what I was doing. It was enough to keep my eyes on the present, because I was sure that what I was doing now was what God needed me to do, and that he would lead me in due time to what I needed to do in the future. I wasn't caught on the academic treadmill like some. I was fortunate in that I really did like school, but I never felt any pressure to take certain classes or to go to certain schools or even to perform well, except that I wanted to kick ass academically because I knew that I could. Gifts want to be used.

I was also fortunate in that most of my thinking spiritual life was conveniently broken up into bite-sized chunks. More or less the seasons of my spiritual life coincided with the major school changes - middle school, high school, undergrad. I just knew, without perhaps thinking it through very critically, that my life would change at those junctures, and roughly speaking they did. This being my conviction and my experience, it was difficult to feel too adrift. Whatever was going on now was what I needed to be doing now, and now was very probably going to end at or about the next graduation, which was never more than four years away.

I wrote home once that being at Stanford was like being on vacation all the time. From this point of retrospect, my entire life prior to graduation seems that way.

And then came law school, which was the next thing that I knew God needed me to do.
For the first time school was hard, intellectually and morally (not that there weren't intellectually hard things at Stanford, but I didn't feel called to chemistry, thank God, and my classics studies weren't hard - they merely required lots of effort). And not only were things hard, but for the first time, I wasn't sure I could do it. At all.

Something broke inside me during law school that still hasn't been put together. The confidence that I could do anything - maybe not easily, but that I could do it - was shattered. Not obliterated. But fractured. Unwhole. Something else was shattered at the same time: the sense that God was with me.

Please note that I said the sense. The great rhetra upon which Charismatics learn to rely grew hard to hear, and wisdom has perhaps grown little with me of late. And so I am left going to work many days, like today, feeling decidedly unheroic, wondering what it's all for, and not really convinced, deep down, that I can kick this job's ass if I really have to.

Mornings (and afternoons) like that are bleak, especially because I still feel like I'm where I need to be and doing what I need to do. My moral North Star feels like it's grown dimmer, but I'm still sure where it is.

So what's a guy to do?

A lot of things that Charismatics learn to rely on are like sex - they're great, and I think it's stupid to build a relationship without them, but it's equally stupid to build a relationship upon them. So it is with the voice of God. So it's hard to hear these days, is it? Well, what of it? What does that change?

It changes how brave I feel. It changes how safe I feel. But does it change what I know? What I trust?

Depends upon what my trust is founded. If my trust is founded upon the subjective religious experience of hearing the voice of God, then I am a) screwed and b) a great fool. But my trust is not founded upon that; it is founded upon Scripture, and buttressed by experience. And Scripture tells me that while God may speak to me, he won't necessarily - and it suggests that if I find him hard to hear, the problem is more likely on my end than his. Very well, there's plenty about my spiritual life that could be better. Very well, this sucks. Doesn't change what I know. What I trust.

So I don't always feel like I can do it, do I? Well, why did I feel that way before? If it was because I was a cocky smartass, well, losing that isn't a bad thing. If it was because I knew that what I had to do is something God has called me to do, or that my success - indeed, my very competence - rested on him more than me, well, that puts a different spin on the need to front up and get on with it.

So I don't feel heroic, do I? Well, who does? I don't actually think that heroism ever really feels heroic. Heroism is, as I know perfectly well, usually just getting on with the job in the face of what seem like very good reasons not to.

This isn't to say that there aren't things in me that truly are broken, and need to be fixed. And I do miss the old certainty that all was well because, if we had to, God and I could kick the ass of anything that came our way. But in the meantime, I need to focus on what I know.