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Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #6

In September of 2012 I tried to encourage people to change when change was upon them, not hold on to their past and die off, spiritually.

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes whisper, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like I am losing faith or am destined for faith mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t move me anymore? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department. He is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, emotionally cut off, and isolated from his colleagues at work. In a strange turn of events, his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheikh and the sheikh’s sexy wealth-manager. Things begin to change. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own transformation.

Continue reading Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

What if I don’t feel God anymore?: Ewan McGregor on spiritual development

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes surreptitiously ask: “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like a mundane Christian destined for mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t anymore? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

Ewan McGregor’s development parable

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department who is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, and emotionally cut off from relationships with his colleagues. When his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheik and the sheik’s wealth-managing, sexy assistant, things begin to transform. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own change.

The movie is a somewhat odd story about getting salmon to thrive and reproduce in the Yemeni desert. At one crucial point, they have created a lake and a fish ladder and they have stocked the lake with farm-bred salmon (because the wild fish were too precious for enthusiasts to part with). The farm-bred fish are like Ewan McGregor: staid and stuck in a holding tank. Ewan has sat in his cubicle for a long time not really doing anything; he has sat in his depressing marriage not having children and not really making love. The question about these farm-bred salmon is: will they swim upstream, as salmon instinctively must do to reproduce?

As with all good parables, you are already asking the question: “Will I?” What about my development?

will they develop?They tensely watch from the dam and are sure their whole, huge experiment is a bust. But right when they are ready to give up, one salmon leaps out of the water and soon all of them are turning around and getting up the ladder and up the stream. Excitement ensues.

But then something horrible happens. Just like Ewan experienced in the middle of his new project when his wife decided to leave him, some person who thinks the sheik is a liberal threat to Yemeni culture blows up the dam and most of the fish are left high and dry. Just a little creek is left of the water project. They are sure all is lost. Ewan does not know what to do. But as he despondently looks over the project, one lone, surviving fish leaps in the air. They were not all killed! A lot died, but something new hung on. Their previous idea for the water project was still in pieces, but a new and better result sprang up from ruins of their work.

Ewan felt like a dried up scientist destined for the mundane. He tried something new and it didn’t work just right and he did not know what to do. Something unexpected took place as a result of him taking some initiative. He endured the loss of what was and entered into what is next.

If you don’t feel God, that is probably what is happening to you.

First of all, no one can really answer the questions, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” because you are precious you. One size does not fit all when it comes to faith.

Second of all, I have some ideas about what might be going on. Don’t give up!

1)  Your childhood faith might be wearing out. It usually needs to move from head to heart.

I use the running the bases chart to talk about how we know God. It implies that we are always developing. That is a good thing, even though it includes feeling the uncertainty of moving further and the loss of standing safely on a base. The “game” is ongoing.

A lot of Christians only get to first base when it comes to understanding God. They have kind of a teenager faith. Many people come to faith when they are teenagers and they never get much farther than their original understanding. If you don’t experience the presence of God, maybe God moved on and you stopped following!

Old feelings pass away, but deeper feelings are in store. Spiritual “feelings” that are deeper than the reactions we learned in childhood are being developed in our much larger and deeper new eternal family.

2) You are going through a change of season and you need some new disciplines.

Just think about what is the center of having a “first base” faith in Jesus: knowing the Bible. It is quite a feat to achieve a basic understanding of what Jesus is talking about, much more to feel secure about the way you are going to do the word.  It takes a lot of concentration to just get started. It might be tempting to stay on the first base of faith, or second, or wherever you are, even though that season of development is over.

In the case of reading the Bible, spiritual development can’t stay at the level of merely understanding concepts. For instance, the Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. From reading the Bible we gain a collection of basic approaches to laying a personal, spiritual foundation that must accompany our reading. Meditating on the Bible saturates us with the truth and love that is revealed. We’re not just reading the words, we are responding to God and forming our relationship.

If that relationship does not keep changing and growing, something is stuck. In a new season we are called to run the bases at a deeper level. Our original idea of what they meant, as good as it might have been, turns out to have something deeper behind it.

3) You are experiencing psychological development

In our relationships with God we are always working on basic trust. We develop in the Spirit a lot like children develop in their families. Rather than milk we need solid food. Eventually, we need to develop agency. We have to endure losses and become adult. What doesn’t kill us helps us grow, it is said, and that is mostly true.

If you are wondering why you don’t feel God, it could be depression or anxiety talking. These symptoms are “friends” that alert us to deeper things happening in our souls. They may not feel like friends, but they are signposts of change. The uncomfortable feelings we often prefer to avoid are actually important to our spiritual development. The destruction of dams we thought should never be blown up often results in something better we never could have predicted.

Close relationships and young marriages often go through a lot of anger and hurt as the partners push one another to develop. When children are added to a family they push people farther. Losing one’s job or losing a loved one calls us to become deeper, to trust God. We need to listen to our anger, listen to the sadness and other feelings behind it and find out what it developing. Let’s not merely fight, flee or freeze in a self-defeating way, our typical way, the old way. Jesus is a new way.

Thinking over a parable, reading this blog post, relating to what is said, trying to stay open to God (even if you think your relationship is in a holding tank that feels less than fresh), are all ways to start moving in a new direction. You have spiritual instincts that are always ready to kick in. Let them leap.

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Running the Bases: Revised

We need to know how we know things. This became clear again, lately, as some of my friends needed to make big decisions. They did not have as many resources for discernment as they wished they had! A couple of times we got out the old baseball diamond chart and tried to “run the bases” a few times to figure something out.

bases

The chart offers a way to simplify the process of making decisions — discerning what we need to know. At its most basic level of interpretation the chart is about coming to understand what we consciously know, at this point, about what God is saying to us, and how we might sort that out.

The creation – We start as creatures in God’s creation, with instincts about what is good and bad, safe and dangerous, beautiful and ugly, etc. Some people might call what we do at this base an appreciation of “natural law.” We can know a lot about what God is trying to say by sitting on the beach looking at the ocean. One can read deep things about God by sitting with a leaf for a while.

Note: People or institutions that never get off home plate aren’t in the game much; they tend to think being a creature, interpreting “reality” from their own vantage point is all there is!

The Bible —  The revelation recorded in the Bible is like first base, our elementary, basic teaching about what God says and how to do the word. It is the basis of our tribe’s “lore” — our understanding about life, our tradition, history and ritual. It is the tried and true compendium from the spiritual ancestors validated by the present-day confirmation of the Spirit. Our practical, historical, and accountable understanding of God starts here. The Bible is mother’s milk to spiritual babes; and everyone comes to God as a child.

Note: People or institutions that live on first base might be a bit infantile.

The Body – The Church is like second base; it includes first base and started at home. In the church we have an ongoing dialogue that continues to process the word we have received and to incorporate further revelation. By speaking the truth in love our critical thinking is engaged. We discern-things-through with one another. In this way the body of Christ allows us to grow into more “teenage” thinking. We need a place where we can dare to be someone while still in a secure environment.

Note: People or institutions that stay on second base can end up designed for endless argument, just like teens seem to be.

The Spirit – A deepening person-to-person relationship with God is like getting to third base. We have to consider how God is directly speaking to us. We need to develop confidence that our thoughts and feelings coincide with God’s character and actions. We need to relate to God. We have experiences like Paul meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, or Matthew hearing Jesus call him to follow, or the woman at the well hearing her deepest secrets and needs touched. We long for a daily sense of discernment and direction– a sense that we know and appreciate God for who God is.

Note: People or institutions who camp on third base can be so subjective that their conclusions can ultimately be more about themselves than God.

After “running” we get back to home with a deeper understanding of our place in creation and our mission in the re-creation. Chances are, we will be running the bases again to sort out some new thought or circumstance. We hunger to keep moving with God and keep receiving from God all the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and vision we are given through every “base.”

Obviously, what I’ve said so far is a somewhat superficial idea about the complexity of thinking. It is mainly on a rational level. Lately I have thought I should be considering how to run the bases like an organism that is more than a brain. We listen and learn with our emotions and our new spiritual instincts as well as our minds. So “running the bases” should reflect how we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The creation – I need to consider how I work as the creature I am. I am a peculiar creation with a way about me that is natural for me. I should honor that and live out of my new self with confidence.

The Bible – Reading the Bible is not just about understanding concepts. The Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. I need a collection of disciplines that help my inner being conform to the revelation I read or am taught, so I am saturated with the truth and love that is revealed. I am doing the word, not just hearing it. I am responding to God’s word to me, obeying, developing not just collecting thoughts.

The Body – My place in the body is elemental to my knowledge of God. Here I receive spiritual direction from caring people who know me. Here I test out my gifts and prove my value. From here I launch into mission. In the process of building, I am built. There is no ultimate knowledge outside God’s family.

The Spirit – I have an entire, spiritual side to me that is being discovered. God may lead me through new impulses, through visions. My dreams may come to have deeper meaning. I may receive words of prophecy, even the ability to heal. My daily experience of life has changed, so that everything has meaning. I can learn from every moment, every person, every discourse.

I put out this very basic thinking to encourage anyone who is listening to run the bases a few times today at various levels. Almost any subject can benefit from some Spirit-to-spirit mentalizing: What should I do about my marriage? How should I enter into the meeting at work today? How is God responding to the fear I am feeling? What should I do next?

God bless you as you do some spiritual huffing and puffing around the diamond.

[For a nice treatment of a lot of this, pick up Wilkie and Noreen Au’s The Discerning Heart]