I Corinthians 13:12-13; I Kings 19 October 18, 2015
Is there anyone who likes being lost? Most of us like life when it is predictable and safe, in control. We don’t often look for opportunities to get lost. I imagine most of us get agitated and anxious when we are off the known path. But sometimes getting lost is precisely what happens. Think of a time when you were physically lost? (pause – reflect) Can you recall what that was like? What it felt like?
no map, no orientation, no familiarity, in the woods lost? Foreign country, language barrier lost? What about emotionally or spiritually lost? Disoriented? Unexpectedly losing something or someone precious; your health, the health of a loved one; a relationship; a job or the potential for one kind of lost, your paradigm of the meaning in life kind of lost or your faith or belief in how things hold together – lost?
Due to circumstances beyond our control we sometimes find ourselves lost and vulnerable: health, work, relationship, betrayal. Just when we think we are in control we are confronted by the reality that we don’t know what the future holds.
When people feel lost – when I feel lost, feelings of panic arise, displacing any hope of calm, logical, rational thinking. The slippery descent of blaming others can easily pop up; becoming critical of others or the inner critic emerges with self-blame or self-loathing as you enter a pit of self-doubt & fear.
First invitation that she offers: admit and accept that you will be lost. Second invitation: move from accepting being lost to choosing it when it happens.
“At this advanced level, the practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. It is something that happens, like it or not. The advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting itself becomes your choice as you explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.”
After accepting that getting lost will happen, and then daring to choose it, Taylor invites us to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and to engage it as a spiritual practice. In essence to see it not as a detour, but as the path; not just a wound, but as a gift; not a place where God is absent, but as a place where God is.
“God does some of God’s best work with people who are truly, seriously lost.”
“Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that we do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure/loss. When we fall ill, relationships fail, lose our jobs, we alienate or are alienated from loved ones, we are left alone to pick up the pieces. Even if we are ministered to by brave friends it can be hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives. Yet when we look in our lives to see what changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times. When the safety net has split, resources are gone, the way ahead is not clear, the sudden exposure can be frightening and revealing. We spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from this exposure that a weird kind of relief can result when we fail. To lie flat on the ground with the breath knocked out of you is to find a solid resting place.”
That’s pretty much what happened to Elijah…. He gets himself into a divine showdown with Queen Jezebel and the followers of Baal in a contest to prove who’s god was more powerful. As if God needs us to protect and prove God’s power and integrity. In an overzealous moment of triumph, Elijah led the prophets of Baal down by the riverside, drew his sword, and slew them all. Some might call it a resounding victory for Elijah. Until he receives a message telling him of Jezebel’s intentions to do away with him. “Elijah was terrified.” He runs into the wilderness to escape. Overcome with depression, he prays to God to end his life. Panic, fear, desolation, disorientation, LOST!
When Elijah’s resourcefulness runs out, angels from God step in. As he dozed, an angel came to him and said, “Wake up, Eat something; drink.” There was bread & water for him. Physically speaking, Elijah needed rest. God first ministered to Elijah’s physical needs. Sometimes the most spiritual thing a person needs when one is lost & disoriented is get enough rest and replenishment. He ate and drank, then dozed off again. Apparently, one nap and one meal wasn’t enough! After a while, the angel returned and woke Elijah again to eat and drink, saying Elijah would need his strength because he still had a long distance to travel.
Then God leads him through a time of reflection on a 200 mile, 40 day trip through the wilderness. Eventually, Elijah comes to the sacred mountain of Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. God allowed the prophet time to recover from his spiritual depression.
Elijah is asked a soul-searching question: “What are you doing here?”
He is still bruised from all that has happened. It is at this moment that he is told to come out of the cave, as God will pass by. Having experienced the manifestation of God in fire, it would make sense that Elijah would expect God to shine through in forces of nature. As thundering earthquake road, and the fire swept over the mountain, Elijah is disoriented. And then a faint whisper, a still, small voice. Elijah responds by covering his face with his mantle garment, the one that would be passed on to Elisha.
Life has a way of serving up events that blast us off our cow paths and propel us into the unknown, the scary, the mystifying. At such times we leave the land of certainty and find ourselves in uncharted regions without a compass and unable to see the movement of the guiding stars overhead. We find ourselves Lost. In that unaccustomed terrain, where our footsteps are unsure, we stand before Mystery. Lessons await, if we open ourselves.
There is a way of acceptance and surrender in the practice of getting lost that becomes faith. It allows us to be still enough to be where we are which, paradoxically, helps us to find ourselves and find God in the midst of getting lost. Then we find what we wouldn’t have found, grow in ways we wouldn’t have grown, deepen into trusting the unknown places of experience and change where Spirit might call us.
BBT suggests that such uncomfortable, unsettled moments can hold gifts: “I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the familiar path. I have lived through parts of life that no one in her right mind would ever willingly have chosen.” It is not to minimize or romanticize how frightening it can be when lost. Yet the author reminds us that some lessons can only be found when lost.
Asking for help may feel uncomfortable, but receiving help from others connects us to the web of life and the realities of our own precarious existence. When we become vulnerable, we become more open to receiving the hospitality of others. And to receive the hospitality of strangers can change us far more than providing it ever did. When we are lost and vulnerable and disoriented, we can find comfort in God’s presence. These moments are reminders that life is a gift to be savored, lived as fully and joyfully as possible. Gratitude for friends, loved ones and strangers who grace our lives.
If you are in a lost and disoriented place right now … I invite you to enter into the stillness of God’s whisper, to open yourself to the hospitality and rest that may come from unexpected places.
If you aren’t necessarily lost right now… I invite you into the spiritual practice of getting lost. Have you ever driven a route so many times the same exact way that you quip, “My car could find it’s way home without me driving.” That’s because we no longer need to pay attention. It becomes rote. But what happens when you take a different way that is unfamiliar? Your senses come alive. BBT says practicing getting lost in our physical spaces helps prepare us for when we get lost in other, deeper ways. She lives on a farm and shares her space with a herd of cows, and talks about the cow paths of our lives – the worn ways we have established for getting from here to there – and the value of stepping off those paths once in a while.
When we engage the practice of getting lost, we may become better equipped for the inevitable moments of being lost & dis-oriented. In the midst of those moments that make us feel somewhat lost, and anxious. What if instead of letting the fear of the unknown cause anxiety, we decide to embrace a spirit of exploration and adventure. To feel excited and open to the inevitable change that is to come. exploring life with it’s uncertainty as a spirit of adventure.
~T. S. Eliott We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
However it happens, take heart. Others before you have found a way in the wilderness, where there are as many angels as wild beasts, and plenty of other lost people, too.
So go get lost! Go face-to-face with the unknown. Embrace mystery.