October 18, 2017

Sundays with Michael Spencer: January 4, 2015

michaelspencer-banner

Note from CM: 2015 will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Throughout the year, we will feature special remembrances to honor his memory and contributions. One of the ways we will do that is to give Michael his say every Sunday. We continue today, with a post that was originally published in January 2009.

• • •

il_340x270.358024606_ltpcBack in the day, I got a psych major in my undergrad work. That’s pretty ironic, believe me, in more ways than you can imagine.

I can’t say I learned a great deal, but I did begin a lifelong journey of making observations and drawing tentative conclusions about myself. If I would have paid attention to all I’ve discovered about myself, I’d have a very different life. Some psychologist can tell me why I routinely ignore the lessons I’ve learned and repeat all the same mistakes.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’ve got some holes in my personality that go a lot deeper than I can understand. They are caverns in my self-understanding; potholes in the soul, so to speak. Like a series of tunnels that connect with points in my past and experience, these dark places are imperfectly mapped, sometimes frightening and very, very real when you fall into one.

What I’ve found in some of those dark places can be amusing, irritating or terrifying.

Of course, I’ve learned to avoid these traps whenever possible, and some of the time I’m successful. I have the most well known holes in my soul marked with warning signs that I respect. The trouble is that you never know when a new hole is going to appear, often in the most unexpected places. And you never know how that dark place in your soul is going to help you understand what you’d rather not even thing about.

When it became apparent that my wife was going to go down the road to the Catholic Church, I fell down one of those holes. It was, in a word, an overpowering dark place of fear and anger. It came from someplace in me, but I couldn’t see where. For many weeks, it was my world.

In that hole was everything I heard about Catholicism growing up in a fundamentalist church more than 30 years ago. In that hole were a collection of fears about things I thought I understood and had under control. In that hole, was my fragile concept of vocation and marriage.

I fell into that hole and stayed there for a very long time. All I knew was how I felt. Feeling and fear were everything. I was thinking, reasoning, talking and asking questions, but I could not pull myself out. My journey out of this irrational, fearful darkness was slow and may still be incomplete.

The other night I picked up my son for dinner. I noticed that he had pierced his ears.

I have no problem with this sort of thing. He’s almost 21 and engaged. I don’t tell him how to live or dress. I have dozens and dozens of friends with pierced ears. I teach a lesson on this very issue in Bible class. I’ve told my son a dozen times that I don’t care, God doesn’t care and it’s not an issue.

But there I stood, and for that moment, I was falling down a well of feelings from another place in my soul. I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and disappointment. I had failed as a dad. My son was going down the wrong road. I was hurt and wanted to say how I felt; to express my disapproval.

It was, in a word, irrational.

Now in just a few moments I recalibrated myself back to rationality. My thoughts and my feeling matched back up with what I know and believe, and those moments in that dark place of irrationality faded away.

Now, why am I talking about this? More iMonk whining and dirty laundry? No, something different.

8839233e2d4eab428732162e908f2186How much of our lives do we spend reacting entirely out of those places of darkness, fear, irrationality and disconnected feelings? How many of our conflicts and problems come because we are deep in a hole, and do not recognize where we are?

How many of us are dominated by aspects of our history and experience that we are unable to view truthfully and rationally? Instead, we are speaking and acting in ways that are destructive and hurtful to ourselves and so many others?

I wonder how many of us are dealing with our spouses and our children out of places of darkness, but we are so submerged in the darkness and so afraid to see where we are that we will fight to the death anyone who challenges out view of reality?

When I listen to Christians speak- especially pastors and other leaders- I hear a lot of anger. I wonder where it comes from. I hear anger from Christians over things they say they believe deeply about love, truth and justice, but what comes out from so many is confusion and bitterness, but they don’t realize this is happening. They are unable to see that they are living out of fear and irrationality.

Years ago, a friend- an older man- was widowed after caring for his sick wife for many years. Six months later, he remarried. But his son, a good Christian man who I knew to be a loving and reasonable person, went completely over the edge objecting to his father’s marriage. His behavior was embarrassing…and it didn’t take a great deal of insight to see that his feelings came from places within himself that he could not acknowledge.

I can point out this fellow as an example, but I believe many of us are as conflicted and live out our lives in similar embarrassing conflicts. And I believe that if we can find a place where we can see what is happening to us, we will realize that these “holes” of emotion and irrational fear are not where we want to spend our lives.

The answer? Certainly we need to ask for insight in prayer into how we are living our lives, what we are living “out of,” and who we have become.

We also need spiritual direction, or at the least Godly counsel of those who can gently help us see the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the effects of our words and actions.

In our personal journeys, all of us should begin to map out those dark places we are aware of, and we should consider how we can grow in ways that will not lead us down those roads so easily.

Where we’ve done damage, and where we’ve insisted we were right and rational when we were, in fact, irrational and wrong, we should go back and make amends.

Somewhere, we need a community that can come to know us with an honest awareness of our personal “potholes of the soul.” In the honest acceptance of others, perhaps we can learn to accept ourselves with grace, contentment and compassion.

I will never come to a place where these “holes” of fear and emotion are not part of me, but I can live aware of them, transcend them by the grace of God, accept forgiveness and continue the journey on a better path.

Comments

  1. “Somewhere, we need a community that can come to know us with an honest awareness of our personal ‘potholes of the soul.’ In the honest acceptance of others, perhaps we can learn to accept ourselves with grace, contentment and compassion.”

    For me, this is the most important paragraph of the whole post. This may be because I did /not/ have that community when Michael published it originally, but I do now. The difference is more amazing than I could ever have envisioned. I won’t say I’ve reached a place of accepting myself in the way he describes, but I do finally have the capacity to imagine what it would be like.

    The worst part of it is that the church I was a member of in 2009 might have been wholly capable of being that community. I will never know, though, because I never took the risk of letting them truly get to know me.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      Love to you Tokah.

    • I agree; and the church should be that community. Why is it that it so often is not? That is one of my own “potholes”. It is a place I desperately want and need but, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I am unable to live honestly within it. I don’t really think the fault lies with those in my church–it’s within me. As much as I decry those who wear the “shiny, happy people” mask, I wear it as well as anyone.

      I am so glad you have a community in which you are accepted with grace, contentment and compassion. May we all come to find such a place.

  2. I’ve got some holes in my personality that go a lot deeper than I can understand. They are caverns in my self-understanding; potholes in the soul, so to speak. Like a series of tunnels that connect with points in my past and experience, these dark places are imperfectly mapped, sometimes frightening and very, very real when you fall into one… I will never come to a place where these “holes” of fear and emotion are not part of me

    We are fallen, broken creatures. One of the consequences of that is we will *never* be 100% rational in anything we do (however we of the Enlightenment may wish it so and decry the lack of it). If even love of Christ could not prevent the disciples themselves from falling into sin, what hope do we have to think we could improve on them?

    but I can live aware of them, transcend them by the grace of God, accept forgiveness and continue the journey on a better path.

    This.

  3. I did not find the Monastery until after Michael had died. Pieces like this one today amaze me that this was going on while I was struggling elsewhere unaware. I vaguely realize that they are all archived, but this place takes a pretty good chunk out of my day as it is. This is a great idea running them every Sunday and I hope the commitment continues. A piece like today’s is not in any way dated, will be relevant a hundred years from now. This connects us as a community in a way that is bigger than the daily connection. Sorry, CM, for harping on that word that bugs you but I don’t know how else to say it. The connection, or communion if you will, is very real. Thanks for doing this.

  4. That Other Jean says:

    Oh, I do get this post. My brain has rabbit holes I never knew about until I fell down them, like Alice, and discovered weird places that I never knew existed. It has taken me years to learn to recognize them and to (try to) cease lashing out from them in the fear and anger they harbor. I’ve tried to see that they are holdovers from incidents in the past and not relevant to the present, but it’s a work in progress.

    The best I can do now is to (try to) see where I’m coming from and try not to take it out on people in the present; often, that means to apologize and shut up. I’m sure I’ll find more holes to fall down before I learn to see and avoid them. I would love to find people willing to point out when I’ve tumbled down a rabbit hole and ceased to be rational; but I am not nearly as religious as Michael Spenser was, and I’ll never live in such a close community as the one in which he lived, so I will probably have to find ways to avoid, or climb out of them, for myself. Wish me luck.

    • That Other Jean says:

      Hunh. Talk about holdovers from the past: my fifth-grade teacher spelled her name Spenser, and my brain failed to register that it could be spelled any other way. Apologies to the shade of Michael Spencer-with-a-C.

  5. Michael’s insight and honesty is as helpful for me today as it was prior to 2009.

  6. I was pretty deep into one of those potholes when I discovered this site a few years ago. It was tough coming out of it, and caused me to question some things that I had held very deeply, and my life went in a different direction than I would have expected before falling into the hole. iMonk was a big part of getting through that, as was spending a lot of time sorting out my thoughts by journaling. And then there was a time of running and distractions. But that’s another story.

  7. I needed to hear this today. I realized that I have been responding irrationally based upon fears from my past.
    It kinda hurts me deep in my gut and it made me bawl my head off but as I walked and meditated and cried out to God I suddenly feel like I have found a new thread of hope. Thank you for these old posts. I only started reading IM right after Michael Spencer died so its all new to me. H

  8. I read this early Sunday morning and still fell into one of my holes/dark places yesterday. Today, I have written a lot about what that might mean. I am sorry for not doing something that I really needed to do, but did not. Lord, have mercy!

  9. I haven’t found that community Spencer speaks of, not even an approximation of it. I don’t expect to in this life; I’m not really looking, because I don’t believe it can happen. And the fault is not only in the communities I’ve been a part of, but in me. I probably can no more honestly accept others than I can myself; the fault lies as much in me as anywhere.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC_3d2NwABw