“The reason the Father loves Me is that I lay down My life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18, Berean Study Bible).
“We feel helpless to choose our own lives much less a common life or to see any overarching meaning in it all.” Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder
According to Village Church pastor Matt Chandler “deconstruction” is a “sexy” thing to do these days. Isn’t that funny? To tear down something is “sexy” in today’s culture. Honestly, I could think of a whole lot more sexy activities, but doesn’t this word already feel worn out, tired, and overused? Worn out, tired, and overused is traditionally not sexy. However, laying down one’s life because Jesus Christ calls us to do it, now that’s sexy—depending on how you define the word.
There is a tremendous tension between laying down our lives and choosing our own lives. As believers we know that Paul exhorts us to death to self (Romans 6:11-14) while our society calls us to take charge and “choose” the direction of our lives, to create and contribute meaning by charting our own course. The two things can feel in conflict with each other. How do we live both well and is this possible?
Pursuing the reams of possibilities that each side of this equation affords can create dissonance, real cognitive, emotional and behavioral dissonance, and so we quest. We lose our way. We pick ourselves back up and keep going. The ground shakes under our feet when all that we were taught growing up is invalidated or questioned. But if we are not questioning we are not “questing,” we cease learning and our lives stagnate into status quo. The irony of this is that in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, our hero begins and ends in Status Quo. Let’s resign ourselves to this notion that just getting through life on Earth makes us heroes and call it a day.
But we don’t believe this, do we? “Getting through it” is lame. And so we quest for meaning, for fruitfulness, for surrender, for joy. What are you questing after? Whether or not “deconstruction” is a sexy word, we are all on this pilgrim’s way in various stages and it is nothing new. The good news is we don’t have to be afraid of it, we can help each other along and deconstruction does not mean deconversion. When you remodel a house you work from what is in good enough shape to rebuild with, you don’t tear down the whole thing. That is demolition and that’s a different topic.
Don’t be afraid
The poetry of Scott Cairns walked into my heart in 2016 when a poem of his appeared in a Lenten anthology (see resources below) which also featured one of my poems. His opening line of the poem Evening Prayer asks the question, “And what would you pray in this the midst of our circular confusion save that the cup be taken away?” Jesus asked in Gethsemane that the cup be taken away. We dare say that he was afraid in his earthly being, yet immediately following this prayer he resigned himself to his Father’s will, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Questions, wonderings met by surrender to the will of the Father, is the way he models for us here. Thus, surrender must be a part of our deconstruction and reconstruction faith journey.
I met Scott Cairns in 2016 at Festival of Faith and Writing and heard some of his story, which included a long stop in the Greek monastery of Mount Athos, rebuilding his prayer life. Silence and listening shaped his experience and you can read about it in his memoir, Short Trip to the Edge. Creating space for silence and listening develops an aching for the Lord’s voice, think of it like a muscle which is silent while at work, but as we work it we grow stronger. When the muscle is aching we know it’s working.
Help each other along
We may no longer feel comfortable in our megachurches or our lifelong adult small groups, and that’s okay. These are not contractual obligations, there are new holy places and spaces to discover. What matters is that we honor the work of Christ with other believers, “All believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We do these things in remembrance of him and in the footsteps of all who have paved the way for our deconstructing and reconstructing lives.
There are so many who are further down the road for us to learn from — in books, yes real paper books! ( plug for actual books is irresistible here.) When we hold a book in our flesh-covered hands and read vellum pages in silence, we are engaging with multiple spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster alluded to the danger of not doing this at the same Festival of Faith and Writing, 2016, “Words are being trivialized by the blogosphere (and the podcastosphere) and as that happens more and more we descend into the pandemonium of Babel,” and “Allow our words to be grounded in silence.”
The pandemic has kept us from spending time live with each other. We even delight in the reduced humanity of Zoom because we can “see” the other person. Let’s re-enflesh our relationships and go to someone else’s church or invite someone not in our sphere to dinner. Make a meal, talk about Jesus, share what you’re reading, drink some wine with real people and wear a mask if you must. Remember that the great sacramentalist Woody Allen is credited with saying, “80 percent of life is showing up.” Showing up and sharing what God is doing in our lives, in our reading, in our prayer life translates to helping each other along as we work though the questions and wrestlings of our faith life together.
Deconstruction does not mean deconversion
If we believe that Christ’s work on the cross was a saving gift to us, one we can’t give ourselves, then we pray for the gift of faith to believe it more fully and with greater surrender to its power. With respect for Father Rohr, the way of the cross is the way of eternal life, only Christ had the power to choose it for himself and only he has the power to give us a heart’s desire to make such a choice. We do not choose it. His Holy Spirit enables us to choose it for ourselves which is ultimately for him, and in that choice there is gentleness and compassion, grace and abounding steadfast love. It may not be the meaning we think we are questing for, but he is Immanuel — God with us. Wherever you are and wherever your friends are in this walk of deconstructing or reconstructing faith try your best to give what Jesus gave us, his gentleness and lowliness of heart, his silence in the face of accusers, his presence and listening wholeheartedness, his joy and touch. In these we will find rest unto our wandering souls.
Recommended Resources for Reconstruction:
Book of Mercy, contemporary psalms by Leonard Cohen
If it be Your Will, by Leonard Cohen, sung by the Webb Sisters
Raising the Sparks, poems by Jennifer Wallace
To Shatter Glass, poems by Sister Sharon Hunter
Slow Pilgrim, poems by Scott Cairns
The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyon
Short Trip to the Edge, A Pilgrimage to Prayer by Scott Cairns
Between Midnight and Dawn – A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide, compiled by Sarah Arthur
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
The Generosity, poems by Luci Shaw
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortland
All paintings by Caravaggio
Always, the Bible.
This is spot on. Too many times we get stuck in a rut; even more so, post pandemic. Thanks for the encouragement to take the first step toward something new.
Susan! Thank you. Try out one of those resources or one I forgot to mention is called, Wild Hope – Stories for Lent from the Vanishing by Gayle Boss. As a teacher you will love the illustrations and pray into the hope for God to make us and our world new, again. I’m using it in my classes today. Love to Brooke today, too.
This is beautiful Margaret.
I love how you reminded us to give to others what Jesus freely offers. It is also important that we receive these gifts ourselves so that we can give to others from a place of fullness and not lack or self-sufficiency.
Thank you for your encouragement.
So true Molly. Thanks for reading and for pointing that important aspect out.
Thank you for this Margaret. I can’t help but point out as Jesus asked the father to take the cup from him and chose to nevertheless obey the father – the father sent an angel to Jesus in his distress to minister to him and he was strengthened to go on.
So as we pursue this life with God, as Immanuel, he accompanies us and builds us up. He equips us for the rocky but priceless journey.
He does accompany us so well, our paraclete and advocate! I love the way you reminded me that his Father sent an angel to be by his side in the desert. We all need someone:)
Thanks so much for giving your valuable time to my work!
This is a beautiful Lenten contemplation, Margaret. It takes faith and courage to die to self, even if it is just leaving zoom for meeting in the flesh again! (I smiled at your parallel with meeting in flesh and reading books that are flesh! ) And your closing sentence was so good!
Thank you so much for reading Dee! Looking forward to hearing you speak this weekend:) I have such fond memories (and notes) from your talk among Redbud writers in the past. Hugs!