I skyped with my spiritual director today. Thank God for face time technology that allows us peasants in remote areas to access supports and friends in urban centres! It doesn’t trump physical face-to-face meetings, but it makes so many things possible that weren’t possible before (my degree?). 🙂
We chatted about a few things, one of them being this persistent frustration with vocation, calling and careers. I love where I work right now, but it’s tough to make ends meet in a high-cost-of-living region. Plus I do sense this pull towards more attention to Coming Home — vocational ministry. Perhaps if I’d taken the pre-seminary degree in college from the jump, I wouldn’t be at this muddy crossroads right now.
I wouldn’t exchange my time in the MAUS program for anything.
But this restlessness won’t leave me. It’s distracting and soul-sucking.
I’ve been told I’m over thinking the matter and that whatever comes I need to be open to receive. After careful consideration of the advice, as well-intentioned as it was, I’ve decided I want to bop this person on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.
Yes, the irony.
So throw in there some guilt for “over thinking” or “over analyzing”.
I mentioned this guilt to my spiritual director and, after a few moments of silence, she blew the playing field wide open.
“Have you ever considered your frustrated restlessness as holy?”
I’d described my experiences kayaking out on the lake; and how the turbulence was good for me to experience, but it expended a lot of energy and focus. It took a lot out of me to navigate the currents and swells, and to not tip over in the deepest parts of the water.
She asked if I knew the hymn “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness”, and I laughed. As a newbie to mainline traditions, I laughed that a lot of these hymns were new to me, but yes I was familiar with the song she spoke of. Faith referenced a line in the refrain that sings:
“Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness; Wind, wind on the sea” (James K. Manley)
The Holy Spirit has a sacred restlessness to her. John 3:8 reads 7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (The Message).
When we think of God during our turbulent times, we tend to lean towards verses like Psalm 46:10 — “Be still and know that I am God.” And those passages are good! They are peaceful and assuring and calming. But I’m coming to understand that God is restless too. In pursuing us, in loving us, in seeking us, Spirit-as-Breath, Spirit-as-Spirit moves in ways that aren’t always calming or restful. She stirs things up, She parts trees to find what She seeks, She lifts sand and dirt.
Why is our own restlessness then seen as sinful or mentally detrimental?
I mentioned to Faith, too, that my prayers of late had basically become basic spoken syllables for my anxieties; but then I would feel guilt about being anxious; and then I’d berate myself for feeling guilty; and on and on and on.
What if what others judge as over thinking is really a human reflection of the Holy Spirit? When we come alive, as we all must if we’re to believe Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, we realize that we’ve inherited a sacred, holy restlessness that we often don’t understand. Instead of seeing my frustrations and anxieties as wrong all the time or detrimental all the time, perhaps I could re-frame them in light of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit. She’s a Free Spirit, and with that comes quite a bit of unpredictability.
Understand that anxiety and racing thoughts can be indicative of underlying conditions that need holistic support. Of all people in the world, I understand this. But I have taken issue with the “you’re over thinking” advice since no one really knows that “over thinking” actually is. My level of thinking is completely different than yours and yours from mine. But that’s for another day.
Suffice it to say that I had a major “WHOA!” moment today with a few simple words. I would never have attributed restlessness to God. In fact, I would have spurned the idea even a few years ago. But when I think of the father pacing his house, finally seeing his son “from a long way off” (Luke 15), or of the Sower waiting for the good seed to take root, grow and produce fruit (Matthew 13), I wonder how restless God might truly be sometimes. We’re used to thinking of a long-suffering and patient God (remember the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5?). But we discover paradox after paradox with God, don’t we? Sometimes these paradoxes frustrate us and divide us; but the times when they amaze and unite us are inspiring to say the least.
A Restless Spirit eventually creates change and movement wherever She moves, so to stay perpetually restless without participating in some form of holy change would be ill advised. But embracing this holy restlessness as a reflection of the Spirit of God is a freeing and comforting embrace indeed. This in and of itself is a powerful change for one who has always believed others’ perceptions about over-thinking.
Can I see restlessness as holy & sacred? Instead of pacing human anxiety alone, perhaps my restlessness is a human reflection of a Holy Spirit who incarnates restlessness.
Perhaps it’s been Spirit moving all along, stirring me from placidness. Perhaps so. Perhaps so.
Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness (James K. Manley)
Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness
Calling and free;
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
Wind, wind on the sea.
- You moved on the waters,
you called to the deep,
Then you coaxed up the mountains
from the valleys of sleep;
And over the eons
you called to each thing:
“Awake from your slumbers
And rise on your wings.”
- You swept through the dessert,
you stung with the sand
And you goaded your people
with a law and a land;
And when they were blinded
with idols and lies,
Then you spoke through your
prophets to open their eyes.
- You sang in a stable,
you cried from a hill,
Then you whispered in silence
when the whole world was still;
And down in the city
you called once again,
When you blew through your
people on the rush of the wind.
- You call from tomorrow,
you break ancient schemes
From the bondage of sorrow
all the captives dream dreams;
Our women see visions,
our men clear their eyes.
With bold new decisions
your people arise.
(yes, I love old hymns — organ included; if we sang Gregorian chants in church, I’d be thrilled!)