Thursday, October 3, 2019

Of Sanctuary and Guarding Our Souls

I was at a memorial service for a long time member of my little church, where I was talking shop with my predecessor, who'd come to pay her respects to an old friend.

We're both writers, and she mentioned something as our conversation danced around ministry, her upcoming book, and the things we were writing.

"Yeah, I noticed that you don't really write much about politics any more," she said.

Which is true.  I don't as much.  Occasionally, sure.  It's not that I don't think about it.  It's not that I lack opinions, or that my feelings have changed in any meaningful way.  Nor is it that I'm any less informed, or any less committed to our imperiled constitutional republic.

It's none of those things.  It's something else.  It's something more analogous to the way we protect the integrity of our souls when we find ourselves connected to toxic or psychotic persons.  There are souls, and all of us know them, who will devour every last bit of us.  They're filled with anger and relentlessly hostile, or constantly radiating negativity, or manufacturing crises.  It's all drama, all the time, all about them.

If they're a neighbor, a co-workers or acquaintances, there's some natural space there, some distance that gives us room to breathe.  If they're our boss or in a position of power, it's harder.

If they are loved ones, it's hardest of all.  They could be a brother or sister, parent or child.  We love them, and we don't want to stop loving them, but if we don't set boundaries for our souls, and have significant places of respite, we'll get torn apart.

So much of our national dialogue is like being in relationship with that kind of soul.  We taken together are cognitively dissonant, blindly angry, unable to find anything that gives us cohesion. burning in the entropic fire of big raging drama.

As someone who processes things by writing them, and thinks about things by writing them out, there's only so much toxicity, anger, and falseness that my soul can manage before it messes with me.  It feels, at times, like we are foie gras geese of outrage, force-fed bitterness and negativity until we've gone wrong inside, our souls fat and distended with hate.

All of life cannot be that, if we are to remain sane.  The wise put some distance between themselves and the self-destructive, we hear from the Proverbs.  Even Jesus found himself needing that time, up in the quiet air, away from the roar and crazy of the crowd.

We need the simple healing graces of dirt under our nails.  We need that long quiet walk, or a good long run.  We need the word-spun world of an interesting book, or a meal and laughter shared with friends.  Those things aren't escapism.  Nor do they mean we don't care, and that we're not paying due attention.

They simply keep us from forgetting what the point of it all is.