“A vocation is only possible under conditions that also block it or make it impossible.”
John Caputo in What Would Jesus Deconstruct
That perspective flies straight in the face of the more contemporary notion that if you’re experiencing obstacles on your path, in the way of whatever vision or calling you’re living into, then it’s the wrong path. “It isn’t meant to be.”
The idea behind this thinking is that if it’s really the right path, calling, or vision for you it will be easy, open up effortlessly with no obstacles whatsoever.
This “if it’s right it should be easy” view may be a bit of glazy-eyed New Age froo-froo.
It also seems part and parcel of a more recent cultural notion that we’re all entitled to an always-easy, unobstructed way that opens to us when we stomp our foot and say ‘now’, and if that’s not the case, well there’s something wrong with us, or it’s not our path after all, or we’re just not thinking enough ‘happy thoughts’.
Don’t get me wrong – I love when it seems that Grace arises and the way just opens and things come together with this incredible, miraculous elegance that can, in my heart and mind, only be the influence of the Divine, because it sure as Hel isn’t an elegance that my Mini-Me-Mind self can pull off.
More of that please, right?
But it isn’t always that way, as many of us know. It’s often a bit more gritty, mucky, muddy, and messy. And occasionally it gets downright ugly.
You know what I mean …
You’re meandering along, like Persephone in the meadow picking poseys, and the path is all sparkling and secret-gardeny.
It seems your desired goal is right there in your sight, just inches away, when suddenly the road drops out from beneath you and you find yourself stuck in a mud hole, or sucked into the Underworld or the ‘dark places of Wisdom’, or suddenly lost “in the dark forest you know not,” a.k.a. the Dark Night, as Dante, John of the Cross, and many other fellow travelers have.
“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey…The impeded stream is the one that sings.” ~ Wendell Berry
This all creates a bit of inner confusion of the ingrained voices of culture: On one hand, the “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth it” conditioning that centers around misery and suffering being the benchmarks of worth, and ease being something that should invoke guilt; and on the other hand that New Age and entitlement belief that if it’s the right path it’s always supposed to be easy, cheery, effortless, ‘positive’, and graceful.
No wonder so many of us have “WTF?” moments, particularly when we’re called with all of our heart and soul to some thing or person or path or place, and for at least a good while (which can seem like forever) we have nothing but boulders on the path and ‘diminishing mirror’ voices of discouragement or diminished-vision or ‘just take a happy pill’ types all around us.
When reflecting on this phenomenon recently, I tuned in to the Inner Way to meditate on it, pray on it, and watch what came up from within and around me for guidance and understanding.
I recalled John Caputo’s book, What Would Jesus Deconstruct*, which I’d come across while perusing the library shelves. It’s one of my favorite ‘book gems’, and I’ve revisited it several times since (highly recommended for any true change-agent, Christian or not, who must live into and embody the change he or she seeks, or is called to be).
Caputo writes that any true calling will seem impossible or hopelessly obstructed, at least at times, but the living into it brings us to the change of heart and the renewal of mind that ultimately makes the thing or the change or the bona fide transformation possible.
And that may be the ultimate calling behind all callings … the change of heart; the renewal of mind; and real-deal transformation that happens in us so it can happen through and around us.
“If you’re lucky, at some point in your life you’ll come to a complete dead end.” ~ Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom
Caputo reminds us that it’s the very invitation of the thing that calls us into that all-important change of heart and mind, or metanoia, which is one of our Sophian gifts of the greater possibility.
This metanoia, alas, “comes by way of an unexpected turn of events, by shattering our horizon of expectation,” writes Caputo.
Hmmm, yeah, that sounds familiar: an unexpected turn of events that shatters my expectation-horizon. Check.
I also recalled several of my favorite stories from myth or sacred traditions, and of the lives of the various spiritual teachers, mystics, or statesmen or women who’ve inspired not just me but many other people.
I couldn’t find a unobstructed, ‘happy pill’ path among them. Indeed, most walked paths of seemingly perpetual obstruction and challenge. And yet it’s their wisdom that we continue to read, quote, and find inspiration, guidance, and nourishment from.
Whether Jesus or Teresa of Avila, or Rab’ia or John of the Cross, Dante or Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, or Thomas Merton or Julian of Norwich, and just about any real shamanka, mystic, guru, or Telestai, well-known or lesser known … this list could go on, and on. You can probably add a few of your own very easily.
I remembered, too, a favorite fable about Fatima the Spinner and the Tent, a young woman whose life features one great promise-turned-catastrophe after another, only to lead her to a place where she finds joy using the array of skills she learned from each catastrophe.
But that was only crystal clear to Fatima in hindsight, when she could see all of those dots connected into a coherent path. Along the way, there were times when she honestly thought she was cursed.
[And there have been moments in my life where I could definitely relate to and have found inspiration from Fatima’s experience and story!]
Into my awareness, too, came the real-life wisdom from an indigenous elder in the Pacific Northwest – a story I’d come across years ago in an article from Joan Borysenko.
In this encounter, like the others, the great and meaningful project was beset by one obstacle and seeming calamity after another.
Yet when asked if perhaps “it wasn’t meant to be,” the elder replied, “Oh, no. Obstacles are good signs. The bigger the spirit that is trying to be born, the greater the troubles that it must overcome. This makes it stronger.”
That’s what we might also call resilience, or grit, or developing your chops and patience and faith … virtues of great value, but they don’t come cheap.
Nor does that change of heart (or return to heart), renewal of mind (opening of mind), and transformation.
And yet it’s also the wild, holy, crazy Grace that keeps us on our toes and shakes us free of our nonsense, but in so doing, enriches us immeasurably.
So all this to say that sometimes the grace flows and the way opens, and sometimes the way is littered with boulders and hail and earthquake (may as well add locusts to that list, too, but let’s skip the boils, shall we?).
And sometimes the way may be altogether shut tight for awhile, and we wait. This, I admit, is not my favorite option.
But in those in-betweens or eco-tones, we pray, reflect, watch, listen, write, talk with our anam cara, believing mirrors, or a wise guide who’s also walked that road, and take one step after another, one breath after another, listening, watching, waiting, walking.
And maybe that’s okay. Maybe that is the way. Maybe that’s just our way.
Lots of love,
* In the many instances over the years when I’ve worked with individuals and organizations moving through change and transformation, as well as my own journey of change and transformation, this notion of deconstruction is crucial, and yet one of the least understood or appreciated in our Western culture.
If you’re navigating epic change, or on the boulder-strewn path and could use inspiration and coaching from a ‘believing mirror’ who’s been there, give me a shout out (info ‘at’ ivysea ‘dot’ com).