(This is a draft introduction to a larger writing project that I am exploring, based on my recent series of essays on learning to think outside the Christian paradigm.)
Feeling for the Ground: Finding my Center by Bursting my Christian Bubble
This is not a book written against Christianity, or against specific Christians. It is not an attempt to limit Christianity to its worst expressions. It is, instead, the private memoir of my attempt to recover my selfhood after nearly three decades of believing, for religious reasons, that self is evil. It is my imperfect testament to the solid ground that remains after the deflation of my metaphorical hot air balloon venture to live in a kind of spiritual rarefied atmosphere above myself.
It is not fair to say that I have left Christianity behind, or that I even plan to. The love of God (by which I mean both my love for God and his love for me) is as deep and inalienable a part of me as the love of my wife. It is, however, inescapably necessary for me to say that I am finding immense liberation in learning to think “unchristianly”, that is, farther outside the safe and “biblical” paradigm of contemporary Christianity than I ever thought that I would find myself.
This is not a new process. It began over twenty years ago, when my mother introduced me to the sermons of George MacDonald (1824-1905), the great Scottish poet, preacher, and novelist. Indeed, I had taken considerable pride in identifying myself as a highly heterodox and independently thinking Christian. (Remember, heresy has been in fashion for a long time.) The more immediate spur to the writing of the essays that make up this book is the relatively recent, painful and total separation of my wife and me from her family and their Christian ministry, and even more recent connection with other people recovering from their involvement in that same ministry. These conversations have accelerated my process of sorting through the guilt, confusion, and anger I feel as a result of that separation. This, in turn, has begun to reveal to me how much my selfhood has existed in a state of unbearable tension–a tension that now, to my infinite relief, I feel being slowly released–and how much my mind has continued to be overshadowed by a uniquely Christian form of oppression I thought I had laid to rest long ago.
As these things have come to light, I have been forced to acknowledge that, while far from faultless myself, I have suffered significant spiritual and emotional abuse at the hands of someone I loved and looked up to more than few other people in this world. There is no better evidence of this than the fact that it is only now that I am beginning to feel the freedom, not so much to write what I want–to a certain extent, I’ve done that all along–but to actually share what I write with other people. I am regaining my voice. As I give a name to the abuse, I am able to see more clearly how I myself have abused others in my turn, and how all the abuse is deeply rooted in a characteristic Christian worldview that still has far more influence with me than I thought it did.
Parallel to these developments, for over a year now I have been involved in a writing project focused on the reading of Lilith, arguably George MacDonald’s greatest fantasy work, through the lens of Kierkegaard’s philosophical masterpiece, The Sickness Unto Death. The project focuses on the treatment of the concept of selfhood in the story (and in Kierkegaard’s work), and it has forced me to think deeply about the state of my own selfhood. This is another direction from which the need for me to develop healthier ways to treat myself has dawned on me.
These essays, then, take both MacDonald and Kierkegaard as conversation partners. They also owe something to the mystical theology of Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), particularly the notion, common to the friends and disciples of Meister Eckhart, that God is the ground of our being. Thus the title, “Feeling for the Ground”, refers both to the recognition that I need to stop trying to be what I am not, and to the reassurance that my being already has a safe, unshakeable foundation completely apart from my Christian efforts.