Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spiritual Story (Paul)

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
--T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

As is the case with many of you, a main point in my spiritual story is my conversion into the contemplative life. At this point I can most fully describe this as a conversion from a theology of certainty to a theology of mystery. I am still trying to work out a language to describe and understand both the continuities and changes in my life between “now” and “then.” I want to respect both.

I was born Massachusetts, my pregnant mother praying daily at the foot of her bed for a “warrior for God.” One of my earliest memories is of my parent’s telling me God had a special plan for me in heaven. I thought that they said “plant” so I went around daydreaming that it might be a cactus! Another important early memory is my first conversion: in the car with my mom and I asked curiously, “Am I going to heaven when I die?” I was four and my mother didn’t think that I was ready for “that talk.” But I started hysterically crying, “I need to know!” Shortly, I prayed that Jesus would clean my dirty heart and live inside me. Though some consider stories like this one as religious psychological child abuse, I am grateful and consider it an important point in my journey, the validation of the spiritual life of a child. When I was eight, my parents moved to North Carolina to get away from snow and liberals. I was home schooled, and my family joined an evangelical Pentecostal church with a strong program for children. In my time there, which lasted until I went to college, I had quite a few significant spiritual mentors and many important moments of spiritual growth, though all in a context of “certainty” that I no longer find as edifying. This phase of my life included a broad mix, most of which I am still grateful for, wonderful spiritual experiences in the wilderness, several “Youth Camp” cycles, lots of service and ministry inside and outside of church, and maybe a few metaphysical miracles. For the sake of this story in this space, I need to skip over this. As with all of your stories shared here, this one is a partial account.

I came to college at Southeastern University quietly, sincerely wanting wisdom and intimacy with God. As with some of you, the transformations in my understanding about life and God were largely influenced by Rickey Cotton through courses I took with him, conversations we had, and books he taught me (T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets as a particularly important one). But I don’t want to ignore the other influences, other professors, several humbling falls, and my previous spiritual experience. I believe that God long prepared me for a contemplative way of knowing and living. For example, even before college I began to practice silent prayer on my own. My conversion took place over about a year and a half. There was a series of necessary changes. First, my politics took a concrete intellectual turn toward the socially marginal--as is the case with many social conservatives, my heart was already with them, . After this my theological-philosophical foundations for “certainty” were unpinned. I let go of the “absolutes” of literalism, objectivism, and emotionalism, which had not led me to the wholeness and revival I was told to expect as a teenager. With these intellectual barriers to truth removed, I was open to look for God in more relational ways, through art, silence, community, and tradition. In other words, my philosophical conversion opened a space for me to be able appreciate millennia-old practices of knowing the unknowable. I have walking on this path for the past year and a half.

In the past few months I believe I have entered my next phase of transformation, which involves the practical details of life, particularly, the practical details of housework. My political, philosophical, theological transformations I believe are largely complete. Now, partially through readings books like The Rule of Benedict and The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work,” I am embracing that part of the spiritual work in front of me which God would have me do right now, cleaning the house, vacuuming, washing dishes. In cleaning the house, and in the perspective it gives me on the actual “importance” of my intellectual work, I am growing in balance, in humility, in love.

--Paul Corrigan


living stones said...

Paul, Thanks so much for sharing your story. It seems you have been wanting God for a very long time, and God has been drawing you close. I particularly appreciated your ending, "... I am growing in balance, in humility, in love." I think the Lord wants us all to grow in this way and your story encourages us in this direction. Blessings--Anna

living stones said...

Mrs. Cotton, Thank you for that comment. I think that you are precisely right: God has been a/the major theme in my consciousness for most of my life. But as you point that out, I realize in my partial account that I seem to have only selected the details that show myself in a positive light. I could rewrite the entry telling the same story in terms of my pride, selfishness, aggressiveness, and so on. Neither story would be more true, and both reflect grace, but I need to mention both sides of the story. And maybe apologize for (inadvertently?) leaving the dark side out at first. --Paul

RC said...

Thank you, Paul! You tell your story with genuineness, humility, and reflectiveness. I believe this contributes to the authenticity and depth of us all. I'm grateful for your sharing in this way and the way God mixing all our stories together! I.e., making us more and more community...

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

What a beautiful story, Paul. I especially appreciate your mature understanding of growth and process. You seem to greet the past, present, and future with mutual respect. This is very encouraging and helpful to me in my own reflections.

Erica said...

Paul, I enjoyed reading your spiritual story so much. Thank you for sharing with such thoughtfulness and balance.

Susan Price said...

Paul, your spiritual journey story encouraged me. It is difficult to choose what to offer in an account of one's spiritual journey. You have chosen well in telling us where you have been, and where you currently find yourself. If you write this again in ten years, possibly it will be both the same, and different as you go deeper, and higher. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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