Friday, February 1, 2013

David Norling (Spiritual Story)

My contemplative journey began in my early twenties when I stumbled onto The Way of the Pilgrim while reading Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Soon after followed a decade of discoveries when one deep soul led me to another. Their names are well known, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, Annie Dillard, Rainer Maria Rilke, Walker Percy, Frs. Keating and Rohr to name a few. But for the most part, I was alone in my quest to understand and walk the narrow, anonymous way to which my mentors pointed.

Then a few years ago my wife and I were invited to a class at a Vineyard where they had a Spiritual Formation Community with people who had been through the supernatural experiences of the Wimber years only to find themselves mostly unchanged and looking for a deeper way. The class was on de Caussade's Sacrament of the Present Moment, presented by a former minister who had quit his pastorate to become a pool cleaner and student of the sacred present. We never went back to the church where I had been raised, where I had an identity as the son of a renown church planter and pastor to pastors.

In our new community where I could finally say what I thought and there were people who understood, I no longer had any excuses, it was time to give myself over to the way. After several years in this community, leading small groups and practicing silence and solitude, I feel ready to begin again. What my new life in Christ will look like is more of a mystery now than it seemed to be at one time. Mainly, I continue to be intentional about being awake and receptive to everything in life, trusting in the goodness of creation and God's compassionate presence and redemptive activity.

The one part of my spiritual path that seems fairly clear is the practice of spiritual direction, an avocation that perfectly fits my gifting, values, and accidental training. I will complete my three year certificate program this summer, but am already being blessed in my internship by the experience of giving and receiving direction. I've been married for twenty years and have a 16 yr old son. I've owned and operated a Chem-Dry carpet cleaning franchise for those same twenty years. These relationships and responsibilities have been profoundly important and grounding.

I'm currently seeking to find out what it means to feel called to a ministry that doesn't exist, that is, Pastor of Listening. I made up the title and wrote my own job description, at the encouragement of God's spirit, as far as I can tell. I've sought counsel from several pastors. And while most could see the legitimacy of my vision and even my capacity to fulfill it, there seems to be a consensus that the programmatic nature of modern American Christianity can't conceive of the role that I seek to fill. Growing up as a pastor's kid, becoming a pastor or teacher seemed the most natural career path. But I found that there was something about the way these roles were being played that made them feel wrong for me. Now I am finding that there is something in my identity that might be called teacher and my heart is to pastor, but it's still not clear how I am to live. Except, of course, to remain in the tension, willing, available.

For as long as I can remember I've been praying for eyes to see the imago dei in those I meet. Mirroring this back to people felt like a way I could be a part of the "kingdom come." I've had moments over the years when I felt that my prayer was answered, but for the most part I have been frustrated by what I have come to see as a systemic superficiality that is deeply ingrained and legitimized. The practice of spiritual direction has been the answer to this life long prayer. Some how the intention at the heart of direction allows people to be the complicated and beautiful persons that they were created to be. Waiting and watching with people on the way, this is how I wish to spend the rest of my life.

I tried to define contemplation for a class on the tension between contemplation and action. I thought my definition, gleaned from several sources you may recognize, might say a lot about who I am and hope to be.


Looking without judging, naming, or coming to conclusions.
(Because we can perceive far more than can be contained in a name.)
Letting ones self be affected by the object of attention.
(Being moved to action by a direct experience of the thing rather than thoughts and judgments about that thing.)
Waiting patiently for revelation to be given.
("I do only what I see my Father doing, and in like manner.")
There must be trust in the goodness of creation.
(Trust that God is still incarnate and able to lead through revelation.)


RC said...

David, I love the story of your spiritual journey. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Truly God has led you a different and intriguing way. I am looking forward to what God does next in your journey and in your spiritual sharing with us. Thank you again for sharing with us, Rickey

Anna Cotton said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story. I like how your journey confirms my experience of God's spirit drawing us to him in such individual and creative ways. I look forward to hearing some of your reflections as we continue on the contemplative path together.
Welcome and blessings,

Mark Wills said...

I enjoyed reading about your experiences. I especially like your vocation: "Pastor of Listening." May God be with you through these coming days of Lent and give you opportunities to share your ministry.

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