I can remember almost word for word the one comment by a member of the church committee that endorsed me for entrance into the ordination path thirty years ago. I had just described my faith journey to the committee: growing up in the Presbyterian church, a year off after high school working in a factory, a short six-month venture into college, three years of bicycle racing, marriage and then, finally, a college degree.
Mr. Sparks (not his real name) said, “Brian, we are glad to endorse you as you have proven to be a very capable student, but you are going to have to learn to choose a path and stick to it.”
I don’t remember feeling defensive or ashamed by his comment. If anything I probably walked away chuckling to myself, “He just doesn’t get me.” But, I hardly gave it another thought. I felt good about the choices I had made and the path I had taken to get there. I didn’t feel as if I was wandering all over the map as he had hinted.
It’s only in hindsight that I now have the benefit of seeing and naming a consistency that my church friend couldn’t see. If he could have organized it for me I think he would have ended with the same result, but in a different order. His plan for me might have gone: high school diploma, racing bicycles, college education, marriage and then, seminary (or possibly seminary then wedded bliss).
What I know now is that early on I had learned to trust the subtle urgings of my soul. I, of course, did not have the language for it over three decades ago. But, it was clear that when a more conventional path did not ring true for me, I chose what felt right for me despite the warnings and protestations of people around me. As I look back over my life I can see a thread of consistency that ties it all together.
I want to make a point of this because it often feels like there are unspoken rules about what it is we should be yearning for; what constitutes success; and the order in which things are supposed to be done. If we were all made the same way, had the same constitution, and arrived at the threshold of adulthood like a perfectly cut out Oreo cookie, then these rules would make sense. But, there are lots of kinds and sizes of cookies in the world and some of them are even half-baked!
It took me eleven years to complete bachelor and master’s degrees, reach the National Championships in cycling, marry, and have two children. That’s fairly typical. What wasn’t typical was the order in which I did it. And what I know about the order had to do with following a voice deep within me—what I am calling the soul.
Every step of the way I had to make decisions about what would make me feel the most alive, what would satisfy the deepest parts of my Self, and what would provide the most healing for the wounds that I had been carrying.
I raced bicycles because I entered adulthood just as a tank-load of repressed anger surfaced for me. Racing was a socially-approved method for releasing my anger! I married young because I wanted the kind of intimate relationships that I had yearned for as a child, but didn’t get. And I have embarked on pilgrimages just as I was feeling that the conventions of life were burying my soul.
I suppose I could have gone to college and addressed my anger in counseling. I could have worked through my childhood issues on the therapist’s couch (believe me, I have done that too!). I could have saved a lot of money and bypassed on the pilgrimages in favor of reading self-help books.
But, there is a basic underlying problem with this. It treats the yearnings of our souls as problems to be fixed. It establishes convention as normal and healthy and everything outside of that as abnormal and dysfunctional. It treats each one of us as paint-by-the-numbers personalities rather than abstract, complicated, beautiful characters of art.
I believe that the Soul has its own internal consistency. Even the Soul has a path to follow. We just need to learn to listen to Her subtle clues.