Moving: Oriented, Disoriented, Reoriented
A lot more of life is spent disoriented than any of us should like to admit. Even when stability takes root in one dimension of our being, uncertainty—and its shadow sides—often finds ways to erode our ground elsewhere.
Life is cyclical in all sorts of ways, and has its way with us until we learn to bend in the flow.
In Praying the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann suggest a reading of life’s unsettling undulations:
“Our life of faith consists in moving with God in terms of:
(a) being securely oriented;
(b) being painfully disoriented; and
(c) being surprisingly reoriented.”
Richard Rohr speaks of it as “order, disorder, and reorder.” But I like the notion of orientation because it embodies our sense of stability in the geographic particularities of place. Bouma-Prediger and Walsh (Beyond Homelessness) give the pattern other spins that make it personal: “placed/displaced/replaced,” and “home/homeless/homecoming.”
I was securely oriented. I did have a place and a home. Finally. I held down my dream job for three years. I was on a track to greater leadership in my organization. I was proud of my career. It allowed me to do work that seemed to make a real impact, to make an actual material difference in the lives of people at the margins. I felt that I could show up with integrity, integrated in my thoughts and actions. A strong web of community had grown around me. My community offered support and play and meaningful challenge. I’d learned the streets and stores, hills and valleys of my place. I’d lived in the same home longer than anywhere since moving out of the room in my parent’s house, and in Colorado for about eight years of my life all told. I could get where I wanted to go without Google, as the kids say. (The kids say that.) The road in front of me, workday or weekend, was fairly clear. And I liked it.
Securely oriented? Yes, sir.
But every steady road is bound for a bend.
Libbey and I made the good and right and beautiful decision to pick up from this place we’ve called home, and head toward Boston to live near her family in the city where she feels most herself—most at home.
I now have the felt experience, a bodily knowing, that joy and grief can coexist, each full in itself, neither negating the other. Even those things about which you have the greatest peace can be the harbingers of a painful disorientation. I don’t know, maybe that’s how it most often goes.
And that is my space today. I am living in that space of disorientation, a land of unknowing where the order that gave sense to my days is disrupted and the way forward has not appeared.
There is deep mystical unity between the order within us and the order around us. When chaos reins without, it is often mirrored by our internal worlds.
Chaos—or at least the perception of chaos—is close cousins with violence. And not necessarily the flashy kind. When a soul is unsettled, gasping for air and kicking for solid ground, the struggle to force its way back to equilibrium can manifest as lashing out — an unkind word, a distant heart, a removal of presence, a harbored resentment.
The challenge of disorientation is to discover that, right in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, we need not be afraid. Only the fearful kick and scream, flee or freeze. The psalms pray over us that we have no cause to fear the forces of evil no matter how dark the soul’s night may grow. For thou art with me.
One can pilgrimage through the unknown, through foreign valleys of chaos, without fear and so without bringing violence, when the journey is taken resting in the faithfulness of God to be present now and in the days to come.
I do not know what lies ahead. I do not know what I am called to in this next season. I am not even completely sure who I am when severed (a word that gets at my feelings perhaps more than my reality) from place and relationships.
I am floating in disorientation. And it hurts.
But I am not afraid.
We refuse to allow the process or the decision to form resentment in our hearts. That was a core commitment for Libbey and me when we began discerning our future, and it’s part of what took us so long to come to a decision. We would not allow violence in word or in our hearts to have its day. For me, that meant fighting for the ability to make a decision not out of fear (I’ll never find a job again. I’ll never fit in our there. I’ll never feel at home. And on and on the tracks would play.)—but out of love.
Henri Nouwen says: that which feels most personal, most particular, is always a window into what is most universal and common to humankind. So I take heart remembering we’re all reeling at something, reaching out to one another for the stability of belonging amidst the beautiful, tearing chaos. A surprising reorientation is coming, my friends. A good new order. And it will not come from excluding or annihilating those we perceive as the source of our disorientation. It will only come through faith that we can release our fear, can cease our excluding, and through love open ourselves to embrace the other and the unknown. But shalom depends on those in the midst of their disorientation as much or more than the secure.
Yes, I am sad. And I am present to the loss many days more resonantly than I am to the coming joys. But I have been through these cycles enough times, and I have read enough psalms, and I have listened to too many of my elders to be afraid in the midst of uncertainty and change. I reject the fear that reflexes as violence in the face of chaos. And so I have peace, and gratitude, and joy, and love too.
For Thou art with me.