Getting from Sunday to Monday

Installment 1: Beginning the Process

Written by Linda Douty

Getting from Sunday to Monday is a code phrase for bridging the gap between belief and experience, between what we say, and what we do. It reflects our desire to live authentically, so that the "trip" from the head to the heart—and eventually to the hand—is congruent with the true self, or God's will for us.

It's often said that we teach what we need to learn, and that's certainly true in this case. The day finally came when, like many of you, I became aware that I was living with a split between what I hoped to be true… what I professed to be true (my Sunday life) and what was actually true in my experience (my Monday life).

At some point, we, as human beings, become aware of this gap between our beliefs and our experience and begin to wrestle with our questions about how to live authentically. The desire to enter those questions, and as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, to "live into the answers," usually occurs in mid to later life—though not always. God created us in such a remarkable way that we are actually wired for growth that leads us closer and closer to communion with God—to knowledge of God, not merely about God, a knowing of the heart, not just the head. Evidence of this wiring (our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, according to St. Augustine) is found in what most of us experience around mid-life. We get this yearning to live with more authenticity, and if we respond to that yearning (instead of shoving it back down again), it can be an unsettling enterprise, not only to ourselves, but also to those in our relational orbit.

We yearn to say what we mean, to be boldly who we really are in Christ, to live each day with growing integrity, to connect with the true self (where, by the way, we meet God)—-or to put it in the familiar language of the Velveteen Rabbit, one of our childhood heroes: to be REAL.

I realize that phrases like "getting real" and "finding out who we are" may have become hackneyed in the past few years. Our bookstores are literally bulging with books telling us how to do this ad nauseum. But no matter how many books we read, how much information we soak up, no one can do it for us; the individual journey becomes uniquely our own. Secondhand information may inspire and entertain, even guide us, but in the final analysis, it is still secondhand.

Distinguishing the Journey from the Map
One way to understand the significance of firsthand experience is to use the simple analogy of a person who wants to drive from Memphis to New York. If I were preparing for such a trip, I would definitely buy a map, perhaps several. I would read all about what's going on in New York, have my Honda serviced, and make exhaustive preparations. But you know as well as I do that I can study that map, be aware of the detours, talk to others who have made the trip—in fact, I could memorize the map and quote it, become an expert on the map—but I would still be in Memphis. The truth is, I must experience the journey myself.

Even if this oversimplifies the case, the symbols work for our spiritual lives. Whether we identify the map as the Bible or church doctrine or the American Way, any map is just a guide to the journey. But because we often don't want to risk the vulnerability of the personal journey, we often, in our religious fervor, mistake the map for the journey and end up worshipping the map. (For instance, we all know that it's possible to be a Bible scholar and still not have a transformed heart—even be mean-spirited and judgmental, rather than truly loving!) Information is not necessarily TRANSformation! Unless we invite the Living Word of God into our
lives, even a sacred text can just be words on a page.

A brief look at another familiar map can provide a segue into part of the journey . United Methodists call this model the Wesley Quadrilateral, illustrated as a table supported by four legs. Simply stated, it is this: The Truth of Something (top of the table) is supported by four things (legs of the table)—scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

I think we would all agree that through the years, the church has done a creditable job in the first three areas: We have Bible studies and emphasize the primacy of scripture; we provide studies of doctrine and liturgy and church tradition; heaven knows we try to "think" ourselves to the truth—with lots of classes and seminars and academic pursuits in an effort to be reasonable. But what about this fourth area—experience? It tends to get short shrift. Experience is murky, messy. It isn't the same for everyone; there are always exceptions. We can't seem to control experience, quantify it or pin it down. It's uncomfortable because it doesn't always
fit or make reasonable sense. No wonder it's hard to bridge the gap between Sunday theory and Monday experience!

However, the truth is: unless we integrate this area of experience, the other three legs have no staying power; they can't support the table for long. That is, no matter how authoritative it sounds in the Bible, or how eloquently stated by the church fathers, or how intellectually sound it may seem, unless it resonates somehow in our experience, it remains just a good idea--a pretty Sunday morning platitude. And THAT, by the way, is where our spiritual journey oftentimes takes place—in the head, where we can control and isolate it.

Moving from Thought to Feeling
The trip from the head to the heart is not an easy trek; it is filled with detours and land mines and, strangely enough, incredible freedom. It is in this personal experiential part of the journey that we discover the meaning of true freedom in Christ. Think about it: Faith as belief ONLY has very little power. To quote Marcus Borg—We can believe all the right things and still be mean-spirited; we can believe all the right things and still be miserable; we can believe all the right things and still be in bondage; we can believe all the right things and still be relatively untransformed. Faith is more than that. It is borne through one's EXPERIENCE of God, not knowledge about God.

My personal story illustrates this well. I've been active in church all my life, involved in a number of projects, committees, and peace and justice issues. About 30 years ago, when my sons were small, I remember feeling like my brains were turning to mush, so I enrolled in a couple of classes at Lambuth College, a small liberal arts college in Jackson, Tennessee, where I was living at the time. I headed straight for the religion and philosophy courses, and found out that theology for me was almost like chocolate—delicious to the point that I could hardly get enough. Years later, while I was living in Dallas, I found myself drawn to SMU's Perkins School of Theology, where I audited some classes, trying to learn from these brilliant scholars, who HAD it, KNEW it and could articulate it. I guess I thought if I hung around there enough, I would catch it from them, like some sort of flu!

But there was a turning point one day when I began to suspect that something was amiss--that my inner life was seriously out of balance. It was at the close of one the seminary's conferences, where the best and the brightest professors had presented a week-long seminar, arguing the fine points of theological concepts. The closing event was a brief worship service in Perkins Chapel. One of the advertised highlights of the service was to be the performance of a talented African American contralto of local repute, and I was looking forward to hearing her. Given her classical training, I was expecting something very high-church, like Mozart or
Haydn. When the time came for her to perform, she walked out, sat down at the piano herself, and began to sing slowly and soulfully, "Jesus Loves Me, This I know." Then she changed keys and sang, "Jesus LOVES Me, this I know," and then "Jesus LOVES me, this I know, and finally Jesus loves me THIS I KNOW."

It is difficult for me to convey (or overstate!) how moving it was. There was more than one professor in a 3-piece suit sniffling and fumbling for a handkerchief. I think we were all struck by the contrast between the complicated and the simple—between the seductive enjoyment of the intellectual arguments on the one hand, and on the other hand, the message that in the end love is what matters. I guess it says something about the staying power of that experience that I don't even remember the subject of that entire week's eloquent lecture, but I remember everything about that song.

In retrospect, it seems fair to say that some sort of seed was planted in me that day, and as it grew over the next few years, I became aware of an insistent spiritual itch—a growing discomfort with the way things were in my inner life—what I came to recognize later as "Divine Discontent", a nudge from God that change is imminent. Eventually I had to confront my own personal gap between belief and experience. I was always eager to take one more course, read one more book, talk to one more authority, I pursued knowledge without taking the time to test it, practice it in my everyday life experience. What it boiled down to was admitting to myself that I'd rather read 10 books on prayer than pray, to read about the inner journey rather than take it.

Embarking on the Journey
What does it mean to "take the journey ourselves"? Remember that we have free will: We can refuse to move, to explore, to take the trip. God's love always surrounds us and invites us, but God's full healing seems to wait for our longing and consent, for the inner YES that indicates that our center of consent is engaged. We are not helpless puppets but are created to be children, heirs, partners, co-creators with God.

Let me insert one caveat here… I'm not saying that once we pause to focus on exploring and nurturing our inner life, that we make a narcissistic career out of self-knowledge and succumb to intellectual navel-gazing. Ideally, we do not allow the "flow of living water" to stop with me, mine, my development. One of the hallmarks of the Christian tradition is the notion that we are transformed for the sake of the world—it's a sacred, cyclical process. Service to others is part of the journey, too.

Hopefully, what happens is that our inner work re-energizes us for living and serving in the day-to-day world with integrity and pure motives—motives not linked to how it looks or how grand our obituaries may sound one day. There's a balanced ebb and flow—inner to outer—which was certainly modeled in the life of Jesus. His days were marked by periods of intense service, certainly.. but he also honored his intuition about time apart—time to reconnect to the Source of his energy and power, time to be nurtured by friends. None of us can give out of an empty cup for very long.

Believe it or not, every one of us is on a spiritual journey. It is who we are. Remember that familiar axiom: We are not so much human beings on a spiritual journey, but rather spiritual beings on a human journey. We just pay more attention to it at some times than at others.

In four installments we will explore specific ways to do soul work in our day to day lives, so that our faith does not have to remain just a good idea. Some will appeal to you, some won't, as unique creatures, we respond to different spiritual stimuli.

We will explore some of the traditional spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, spiritual direction, journaling and fasting; but we will also look at some less familiar territory as well: gratitude as a spiritual practice; frustration as a spiritual practice (that is, how to turn everyday occurrences into occasions for spiritual growth). We'll look at things that block our growth, and how to identify things that are soul-nurturing and enriching for each of us personally.

Surprisingly, this process is more about letting go than trying harder. In the next few installments, we will learn about different ways we can loosen our grip and open ourselves to God's guiding hand.

Copyright 2001 Linda R. Douty

Go to the second installment of Getting From Sunday to Monday.