Recently, I announced that I am stepping down from the church that I founded 12 years ago. Apparently I am part of the Great Resignation, the massive wave of people quitting their jobs at this moment in our country. But unlike the majority of people in this movement, I actually love my job. I find my work meaningful and enjoyable. Instead, I am leaving for the ostensibly ridiculous reason that I am uncomfortable being too comfortable.
Now, let me be clear that I am not talking about comfort with meeting my basic needs. I am talking about comfort in the realm of spirituality.
While many churches actively try to mollify people by providing theological answers that make their members feel secure and righteous of life’s uncertainties and conundrums (and often tacitly blessing the political status quo while doing so), my church is rooted in the practices of mystical spirituality and radical activism. For both of these practices, risk is an essential ingredient. Mysticism is about courageously plunging into the bottomless ocean of mystery that we call “God” or “Ultimate Reality” or “Everything.” Radical activism is about freeing our minds from the propaganda of the ruling class and staring down their usually superior firepower, with the odds stacked against us. So when things get too comfortable for me, I feel beckoned to once again take a leap into the terrifying beauty of the unknown.
Spirituality is like romance in this way; both are matters of the heart. New relationships are high on uncertainty (they are exciting!) and low on security (they are nerve-wracking!). Long-term relationships are typically high on security (they are safe) and low on uncertainty (they are predictable). The sweet spot of intense romance comes when enough security exists that there is trust and grounding but enough uncertainty exists that it is exciting and stimulating.
The inner life thrives at the intersection of mystery and trust as well. Celtic Christian mystic John Phillip Newell says, “That which cannot be said is always greater than that which can be said.” When our answers are too firm, when our actions are too confident, I believe we begin to lose the keenness of our souls.
In the Western church calendar, this coming Sunday is Easter. In the oldest Biblical story about Easter, which comes from the Book of Mark, the story of the two women finding the empty tomb of Jesus ends abruptly and full of uncertainty.
The final line is: “They went out quickly, and fled from the tomb; for they trembled and were amazed: Neither said anything to anyone; for they were afraid.” This story of a shocking miracle ends without explanation, interpretation or closure. In doing so, the story invites us to continue it for ourselves, with our imaginations, our lives, our questions and our discomfort. As Easter approaches, may you be blessed with the opportunity to embrace the uncertainties of your life with trust, community, and courage.
Rev. John Helmiere is co-convener of Valley & Mountain in South Seattle.
Read more of the Apr. 13-19, 2022 issue.