Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why being cool isn't really all that cool

There’s an old Indian teaching that says every person is like a house with four rooms: a physical room, a mental room, an emotional room, and a spiritual room. To be a whole person, you need to spend at least a little bit of time in each of those four rooms every day. What I like about this image is that it’s a good way to think about bringing some balance to our lives so that we’re not just spending all our time in our brain, or we’re not just doing, doing, doing without taking time to reflect on our actions.

But here’s what I don’t like about that image. It compartmentalizes spirituality, as if it’s just one more aspect of our lives where we can choose to spend time as part of a well-rounded life. You can wake up in the morning and read a Bible passage and say a prayer and move on to the next room. This doesn’t ring true for me. Spirituality isn’t something we can control and compartmentalize. It permeates every part of our lives. It’s a part of our physical health, and our mental health, and our emotional health. Spirituality is being conscious of the relationship we have with God and how it impacts every facet of our lives. You can’t relegate God’s Spirit to one room of your house and expect it to stay there while you move on to other things.

Walls are irrelevant to the work of the Spirit. There is an idea in Celtic spirituality of thin places. Those are the places where the distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world are so thin, or so close, that they become blurred. To be open to the Spirit moving in our lives is to embrace the thin places where we might have erected walls between us and God.

If you’ve ever seen the way charismatic Christians worship, you may have noticed that they use a different posture for prayer than the rest of us Christians do. When we pray, we fold our hands and we bow our heads. But charismatic Christians lift their heads and they hold their hands in the air. I prefer this posture; when I’m in the privacy of my home and no one is watching, that’s the way I pray. Certainly, it doesn’t change the way God receives my prayers, but for me it says something about my openness to God’s Spirit working in my life. It feels like I’m a satellite dish, open to receive whatever God is sending my way. On the other hand, when I bow my head and fold my hands, it often feels to me like I’m turning in on myself and closing myself off from God. My body language seems to say something about the way I approach God in my life.

Of course, there are times when the last thing I want is to be open to God’s Spirit taking over every aspect of my life like a wildfire. It scares me to think of giving up control. God only knows where the Spirit may take me, what may happen in my life as a result. I prefer to play it cool, and it’s hard to play it cool when you’re on fire.

We admire people who keep their cool, don't we? When you’re a kid you learn that it’s not cool to let the teacher know you like her, or that you’re in any way interested in what she has to say. So you just sit there and act cool. That doesn’t change a whole lot as we get older. When we show an inordinate amount of enthusiasm for something, afterwards we feel compelled to apologize for our emotional outburst. “I’m sorry I got carried away,” we’ll say. We notice how those who make a habit of showing their emotions in our culture are dismissed as a having little credibility and we don’t want to be one of them. So, we work hard to present a cool façade to the world. We keep ourselves in check. We are determined not to lose control.

Do you know where the word enthusiasm comes from? It comes from en theos, which means in God. To be in God is the opposite of playing it cool. It means daring to show enthusiasm… living in the thin place… being out of control. What if you lived with enthusiasm for God? What would that look like? I don’t know. But I do know that we’ll know the Spirit is moving in our lives just about the time we feel like we’ve lost control of ourselves.

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