There’s a scene in the film Pirates of the Caribbean where Elizabeth Swan, who plays Miss Turner, is confronted by a dead pirate named Hector Barbossa who tells her, “You best start believin’ in ghost stories Miss Turner. You’re in one!”
Last week we explored what it means to live in and for God’s dream. Like being in a ghost story, we tend not to realize that we’re a part of God’s dream for the world. Unlike a ghost story, though, God’s dream has to do with the living, not the dead. It produces greater engagement with life, not less; greater hope and confidence amidst life’s difficulties, greater generosity of spirit and openness to being surprised by unexpected blessings. Most of all, aligning ourselves with God’s dream has a way of fulfilling our own deepest dreams and purposes, transforming us into what Jesus called a “new creation.”
A human soul that is focused on God’s dream works a lot like a converging lens. A converging lens is a piece of glass that has been milled in such a way that its focal point is beyond itself. At its focal point, all the light comes together, producing exponentially more energy than if the light is diffused. In this respect, a converging lens serves as a helpful metaphor for the “sweet spot” of the human soul.
The opposite of a converging lens is a diverging one. A diverging lens works a lot like a soul whose focus is not beyond itself but has gotten stuck somewhere else. A diverging lens takes light coming in and throws it out in all different directions, diffusing the power of the light. When you feel like you are “spread thin,” it’s not necessarily because you have no energy, but because your energies are diffused. They’re going off in a hundred different directions and very little is being illuminated.
In the creative process we are tracing in this series, the first stage is dreaming God’s dream. It’s finding that spot outside yourself that draws together your deepest energies. The second stage is called hovering. In the realm of spiritual discernment, hovering is called “soul searching.” It is the practice of looking within yourself to find whatever energies, desires, and passions you have that may be aligned with your Calling or “sweet spot” and orienting them in this direction – clearing blockages and adjusting focus. If we were lens crafters, hovering would be the process of grinding and polishing the glass to achieve its proper focus.
Hovering is what Jesus did for forty days in the wilderness before preaching the sermon in Nazareth we heard last week. That sermon represents Jesus’ own “sweet spot” or the piece of God’s dream that he was called to live out: “to bring good news to the poor … proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We “overhear” Jesus’ internal hovering when we read of his temptations by the devil. In Hebrew, the devil is called the satan, which means Adversary or Accuser. In the wilderness, the Adversary tried to throw off Jesus’ focus by shifting it in a direction that was other than his “sweet spot.” This would have been no easy task for the adversary of Jesus. After all, the Adversary couldn’t just pull out any old temptation that would fool the rest of us. The Adversary would have to tempt Jesus with good, not evil – for the temptation to do good is the highest temptation for any of us, actually – not just any good, but the wrong good.
For Jesus to be tempted, the Adversary would have to take one of Jesus’ great loves, that Jesus had already experienced as good and right, and get him to elevate that love unnaturally – to become the convergence point of all his passions. In other words, the evil that the Adversary was trying to create wasn’t overt evil, but mis-focus – something that misdirects a person’s energies, sending them all to the wrong place.
The Adversary pulled out three of Jesus’ great loves – feeding the hungry, working for political change, and gathering a community of committed disciples. None of these loves were evil, and Jesus acted on all of them during his ministry. The Adversary simply tried to focus all of Jesus’ energies toward any one of them, thereby orienting Jesus’ energies away from his “sweet spot,” or Calling.
“Turn stones into bread, Jesus! You know you want to feed the world.”
“I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world! You know you long for God to be the world’s true leader.”
“Show the world evidence that you are the Messiah! You know you want the world to hear your voice and follow God.”
While all of these temptations represented a part of God’s call, none of them represented Jesus’ entire call. While any of these things would be high enough callings to last a lifetime for the rest of us, none of them were high enough to bring all Jesus’ energies into focus. His great love of feeding the hungry, creating political change, and gathering a community of believers were meant to serve a higher purpose, not be served by the rest of his energies. Discerning all this didn’t come easily for Jesus. Like the rest of us, he had to “hover.” He had to explore a wide variety of ways to work out his sense of Call until he found the particular way of being in the world that brought all his energies into a single, white-hot point of focus.
On a much lower level, and over a much lengthier period of time, this is what happened to me as I gradually grew into my unique sense of calling as a minister. My calling into ministry came to me by complete surprise, after spending my first eighteen years thinking about any profession but ministry. But looking back from where I am now, I can see clearly that my call into ministry enlivened each of my major interests in life before then. For instance, I had a deep enough love of visual imagery that at one point I had wanted to be a professional photographer. I had a deep enough love of ancient history that I once wanted to be an archaeologist. I had a deep enough love of science and innovation that I had once wanted to be an inventor. I had a deep enough love of bridge-building between people that my classmates tended to seek me out as a mediator. And I had a deep enough love of God’s earth that I was planning on studying to become a solar energy research scientist just before sensing the call into ministry.
What confirmed – and keeps confirming – my sense of calling to the ministry is the way my particular ministry has brought together all of these deep loves and passions (and several more) into focus in a single vocation. I am not simply a “generic” minister. I am a minister who, like an archaeologist, loves to dig up the ancient past and glean its wisdom for the present. Like a photographer, I love to use visual imagery in my preaching and like an inventor, I love to experiment and explore new and better ways of aligning our faith with our everyday lives. Like a scientist, I am particularly interested in the conversation between faith and science. And like a solar energy research scientist and a mediator, I am particularly interested how faith can help reconcile us with the earth and with people of other faiths.
Can you see how serving as a minister has brought all the deep but disparate interests and passions into a distinctive focus? This is how anyone’s sense of call works, no matter what the vocation, or avocation. You find your convergence point, then hover over all your life loves, adjusting their focus until they all work in concert with each other at your particular “sweet spot” – that part of God’s dream you are called to fulfill.
In the creative process – as in the process of spiritual transformation – you dream God’s dream, you hover around God’s dream until your response to it comes out of your deepest loves and passions. Then you take the risk of acting on what you’ve discerned. Once you’ve acted, you listen. You listen because you’ve entered new territory and need to pay attention to the new information you receive as a result of being in a new place. Then you reintegrate your listening to further refine the vision and adjust course where necessary. And finally you rest and celebrate what you and God have accomplished together – which further inspires you to dream all over again.
In the coming weeks, we’ll go over these latter steps – the risking, the listening, the reintegrating what you’ve heard, and the resting/celebrating. This Sunday at Darkwood Brew, we’ll cover risk. I dare you to show up!