One of the most searing seasons of loneliness for me was experienced during my time in seminary. Nine years ago we packed up a big yellow moving truck and transitioned to Denver from the Hoosier state with a seminary degree as the primary motivator. Sitting in that first class (Defending the Faith) I began to painfully see that I’d be a circular peg in the traditional square seminary hole and yet somehow through prayer and key friendships I managed to grab the degree. As a creative, a futurist, and an Enneagram 4, those seminary years nearly did me in as I plumbed the depths of liminal space with hard questions and confusions.
I don't attribute the despair of that season solely to Denver Seminary. It just happened to be a fertile context in which I'd set off on a journey to mindfully consider the cup that I've been given to drink. As Henri Nouwen described so well,
Holding the cup of life means looking critically at what we are living. This requires great courage, because when we start looking, we might be terrified by what we see. Questions may arise that we don't know how to answer. Doubts may come up about things we thought we were sure about. Fear may emerge from unexpected places.
In frequent moments throughout those years while carefully examining what I began to see as my unique cup, there were moments that I'd strongly echo the words of Christ in Gethsemane, "Let this cup pass from me."
I've often wondered what it was that Jesus actually felt in Gethsemane.
There were fundamental disruptions that Jesus experienced in that garden that would point toward continual patterns that I believe we can expect to experience in the spiritual life today. Like Christ, an aspect of these disruptions will likely include painful separations from close friends and family.
But what if these Gethsemane seasons also entail deliberate disconnections from God as well?
This is the confounding space in which it feels the systems and experiences that have made you who you are have now seemingly dissolved and can no longer keep you propped up the way they once did.
A pattern of powerlessness...
Contrary to popular theology Jesus was not a superhero. This theology has led us to expect God will swoop in and pick us up just before catastrophic disaster strikes. The reality of Gethsemane, however, is an image of God desperately seeking companionship, wildly repeating the same prayer all the while tears and snot are sliming down his face. Perhaps it's an embarrassing and blasphemous image to some, but it's one that encourages me to actually call him savior as he provides me the sacred permission to do the same.
Jesus didn't come to help us avoid seasons of disorientation but rather to fully enter into them even to the point of death.
During my most impossible moments of disorientation and loneliness (nearly a weekly occurrence in seminary!) I’ve often entered into Gethsemane through late night cruises around the Mile High City. In my 4 wheeled garden I go numb to the outside world and pretend that my Honda Accord is 100% soundproof as I express my unfiltered anguish toward a God of whom I sometimes question is paying any attention to me. This is my Gethsemane.
Along my journey I've discovered that so much of life hinges on our response to loneliness. The threat of having no perceived place to belong has the potential to shape and carve magnificent canyons in the soul. Perhaps we look back in hindsight and find these canyons beautiful but as they're being cut they leave one screaming out in agony.
The threat of loneliness is enough to keep many from actually entering into Gethsemane with Christ. ...And so we settle on simply worshiping Jesus rather than courageously following.
And while moments and even seasons in Gethsemane are some of the darkest and most excruciating, we must be reminded that the scene takes place in a garden. And what are gardens but places of transformation, change and renewal.
If interested, I taught this in a sermon with my friends at Denver Community Church this month.