Thursday, September 5, 2013

To Miss a Life

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence.  Sometimes all it takes is one sentence to be sufficient focus for an entire inspirational reflection.  In fact, some sentences contain so much richness, it takes more than one meditative setting to begin to digest everything in a few words.  Some writers seem to be directly and intuitively connected to the Holy One.  The words that pour forth from their pen are, as if, immediate revelation.  It is almost like the Divine Being Itself has grabbed the pen.

One writer I find like this is Walker Percy.  I have not read as much of him as I wish, but when I do, I am spiritually floored.  For example, in his novel, The Second Coming, we find this single sentence, which is actually a question.  “Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?”  This question arrests me.  It grabs me and won’t let go.  In many ways it is a rather simple question.  On the surface it is even a bit playful.  Immediately, I smile and almost break into a laugh.  But ultimately, it is no laughing matter.

It is a great spiritual question, which invites us to ponder it, unpack it and learn from it.  The question actually poses a possibility by offering something known and simple (missing a plane) to think about something more subtle and more serious (missing a life).  Let’s start with the simple part.

I have missed a plane---more than once.  Sometimes it has been my fault.  Other occasions I would claim it was not my fault; the airlines changed the schedule or something like that.  However, the end result is the same: my airplane was gone!  I missed my plane.  That is never good news.  Suddenly you are searching for Plan B.  Typically, you go into scramble-mode.  In the end it may turn out ok, but in the process it never feels that way.

I remember my “favorite” missed plane incident.  My friend and I were to join another friend on a trip to Brazil for some scheduled teaching and speaking.  We had an initial flight leg and, then, would meet our friend in Newark, NJ.  Because of stormy weather in our destination city, we were late departing.  When we arrived in Newark, we mustered all our prior athletic abilities and sprinted to the Gate where we would find our plane nearly ready to depart for Sao Paulo.

Breathlessly, we arrived at the Gate.  We saw the plane sitting outside the window.  My relief was a hoax.  The doors had already closed and we were told we had missed our plane.  I wanted to cry.  I probably did cry internally.  And then we began to concoct Plan B.  Two days later we arrived in Brazil, having missed some of our engagements.

Is it possible that we can miss our lives in the same way we miss our planes?  The obvious answer for me is Yes!  And the prospect of missing my life makes me shudder.  Missing my plane is unfortunate and, certainly, inconvenient.  Missing my life is unfortunate and tragic.  I can find another plane.  There is no other life to find!

The possibility of missing my life seems like a profound spiritual issue.  A missed life would be a life that is misplaced, lost or wasted.  Clearly, we have options if we want to miss our lives.  Let’s explore each one.

Some people miss their lives, like they would miss a plane, by displacing their lives, as I call it.  A displaced life is a life lived “out of place.”  People who are dependent are living this kind of displaced life.  A dependent person is someone who does not really have a life of his or her own.  She is living the life someone else wants her to live.  God cannot relate to a displaced person.  God can only deal with the “real you.”

The second kind of missed life is a lost life.  This is the kind of life I am most tempted to live.  A lost life is a life in which I know who I am, but I put my energies and allegiances in things that don’t matter---at least, ultimately don’t matter.  This characterizes people who are after fame and fortune.  This is a deceptive kind of life.  It can feel good and fulfilling---for a while.  But then, we realize we have misspent our efforts.  We were making good time---but we were lost.

Finally, there are the folks who missed their lives because they wasted their lives.  No plane ever comes to your house to pick you up.  No life ever comes to your heart and makes you instantly whole.  A wasted life is a life with potential that never actualizes that potential.  A spiritual life is not like the breakfast cereal.  Get it out of the closet and it is ready-made!

To live your life spiritually is to avoid missing it.  It requires that we be aware.  We want to live attentively (with some discipline to practice growing in spiritual depth).  And the spiritual life is an active life.  It is active in seeking out the Holy One, developing the relationship and living out the love that God has for each of us.  It’s up to you.

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