Year-End Reflection: Leading the Malleable Life Amid Hurricane-Force Winds

The Malleable Life


A new friend recently described my life as malleable. I didn’t like her choice of words because malleable connotes being beholden to outside influences. So, to prove her wrong, I looked it up in a couple dictionaries. I proved myself wrong.


Malleable refers to a material that can be bent “without breaking or cracking” (1). It can also be something that has “a capacity for adaptive change” (2). It turns out that my friend was right. 

Mt. Hood as seen from 
Portland, Oregon

I’ve found the malleable life the best response to the constantly blowing winds of living. Without adaptive change, it is easy to buckle or become disheveled by breezes and gusts from all directions. When that constantly blowing wind is  “the very breath of God” (3), adapting is the only option. 


Over the last four-years, and especially the last 18-months, “the very breath of God” has become a hurricane force wind. You see, I had a “Holy Spirit moment” in the summer of 2010 that precipitated our move to Portland (4). This spiritual moment was clear, powerful, and provided a specific message. The message was one word: Portland. It came after multiple days of heavy duty praying for direction.


Intuitive Faith & Rationality


Acting intuitively in faith, my wife and I spent the next year preparing for the move. We gave up all our possessions except for what fit in two cars (5). We sold our 3-bedroom home and moved 2700-miles into a 250 square foot studio apartment.


I did the rational things, too. I worked through the denominational materials for discerning new church ministry. I studied about Portland and target demographics. The impetus for and the foundation of this radical move, however, has always rested upon that one moment at the Lord’s Table when I experienced God nudging me to the Northwest.




The Continuously Creative Divine Breath of God

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. 
Isaiah 43: 19 NRSV



The Columbia River Gorge
near Hood River.

Here is the crux of my problem, confusion, and doubts: God is challenging my assumptions again. Amid the hurricane-force winds of the Divine breath, I have longed for rationality and linear faith. My malleability was reaching its limits. Though that “Holy Spirit moment” in the summer of 2010 was specific, my wife has just accepted a chaplain ministry 65-miles away in the Columbia River Gorge. 


How could I find myself facing another change that did not include Portland? My discernment, though lacking clarity at times, has always included the Rose City. Though I have continued to trust the Divine lure, patiently awaiting as the layers of the onion peel away slowly (6), I have believed geography was now settled. 


But, faith is not a linear or even terribly rational process.


The Vast Wilderness Spanning a Continent


Leaving the wilderness of my last few years I arrived in Portland to find more wilderness. I’ve perceived and heeded calls to places I didn’t want to be. My patience with taking only enough manna for the day has been challenged. (7) I’ve simultaneously longed for and rejected financial security. Despite craving a specific job, I heeded the blowing winds, chose the malleable life, and turned it down so that I might heed the Divine claim on my life.


And then the Divine challenged even my assumptions about Portland. Maggie’s new job answers many of our personal challenges as one year ends and a new one begins. It also creates its own problems. In recent weeks I have been desperately clinging to old and narrow ways of thinking as God’s hurricane-force winds blew over me. I have agonized.


At first we thought my wife could just commute. As we reflected on it more and more that seemed like a less and less ideal situation for her ministry. But wasn’t my “Holy Spirit moment” specific about Portland? I would think I had answered my doubts only to have them re-emerge. Pity my wife as I would say, “I feel better now” only to agonize verbally a few hours later. It was time for some alone time with God.




Time Alone with the Divine: Letting Go of an Image

Interfaith Guild of Chaplains at
 #OccupyThanksgiving

I burned incense, I prayed, I played music, read, and lit candles. Finally, with a rested mind, heart, and body I could perceive the Spirit’s presence responding to my doubts. I first had to let go of my idolatry of Portland. Yes, the Spirit called me here but my stubborn refusal to see other options kept me from seeing the big picture. 


Once I admitted my grief that I might be being called out of the Rose City, the winds calmed. The warm, loving embrace of God’s healing breath engulfed me. Using my theology as a tool to interpret and understand my situation, I realized I don’t have to give up Portland. My ministry with the Interfaith Guild of Chaplains at Occupy Portland is not coming to a close. It is transforming. 


Given Maggie’s new job, the most loving response to her, and to a sustainable lifestyle, is for us to move to the Columbia River Gorge. Once I accepted this, all the wrong-think dissipated. Where once I could only see hurricanes, I am glimpsing healing winds. I can see more time in ministry and less in earning a dollar.


I am not being called to leave Portland or my ministry here. Instead of perceiving Portland literalistic, I can see it in a broader way. My ministry can be regional: in the city and in the Columbia River Gorge. (I mean if Craigslist.com includes the Gorge on its Portland website, why can’t I?) For me to spend an hour and fifteen minutes driving to Portland two or three days a week is much more do-able than my wife commuting daily. 


My humanly-constructed image of my ministry, was limiting my openness to where I am being lured. How my Occupy ministry and my new “church” plant evolve into the new thing springing forth, I don’t know. I don’t have to know. I simply have to trust, listen, and respond in love to the gentle breeze of God.


Ever-Creating God,


As we leave one year,
    and begin another I pause to be with You.


You bless me with Your patience when,
   when I doubt,
   allowing my bigotry to closes me off from others,
   and to think too narrowly.


Though I perceive a hurricane, 
   Your breath heals and nurtures me.


Thank you for Your breath,
   that envelopes me, 
   nurtures me,
   and persists when I see gale-force winds.


Help me to be open to Your call,
   in all its fluidity,
   in all its broadness,
   and all its creative, extravagant lovingness.


Remind me when I doubt,
   that you are with me,
   embracing me with your loving arms,
   whispering to me as the breeze blows,
   revealing the most loving path in the eyes of others.
   
Remind me that I have the opportunity to reflect your extravagant love,
   in each moment,
   in each day,
   to each person, animal, and plant.


Amen.


Footnotes
(1) New Oxford American Dictionary
(2) Merriam-Webster Dictionary
(3) Read the first portion of “A Theology” for an understanding how “the very breath of God” is related to wind.
(4) I write about my “Holy Spirit moment” in “Being.”
(5) I describe the experience of giving up most of our possessions in “Emptying Barns at One Year.”  
(6) To understand the reference to peeling onions further, read “Onion Peels on the Treadmill.”
(7) Read “Whining for Manna”.

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