Our antediluvian ancestors, however you understand the historical details, seem to have taken a tumble from a state of grace and creativity (“the garden”) to one of crass existence (“the field”) and finally into a nadir of murder and exile (“the mark of Cain”).
This mirrors an experience I had in 2001 / 2002 when I went through a period that is commonly referred to as burnout.
Being made in the image of God, we are, I believe, intended to lead lives marked by creativity. However, most of us, for one reason or another, find it hard to realize or maintain that level of existence. Our creativity is not appreciated, we are somehow demeaned by others or ourselves – often in childhood before we even have a chance – and before we know it we’ve been knocked down to a level of “management”, simply tending the fields of our lives by the sweat of our brow. We have no knowledge that life should be otherwise, and even if we did we no longer have the energy or enthusiasm for creativity. (Please take a moment to explore the etymology of “enthusiasm”. Compare: “…the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the spirit of life..”)
Most of us remain at that level of operation, that of simply managing, for the rest of our lives. But sometimes we get another knock and end up farther down the ladder. Sometimes our management of life proves to be insufficient to the task – or so we are told or come to believe – and we end up in Cain’s predicament: survival, eking out an existence in unknown territory, on the margins of life. Smoldering wicks and bent reeds. Burnout.
Finally, those who reach this level find it is relatively easy to slip into a last phase of existence, the last rung before the abyss: destructive behavior. We self-destruct by bad behavior, and we’ll gladly take down as many as we can with us. We have reached the opposite existence of that for which we were created.
During my period of burnout I found it easier and easier to dally in destructive tendencies. Then one day, in a remarkably clear frame of mind, I realized I literally had to “repent”. The New Testament concept is taken from the Greek and basically means to turn around and go in the opposite direction.
An image comes to mind of one of my daughters, when she was two years old, getting lost in a massive IKEA store.* When we finally found her she was heading away from us and did not know that she was now safe, now found. All she had to do – and finally did do when we called her name – was to turn around and be swallowed up in our embrace. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is close at hand,” says Jesus. “Just turn around! God is there, waiting to take you up in his arms!”
But HOW to repent? How to turn around? It started in an unspectacular fashion, by taking a long walk every day, rain or shine. By agreeing to bring a halt to patterns that were being destructive to myself and my relationships, and replacing them – be it ever so feebly – with creative activities. It was a long process but I knew I was now, at least, headed in the right direction.
Eight years later, this blog is a part of my ongoing process. I enjoy being creative through my writing. I know I’m not an academic and I know that most of my clergy colleagues are far more intelligent than I am, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I am who I am, and I take joy in the ways in which I can reflect the image of God in my life.
*Renata tells me that my memory of what actually happened on this event is not very accurate. But she agrees with me that my telling of it makes a good sermon illustration, so I’ll leave it in. I’ve said before in this blog that how one remembers events is no guarantee about the facts.