Lent: Personal crisis and self-realisation

“Crisis is what suppressed pain looks like; it always comes to the surface. It shakes you into reflection and healing.” - Bryant McGill

The Lenten journey is full of crisis moments where people are confronted with their mortality in the light of the counterintuitive Jesus narrative.

Those closest to Jesus are confronted by their hidden agendas, ambitions, and obvious fragility as they move closer to the inevitable grief of the passion. Judas is struggling with his inclination to betray all that he is experiencing in this new kind of Messiahship, and Peter is starting to get nervous about his surfacing discomfort around his inherent inclination toward denial. Following Jesus is not for the fainthearted, it really does reveal the deep woundings of the human condition.

Not only is Jesus watching his close friends struggle with this strange trajectory he is facing continual scrutiny from the religious quarter, who are opposing his rise to popularity. Their refusal to let go of the old ways of religious practice have thrown them into confusion around the fear of losing control of their institutional domination.

“Times of crisis, of disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable, but desirable. They mean growth. Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Times of crisis are uncomfortable and disconcerting but absolutely necessary if we are to grow into the next permutation of our human evolution. To describe the necessity of change Jesus employed story in the form of parables to promote ideas that help us cope and courageously walk through these critical times.

One famous parable that has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life is the story of the ‘prodigal son’. In this brief narrative he juxtaposes ‘lostness’ and ‘found-ness’ in order to highlight these two sides of the crisis conundrum.

“Lostness is where found-ness hides, awaiting our moment of self-realisation.”

The Pharisees and Sadducees, who are confounded by Jesus’ inclusion of others, are struggling with their dualism and unable to break down the distinctions between sinners and saints. We are all prone to making judgements about those who don’t fit into our moral constructs or way of seeing the world. It ultimately ends in prejudice, racism or some form of  segregation; of  ‘in and out’ categories.

Through this story Jesus reminds them that we are all lost, and that found-ness somehow emerges out of our brokenness; like a phoenix from the ashes, breaking down the walls that separate us.

The younger son’s decisions become an analogy that explain the stages of lostness as they surface in our lives… gently nudged to the surface by the hope of found-ness.

The early stage of lostness reveals itself in a type of dis-ease with life as we know it. The younger son, according to cultural norms, had no right to demand his inheritance but the fathers willingness to comply suggests something bigger going on behind the scenes. Was all not well in Prodigalville? The claustrophobic nature of these feelings eventually push us toward escapism, the need to abscond from that which seemingly traps and restricts our lives. Our impatience with our maturation is often seen in our youthful rebellion as we push the boundaries and revolt against the powers that be.

One scholar has suggested that this helps to explain the Adam and Eve story, as they come of age and begin to question the boundaries put in place by their father. There comes a time in all of our lives where we need to question all that we have been told and taught, in order that our conscience can find its own individual equilibrium.

The leaving of our safe spaces leads to the obvious arenas of experimentation as we ‘sow our wild oats’ trying to figure out what pleasure and pain look like as life unfurls. ‘Wild living’—as  the text suggests—is different for all of us; not always a collapse into moral madness but often just the need for us to play on the edge of risk and reward trying to figure what works and doesn’t. In his case, the prodigal son’s demise finds him exhausted of his inheritance and housed in a pig pen. A clever use of an unclean animal analogy to add weight to the deterioration into what lostness looks like at its lowest point.

“When he came to his senses...’” 

It is here that ‘lostness’ clothed in regret starts to kick in with the sensory overload of reality. The sensate stimuli overpowering his sensibilities were the work of found-ness starting to surface in redemptive fashion. Found-ness was hiding deep in the well of his lostness waiting for this moment to awake. When you can’t go any further down, the only way is up… metaphorically speaking.

His mind is overcome with regret to the point of lucid reflection; regret can do that sometimes. We can do our best reasoning when we are stripped of our pride and entitlement. In this place of contemplation found-ness appears as an epiphany of self-realisation that would carve out a new way forward.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

"I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you".

The young man realises his need for ‘shalom’; the very thing that sin destroys as it bifurcates our lives. Sin is not a list of bad things that we do but rather an internal fracturing of our identity that acts out in an attempt to ignore the attention that our internal pain requires. Shalom is the way things ought to be; the soul at peace with itself.

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son”

When we come to the realisation that whānau (family) is crucial to how life works, we get to confront our narcissism and entitled independence. If shalom is to be restored internally, we must reach out and restore the bonds of love with those who give us place and purpose.

“Make me like one of your hired servants”

The chief outcome of found-ness is humility, the restoration of honour and dignity in the human condition. Humility is not so much a lowering but a lifting up of the head and heart of those who have found out the hard way that pride is a debasing experience. Humility does not try to deflate our importance but reminds us that servanthood is the true posture of those who call themselves righteous.

My crisis is a juxtaposition of lostness and found-ness, two sides of the same coin negotiating the immediate moment that I am in… may I find the grace I need to guide my through the process.