Monthly Archives: July 2016

Of Serenity, Lobotomies and Hijacked Apophatic Theology

Here I sit in trepidation, looking at my computer screen (I suppose this is the modern version of writer’s block or in my case, writer’s avoidance).  While driving home from my South Dakota journey, my good friend and blog muse Mike messaged me that it was writing time again and I should pick the topic.  I knew what to pick, but I avoided picking by saying I needed to “think”.  As fellows in recovery, Mike and my sponsor both said, “Don’t think too much.”  So, the topic is What Does Serenity Look Like?  That was chosen two weeks ago and the reason I’ve avoided writing is that I NEED to write about this topic because I don’t have much serenity these last two weeks.

In theology, there is a way to “define” God by saying what God is NOT–apophatic theology.  It is used because God is so large and incomprehensible that sometimes the only way to explain is by saying what God is not, such as “God is not confined by time or space.”  While I know serenity is certainly not the same as God, in some way, I want to hijack apophatic theology for saying what serenity  (a large and incomprehensible thing in itself) does NOT look like:

  • Serenity is not a constant happy state
  • Serenity is not a void of problems or chaos
  • Serenity is not numbness to the inevitable challenges that arise in our lives
  • Serenity is not something to be achieved once and it will always be there like some trophy or badge we have earned
  • Serenity is not static
  • Serenity is not easy

I had to start there because in some ways, I don’t know what serenity looks like-I think it is different for each person and looks different at various times in our lives.

Before starting in recovery three and a half years ago, I had this idea that serenity was a mild disassociation from the problems that surround me to the point where I was like an observer looking in and thinking, “Hmm….this lobotomy is very helpful in watching this chaos occur before my eyes…”  While I occasionally joke (or maybe more than occasionally) that a lobotomy would make life easier, I know it’s not realistic or for that matter very desirable as a coping tool to find serenity.  For I’ve come to the conclusion that serenity has to be found and while I’m still working on how to do that in an every changing life, I think I know what it looks like for me today.

Serenity is knowing that I’m doing the right thing for me in my spiritual and personal growth.  Serenity is letting other people walk their journey, even if I disagree with what they choose.  Serenity is having boundaries for myself so that both of the conditions above can be met.  I know when I let any of those conditions slide, my soul will inevitably slide into turmoil as well.   To return to apophatic theology, lack of serenity is when my soul (my term in this case for the mystical melding of mind and heart) is in turmoil and NOT at peace.  What I’ve discovered is that things can be seemingly rosy around me, but if I am not spiritual right or not right with others around me, I am in turmoil.  Conversely, I can have every part of my life in seeming chaos, but still be serene.  My serenity comes from how I choose to think and act towards myself and others.  It comes from honesty, especially with myself.  Without self honesty, serenity is impossible for me because I’m trying to heal that which I won’t admit.  That is the piece I was lacking for so long.

The conundrum of this realization is that when I peel away the layers of denial and self deception in my life in order to find some serenity, I temporarily lose some serenity.  It is not easy to look at the dark corners of self deception I’ve held onto for so long and not lose some serenity.  However, in doing so, I have faith that the new creature that God is helping to create will find a deeper level of peace of soul, despite “life getting lifey” around me.

Ultimately, this is why I’ve been avoiding writing about this topic; by the grace of God, I’m in that stage of intense self honesty and it’s not fun, although it is necessary.  Lately, I’m kind of thinking that lobotomy would be nice (hey, I’ve met my insurance deductible for the year!).  Then I return to the knowledge that numbness is not serenity and serenity is somehow found between God, me, the help of close, honest, listening friends and lots of hard work.   My consistent prayer is that I allow God to guide me to true honesty rooted in His love so that I (and hopefully those around me) can continue to find what serenity looks like.