All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I originally wanted to post something along the lines of, “The first month out of ministry: some reflections,” but I thought the title was a bit pejorative. The reason is that one never leaves ministry even though he or she may leave full-time paid ministry. A friend of mine, Taft Ayers, recently spoke to this in his blog post, “Quitting the Ministry”:
Each day that I live is a mission trip. I couldn’t retire, escape or delete ministry. It’s what we do each day that we live. I understand what people mean when they say it, but it’s inaccurate.
Yet, here I am still reflecting on the past 29 days and one word continually fights its way to the front lines: wander. When I think of how I have used that word in the past negative connotations seem to creep in the crevasses of a definition. There was that time when my brother wandered off at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia and we thought we lost him. I remember when my kids wandered from my scope of sight and an immediate sense of panic sets in until I hear the high tones of their young voices. There are those countless sermons and bible class discussions about those who have “wandered from the faith” which is a phrase finding its roots in 1 Timothy 6:10. Of course, many people get to define what it means to wander from the faith but that hermeneutical discussion is meant for another time.
But is wandering all that bad?
Perhaps it could be said that we may truly not understand God in a deeply rooted way until we have wandered a bit. Israel, a case study of what not to do, wandered for years until God finally let them in the Promised Land. Jesus, God’s incarnate Son, was sent into the wilderness in what seems to me a formation of ministry that only starts with, you guessed it, wandering. The Tolkien quote is poignant in that it reminds us that a wandering is necessary when faced with a difficult task. One blogger noted the meaning behind the phrase in the book:
Wandering, as Tolkien meant here, is a journey in itself, neither a goal nor something necessarily desired by the wanderer, but it is absolutely necessary. And even if one feels lost into it, that’s how he will achieve mastery and become a symbolic king. But one has the choice to take the journey to achieve mastery or to stay a fool forever.
Evangelicalism seems to posture itself against any concept of wandering. We want to guard the truth (again…however we define “truth”) and any notion of alleviating from that path is considered wayward.
In the past few weeks I have done much wandering in the sense I have had my spiritual faculties discombobulated. The routines of paid ministry allowed a semblance of order and now that is disrupted I find myself searching. It is a disruption of sorts that I am still getting used but the wandering is an even more concerted effort to fellowship with God. Richard Rohr said in Falling Upward: “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”
I like that.
Here’s to wandering.