Wednesday, January 27, 2016
When I was very young, barely old enough to have memories of this sort, I recall being at the grocery store with my mom. Presumably my younger sister was there too, but she would have been in the shopping cart. I remember getting separated from my mom as she shopped. Perhaps I wandered off, or perhaps I stopped to look at something and didn't keep up with her as she moved on. I admit that I would often become enticed by the options presented on the breakfast cereal aisle, in particular the boxes that promised a decoder ring or magnifying glass or plastic race car. Whatever was the reason for separation, I remember becoming aware of my situation. It didn't register that I had no way home except for my mom. Nothing registered in my brain except that I was separated from her. I didn't think "oh my goodness, the one who takes care of me, feeds me, comforts me, provides for me, puts up with me has disappeared and I am all alone!" No such thoughts raced through my mind. What I remember, however, is what I felt: panic.
Panic is a function of the brain, albeit a rudimentary function. It arises from a part often referred to as "reptilian," indicating that it is not as evolved as other areas of our gelatinous neural network. Though it isn't as highly evolved it still serves a function. It causes immediate reaction to the perceived stimulus of threat. Such immediate reaction is necessary when there is danger. If we are faced with certain peril, say we are being stalked by a lion, then you're better off responding to the part of your brain that provides the freaked out voice screaming "run" than to wait for your higher functioning neo-cortex to act like a committee which considers all possible scenarios. There's a reason you don't see committee meetings on the African savanna.
But I digress. Suffice it to say that when the situation I faced at the grocery store took place, my cognitive development was in its earlier stages. The reaction of panic to the absence of my mother was acceptable. Despite this, however, I recall doing something that did exhibit the presence and function of my neo-cortex: I devised a plan to locate my mother. Rather than scream, which would have undoubtedly produced several mothers, as well as store staff, and rather than run up and down every aisle, I figured that if I walked the width of the store while looking down every aisle, then I would find my mother fairly quickly.
As someone who leans in the direction of faith and a belief in God, in particular a belief in God who loves each of us more than even our earthly parents do, I am aware that there are times when I feel separated from God. I will abstain from speculating how such a separation may occur, or even whether God is genuinely not present. It is enough to know that I experience a separation from God. Such an acknowledgment is a huge admission and is the initial step to reconnection between the aberrant heart and God. Like prodigals our hearts are prone to become enamored with what we perceive as the most exciting or most likely fulfilling experience or event or even product--like a sugar laden cereal with a cool prize contained in the box.
The first thing that makes sense to do is to reconnect. And some sort of plan is the best approach. Since it is unlikely that we can simply walk the width of a store while spying down each aisle to find the deity we've lost, some other approach merits attention.
I won't go so far as to prescribe a plan. I think that though there are some aspects of the spiritual life that are generalized, each of us must design our own unique plan for reconnecting with God when we feel separated.
I trust, however, that though the world is far larger than a grocery store and therefore a greater challenge to navigate in search of God, God is still God and will not abandon us, no matter whether our experience is of being lost, overlooked, forgotten, neglected, or left behind.
Here are the ways I search the aisles for God: Prayer, Worship, Connecting with other sojourners, Reading scripture, Studying the lives of spiritual leaders and emulating them, Service (which always has the effect of humbling me), and Listening (as in paying attention to the signs of God rather than the cereal boxes).
I don't know whether the feeling of being separated from God is a function of my brain and if so, what part, but I know what it feels like and I'm grateful it triggers a desire to pursue the One who knows just where I am, even when I don't.
© 2016 Stephen Carl