Authority, credentials, and the road less travelled…

Well, the Lenten season is, for me, off to a whizz-bang start.  Two Ash Wednesday services, five days of my personal spiritual discipline, a conversation with my spiritual director and one with my pastor (and let’s not forget the total change in my relationship to all the water on the planet) and yes, my view of the world and my place in it is totally up-ended.

I have a new, weird kind of clarity, and I realize that, when faced with that famous fork in the road, I have been looking right when I should have been looking left– although not totally.  It has been more like I’ve been looking right, but out of the corner of my left eye I could see God standing down the road waving his arms, trying to get my attention.

Over the weekend, I looked to the left and I won’t be looking right again in the near future.  Yes, the path is clear.  The solitary road, not the road of school and credentials.  Authority, not power.

I realize that I am, like my beagle Gracie, a pack animal.  Because of so many things in my life, I am driven by a need to belong, to participate in community, to be one of the group, to be like people that I admire.  You even see this operating in my musical choices:  despite the size of my voice and the problems it causes most choral directors, I love to sing in choirs, ensembles, anything where there are other singers and a sense of community.  It has taken me years to even just begin to grasp the solo nature of my voice, let alone to appreciate it.  My desire to be one of the “gang” has always been most powerful.

And, I will also admit that, I have been driven by a belief that if I just get the right credential, the right blessing from the right kind of institution, the right piece of paper that says, yes you are authorized to do thus-and-so, that that right credential will finally make me feel like I belong, that I’m one of the group, that I’m respected as a wise person, a skilled person, someone with something to say.  To echo again the thoughts of an article by Craig C. Hill titled “Paul and Power Revisited”, I have sought power (recognition granted by an external authority) instead of authority (the acknowledgement that comes from helping, doing and from experience, and from the results in your own life and the lives of those around you).  I have chosen to ask others for what I couldn’t acknowledge in myself.

You see, just as I have resisted in a weird way the embrace of my solo voice, I have until jus a few days ago, resisted my place in life as as a solo operator. Every time I enroll in a degree program, I am delaying the inevitable.  And I am denying the overwhelming message that I  hear over and over again — to begin now to use the gifts that I already have in abundance.  I have, somehow, over the past weeks, lost the ability to conform to the expectations of others — I have lost the ability to dutifully study what I am told to study simply because I am told; I have lost the ability to morph and twist to fit into a box of someone elses expectations.   It is time for me to acknowledge my role as my own teacher.  And, to remember always, to whom I belong.  I have all the authority I need.

It is time to stop looking at, what are for me, the distractions of the society around me.  As Americans, we are groomed to believe that just one more diploma, one more mentor, one more certificate, one more class…these things are the road to success and comfort.  But if I tell the truth — these things have never made me feel comfortable or safe.  Trusting in the still small voice within, trusting in my ability to communicate what I hear, trusting in my ability to discern and to help and to love and to pray and to sing — this is the stuff of “successful” living.

So right now, I feel simultaneously comforted and disturbed.  To tell the truth, that is kind of what the Kingdom of God is all about, isn’t it?  And so, I think it really is, most finally and completely, goodbye school and hello to the school of life; I’ll be taking the road less travelled, despite my best efforts to avoid it.  And that no longer feels quite so scary.  (Just in case you don’t know the poem by Robert Frost to which I refer, you can click here.)

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