I was eleven years old when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo 11 lunar module onto the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. My mother and I watched Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” on a black and white TV in a cheap motel room.
Mom had spent most of her remaining cash to give us at least one night sleeping in a bed and a chance to see the moon landing. We were homeless, having fled my physically and emotionally abusive father only a few weeks before.
When we left, my mother had no job prospects, no savings, and no reliable support network. We carried with us two suitcases full of our belongings. This is the sort of desperate gamble a mother will take when her husband points a gun at her and then puts that same pistol in her son’s face.
By the time we settled into living with my maternal grandparents, I had started high school and my address had changed seventeen times. My life contained a heavy dose of chaos, and I teetered on the edge of cynicism and despair.
It was in the middle of this disarray that I took the first steps toward the kind of faith that sustains me and gives me hope to this day. Many Christians refer to it as a contemplative faith. And it may surprise you to learn that it began with the study of philosophy.
Philosophy was an advanced religion elective when I was a junior or senior in high school. My teacher Ms. Smith started the term with Plato. I was hooked immediately, because Plato sought to make sense out of a ceaselessly changing world.
My own life experiences had led me to worry that the only constant in life was that there is no reliable constant in life. You’re always standing on shifting sand. For me, this was an unbearable thought.
In Plato I found someone who not only acknowledged the flux of everyday life but also had discovered a deep, abiding truth within that very turbulence.
Plato’s point is that everything in this unstable, confusing life of ours points beyond itself to something upon which it depends for its very existence, identity, and meaning. Or, as I say now, when we learn how to look, we can see everything under a divine horizon.
Plato inspired me to look at the world in front of me as the place where God reaches out toward me to be known—or, more accurately, where God reaches out to embrace me and to be embraced by me. Receiving and returning this embrace is at the heart of contemplative faith.
This embrace is more than an intellectual assent to doctrines, creeds, and dogmas. It’s an opening of the heart, mind, and soul, an opening of our entire being. There is more to our earthly existence than meets the eye.
From the depths of our messy places, someone is reaching out to us—seeking to connect to us, transform us, and guide us in healing the whole creation. And that is where I find an enduring hope.
This essay is adapted from “Contemplative Faith,” Chapter Ten of Looking for God in Messy Places. Click here to learn more and grab a copy.
And look at what you, bishop, and God have done with that young man who grew up in such chaos! By God’s good Grace, you speak Grace to the rest of us on the path….thank you seems too little to say, but, I do thank you for your honesty and willingness to be so open. Stephen Waller
Just love this…
and I’m reading your book… one of the best ever, guiding in my connection to God and finding hope in my messiness. Thank you…
Thank you, Bishop Jake, for this lovely testimony to what God has done in and through you for the Divine purpose he had/has in mind for you. Only the presence of the Living God can convert the dross of our adversities into the gold of God’s wisdom. Blessings on your continuing ministry ihe body of Christ + Agape.
Amen kiwianglo! ~aroha. Liz, West Otago.
Your main message is really beautiful! ~but I’d also like to add that in a depressed region in NZ where I grew up I had extremely limited options in high school e.g. Typing or French (not both), chose not to do Art. The rest were core subjects. I love being introduced to Plato and how that learning actually helped you in real life. Makes me curious to want to take a peek at Plato but I suspect I won’t find a text that shares the ideas in such a clear and interesting way as you do!
Thank you so much Jake. I also was 11 when. The moon landing happened. We have it on our home movies. I was sitting in our living room. And it was on our small black and white tv. God is so amazing. He can take a sad situation and transform it into a better life for the person involved. May God bless you and your family. Thank you for telling us about this experience. And how it impacted your life. God’s peace.
Thank you for your like.