Did I even mean that?
I’ve been thinking about prayer lately, and conversation in general, and I’m struck by how many phrases we use without ever really owning them. By “owning them” I mean understanding their meaning so well that we feel powerfully confident using them. It can be a confidence born of discipline and thought, or it might be the result of butchering the language in the company of better thinkers, and being properly humiliated.
“He brought a kind of erstwhile intensity to the process,” I said, in college years ago.
“Erstwhile?” a friend asked. “Erstwhile?”
“Yes,” I said a little nervously.
“He brought a ‘former’ intensity?” my friend asked.
My friend was gracious enough to let it die there, but I was using “erstwhile” as “earnest” or “strong,” when it’s more in the “former, formerly, at one time” category.
My contention is that the more poorly we communicate with each other, and with God, the more likely we are to slip into a sea of confusion and, ultimately, despair. I don’t know that I can quantify it, but when we say something we don’t quite believe to each other, or something we pretend to understand, but do not, and our friends reply with similarly imprecise jargon, we leave the conversation in a kind of funk. We project our own imprecision on the world, and the world itself begins to look dull and imprecise. We were all putting the best face on things, but our combined confusion was telling a different story.
Welcome to the would be writer’s world — a world where you drive down the freeway thinking things like, “no, let me back up and re-state that. I didn’t quite get it right.”
The other day I asked God to conform my mind to His mind and His will, and then I went on to other things, and then I backed up and thought, “what in the world do I mean, ‘conform my mind to God’s?'” Do I even mean that? What am I asking for?
Well, obviously, conforming our will to God’s is the very stuff of the Bible, and a little reading reminds me that Paul told us “not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” Sure, yes, of course. I’m aware of the concept. I don’t think I’m making an outright “erstwhile” mistake here, but I got to thinking, “do I really want what I’m asking for? If I conform myself to God’s mind — if that is even possible — do I become some sterile, strong beacon of humorless, joyless truth?”
Ponder those words I just used there — sterile, humorless, joyless. Is that my picture of God? Is that why I wonder whether I’m really asking for something that I want?
But then I remember that He composed Leviathan, and the Universe, and erotic love, and wine, and thinking and discussion–and HE crafted those nights of laughter with my family and friends. He doubled Job’s grief with more blessings than he had before. He told a story of Joseph falling on the neck of his forgiven brothers and weeping — in forgiveness and reunion.
“Oh, yes, sorry, God, yes, go ahead and transform me.”