A great friend, and mentee of mine, reflected back to me a saying that I have repeated over and over in our relationship without even realizing it: “Move in the opposite spirit.” Apparently, I had said this so often it stuck with him over the years. This phrase was sealed in my mind through a revelation I had of the divide between what is natural to us as God’s image bearers and what comes “naturally” to us in our bent responses stemming from humanity’s garden fall. For example, the longing to be fully known and loved is natural to us. The hiding and masking ourselves is a “natural” inclination that does not mirror correctly what we desire.
Have you ever looked at the back of a spoon? I remember as a child looking into this curved mirror and observing how the whole world was reflected back upside down. No matter which way I held the spoon, the reflection of myself and the world around me was always bent. This bent perception of reality, this divide, is likened to our faith journey. I call this divide the “opposite image” in the spoon. If you are not familiar with this image in the spoon, take a minute to go and pick up a metal spoon and look at your reflection now (it will be upside down). “When you look at yourself in a mirror (a spoon is basically a curved mirror), what you see is the image that’s produced when light bounces off of your face, off the mirror, and comes back to you. If you’re looking into a flat mirror, the light will come straight back to you without bending at all. But a curved mirror will bend the light differently…by the time they [light waves] come back to you, they’ve all bent differently in such a way that they end up making you look upside down” (The Physics Van). The image is bent. What is natural becomes bent. How do know when a desire is natural or is “naturally bent”?
What does this image in the spoon have to do with risk? We are called by God to trust that His image of reality is the “right” side up and our image of reality is bent or upside down. This is why it feels risky to choose vulnerability, to risk indignity, or looking foolish; we fear the opposite image portrayed in our mind, that all will turn upside down and out of our control. In reality, we find ourselves walking aligned to the reality of Christ. In Living in Christ’s Presence Dallas Willard says,
“Every moment is a chance to be with our teacher, Jesus, and to learn how to live in the Reality. It’s just that we don’t see it. We think that it is just about a couple of little activities in a few small compartments of our life. Every moment is that chance.”
It is over time that our mind, emotions, and heart slowly become familiar with this new reality. The “bent” image unbends and becomes natural once again.
The truth to keep at the forefront of our minds is the Why. Why risk? Why take a chance? Being upside down with everyone feels natural. When everyone else looks to be in the same position as us it reinforces our perceived sense of a natural state of being…except when what comes “naturally” is, in fact, an “opposite image” that goes against our sense of the natural (vulnerable love, humility, selfless giving). Remaining upside down is to remain in the spirit of fear. Risk is part of the journey back to the natural. Richard Rohr says,
“But once the real inner journey begins—once you come to know that in Christ, God is forever overcoming the gap between human and divine—the Christian path becomes less about climbing and performance, and more about descending, letting go, and unlearning. Knowing and loving Jesus is largely about becoming fully human, wounds and all, instead of ascending spiritually or thinking we can remain unwounded. (The ego does not like this fundamental switch at all, so we keep returning to some kind of performance principle, trying to climb out of this messy incarnation instead of learning from it.”
Jesus’ incarnation is our example and our possibility. The path towards incarnation for us is awkward, disorienting, and feels risky. Jesus reminds us and paints a picture of the heavenly realms for us to show us the path is worth walking. Jesus is giving us the answer to the Why.
Greatest Among You by Yongsung Kim
The cost determines the worth. Aligning to the reality of Jesus, is to align our life to the true natural and human. It will be without the dissonance between the natural and what comes “natural” to us, the bent image. The process of unbending is to follow Christ. The result is being in step with the Spirit, side by side with Jesus.
“Since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” Romans 8:17
How do you face a risk? Essentially, there is a process at work, moving a risk to a new normal. When abiding in the Spirit, you will sense the opportunity arise to risk, to take a chance. This could be sharing a word with a stranger, giving a gift to an enemy, entering silence for an hour, offering new compassion and empathy for your inner self. When faced with uncertainty, our brains have a protective code that moves us to our limbic system (the primal emotional center of our brain). Our brains are trying to protect us. This immediate brain response limits higher level thinking (rational thought). This disconnection between emotions and rational thought keeps us many times from moving forward in what should be natural decisions. It will be our task to reconnect the sides of our brain, to become more fully human by engaging full emotion and full rational thought simultaneously.
Lord of Prayer by Yongsung Kim
When a risk is taken, and the world appears upside down as a result, we can immediately begin to doubt ourselves. Even Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, as He was about to risk the weight of the cross for the reconciliation of humanity, had a moment where He asked if there was another way. Yet, He chose to trust what felt unnatural. When we experience the realignment of reality from the opposite image to what is natural, we will need to ask Holy Spirit for the faith of Jesus, and then we must choose to lead our thoughts from the disaster of risk to the delight of risk.
In Just Listen, Mark Goulston describes five stages that can help someone overcome this gap between a crisis stage to an “Ok” stage of logical action. Below you will find my adaptation of his stages, which help lead one’s thoughts through risk.
- Reaction of flight, fight or freeze
- Realization this is a problem to fix
- Recenter yourself on possibilities
- Refocus and make decisions
- Ok, ready to reengage
One absolutely crucial element in moving your brain from panic to logic is to put words to what you’re feeling at each stage. Other quick action steps will be simple things: breath control, slowing down, intentional relaxing. How adept we are at moving through the different stages will ultimately determine how we handle the risk before us. The goal is not necessarily to defeat the fear but rather to move through it. Normalcy will be the ability to grow our capacity of action during times of fear, not when fear is absent.
The Hand of God by Yungsong Kim
No, risk does not seem reasonable. For those who have walked towards silence, solitude, mindfulness and other spiritual practices and have walked away feeling inadequate or unfulfilled even, risk can seem to be another to-do. A to-do that only super spiritual followers talk about. In Spirituality and the Awakening Self, Dr David Benner says,
“The risk of openness is that we might be hurt. The risk of awareness is that we might have to change. But this risk is why awareness is so essential to transformation. And the risk is why we so easily settle for oblivion rather than the genuine presence to life that awareness involves.”
Risk looks different for everyone. It is always specific to who we are and who God has designed us to be, the fullness of our unique selves. We must remember this is not a doing but a surrendering, giving permission to ourselves and to the Spirit to unbend us. As we enter the suffering of being unbent, we will find life unimaginable, namely the natural life of Jesus found in us.