all that argues for the status quo
My Dear One,
Humans generally like to keep things the way they are. Why? Because we tend to prefer predictability to the unknown. Even if things aren’t great right now, at least we know how they’re not great. We’ve identified it and often invested a lot of time and energy in figuring out how to cope with these limitations and work around them. Which is why, in most stories, myths, and adventures, our prospective hero usually refuses the call to adventure at first. Why go on this unpredictable and potentially perilous journey when things are tolerable as they are?
We have many great reasons to refuse the call. We are too busy. We are too scared. We think we will fail. We don’t think we’re strong enough to do what’s required. We don’t have enough provisions. We have too many responsibilities back home. We are too young. We are too old. “I’m not an eloquent speaker and have a stutter,” says Moses. “You have chosen the wrong person to be your spokesman,” he tells God. But God is not so easily refused.
To another [Jesus] said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-62
As we continue this week on the Universal Transformative Journey, we’ve now reached the stage of The Departure known as The Refusal. Having sensed deep within us some inclination to adventure, or having been confronted with an invitation or outright demand we go, we will often refuse the call strongly for quite some time. In some instances, we will refuse it forever.
This is entirely our prerogative. God does not force us to go following The Way. But like a persistent suitor, God will usually keep inviting us to join the journey.
Movie Example: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit
One of the most comical refusals of the call in literature and film comes courtesy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale The Hobbit. Gandalf the wizard comes calling on Bilbo Baggins, an extraordinarily particular and set-in-his-ways hobbit who very much likes everything just the way he has them. Gandalf, however, insists Bilbo join him on an important adventure. But Bilbo refuses, saying,
“Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea - any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!” With that the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared, not to seem rude. … After a while [Gandalf] stepped up, and with the spike on his staff scratched a queer sign on the hobbit’s beautiful green front-door. Then he strode away, just about the time when Bilbo was finishing his second cake and beginning to think that he had escaped adventures very well.
But of course he hadn’t escaped them at all, only just delayed them. The call had already taken root, which is why Bilbo felt such a need to push back hard on Gandolf’s suggestion. For he’s not only refusing the old wizard’s invitation, he’s also attempting to refuse that place buried within himself that feels called to leave behind his seemingly perfect life in the shire, and had a long time before the wizard ever came knocking. Often those who work hard to make life “just so” do it as a way of dealing with all the anxiety they carry from their persistent refusal of the call.
You can watch a fun clip of this scene from the movie The Hobbit below.
Biblical Examples: Wedding at Cana and Garden of Gethsemane
Even Jesus refuses the call, not once but twice, at both the beginning and end of his journey. Prior to the start of his public ministry, he attends a wedding with his mother when a social faux pas unfolds, the party runs out of wine.
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:3-5
Like Gandalf to Biblo, Mary invites Jesus to action. And Jesus says to her “Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today.” But, like Gandalf, Mary isn’t about to take no for an answer. As only a mother can, she turns to those around them as if Jesus had just agreed rather than refused, tells them to do what he says, and then, I always imagine, without another word she walks away.
Later, when the stakes are so much more than a party foul, but now include Jesus’ own life, he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.
Then [Jesus] said to [his disciples], “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Matthew 26:38-39
Though not an outright refusal, Jesus knows the price of continuing on with his journey now that it is reaching its climax. Staring the price of this kind of bold love and radical forgiveness in the face, Jesus finds it looking like the face of Death. And in a moving display of his own humanity, he asks God if there’s any possible way to fulfill his mission other than dying. Wouldn’t we all? This scene, and the question Jesus poses in it, is one of the reasons I am so compelled to be a follower of his Way. I know how to ask that question too and, like him, I want to be able to follow it up with “yet not what I want but what you want” O Lord.
When have you prayed to God for a similar out? What wizard has shown up at your doorstep inviting you to join him on an adventure? How did you go about politely but firmly trying to say no? How are you saying no to The Call right now?
It is only natural that we seek to adhere to all that argues for the status quo. We cannot be blamed for initially refusing the hard work, the uncertainty, the faith and trust required, and the invitation to our own small deaths that The Universal Transformative Journey requires. But there is no other way to experience transformation. We have to let go of what is in order to reach out for what might be. We cannot become a butterfly unless we give up being a caterpillar. We cannot become a fisher of people without giving up spending all our time fishing for fish. We cannot go in search of what lies “out there” unless we are willing to leave the safety of the shire, of our residences both physical and emotional, of all that holds us so firmly “in here.”
Your Journey this week
This week, in a very concrete way, give in to all the feelings and thoughts within you that currently refuse the call to transformation. Become very acquainted with their arguments for the status quo. Allow them to be fully voiced and argue as loudly as they please. Let them debate and protest all they wish. Hear them out, for they come from a place deep within you that has compelling reasons not to give in to the transformative journey. I’m sure you have many excellent reasons to refuse. It is not necessary just now to create a counter-argument. Write down all the cons and leave the pros column blank for the moment. There will be time for that work next week when we meet The Mentor and allow the often uninvited encounters that disrupt our equilibrium to pull us deeper into the call, in spite of our misgivings and dragging heels, our beautiful round green doors, the large stones rolled over our emotional and spiritual tombs we thought would keep all that death contained safely inside.
following The Way,