This morning I finished Still: Notes on a mid-faith crisis, a book by an author I have long admired, Lauren Winner. Although I was initially shocked and saddened to find that she had divorced her husband and gone through a faith crisis, I am thankful she chose to write this book, and gladdened that she is finding her way through this time with God’s help.
Winner’s writing in this volume is in the form of brief meditations. Early in the book, there is quite a bit of narrative, and we feel we’re getting some of the back story which precipitated this crisis. But as she progresses, the short chapters develop a concentrated, almost poetic voice. Each is a lovely essay which might stand alone.
One which particularly struck me was about the “middle tint” of painting. These are the colors that make up shadows and forests and distant mountains, the colors that are vague and not-quite-neutral (in fact there is a near-infinite variety of blue and gray and green and brown which make up these middle tints). They are not intended to draw the eye…but these colors make up the majority of a good painting, she learned. Strong contrasts, light and dark, dramatic accent, are a small fraction of the whole.
Winner muses that much of life is spend in the middle tints, in the time which is not dramatically light or dark, which goes largely unnoticed, but without which life would be unbearably intense. I may be interpolating a bit here…
[I don't know why I was so quick to return the book to the library. I should have kept it and perused it more. I suppose that lately I'm beginning to really believe the old slogan, "So many books...so little time." For years I read and re-read at will, at leisure, and I think I really believed there would be time to read anything and everything I wanted. Now I'm fairly sure that isn't going to happen. So I plow ahead, and I've become more selective.]
At any rate, that idea of the “middle tints” seemed to resonate with me: nothing emotionally euphoric or devastating going on, no upheaval in my heart, just a rhythm of life which has a sameness to it which has made me question whether I’m still growing, and whether God is still there.
But in the affirmation of this time as a necessary and predominant part of life, I seem to see the value of the middle more clearly. I don’t want to grow comfortably complacent or take God for granted…but just as the sleepless, breathless, butterflies-in-the-gut throes of young love are no longer very appealing, I can see that perhaps the emotional highs and lows of young faith are not required of us here in the middle.
On the other hand, I can think of scripture which enjoins me to return to my “first love” and warns against being “luke warm”. Does this refer to a feeling, or to a settled commitment? Perhaps just as many couples renew their wedding vows at a certain point in time, it may be appropriate to make a regular renewal of my commitment to the Lord, a periodic focus on the many reasons why I follow the Living God.
My husband and I are coming up on 30 years married. After thirty years, almost everything a couple can do together has been done hundreds, thousands of times. We are completely comfortable together, and probably do take one another for granted–since in fact we have granted exclusive rights to each other. Each passing year makes it that much hard to imagine life apart. But other than daily affirmations of “Love you!”–normal and involuntary as breath–life together is solid and steady and placid.
I’m approaching that many years as a Christ-follower. In a way, it seems self-evident that every Sabbath or every Sunday, or even every single morning, I should be rededicating myself to Him. But caught in the daily grind, I sometimes lose Him between the dishes and the diapers, among the emails and the shopping trips, the lessons and lunches. My prayers can seem perfunctory, my reading rushed or overlooked.
Elsewhere I’ve been having a conversation about the value of new year’s resolutions. I don’t think there’s anything magical about turning the calendar to January 1st. But we humans seem to require an element of ritual, of ceremony. So maybe in order to not get completely lost in the penumbra of the middle tints, we need some special times of self-examination, of renewed oaths of allegiance to the Lord?
If so–how often? How public? Is this a purely personal exercise which takes place as often as necessary? If you’re a member of a liturgical church, do you find that there is a part of the liturgy which functions in this way for you: the Credo, perhaps? Or is it the eucharist or Lord’s Supper observance which invites this kind of renewal of heart? Thoughts, anyone?