This Is The Story So Far
In the halls of the tormented,
screams abound never ended
Children of the damned
Forever Tortured, Unyielded and Unrepentant,
Tormented eyes burned away in those that forever wish to go home and enter into the halls of the living
Children of the damned
heretics, lunatics, warped minds and false believers who played with madness
All who perish away in vanity
burning away into endless nights of eternity – Deadworld, “Halls Of The Tormented”
This Lent, I’ve been journeying inside myself, turning over the rocks and seeing what slithers away from the light. I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve done the whole thing justice. After all, I know – even more than I could ever write or convey – what darkness lies within me. It seems, instead, I’ve raised a glass in toast rather than deal with the reality that is my own brokenness, the sin that eats away at every attempt I’ve made to be rid of what one hymn writer called “that one dark blot”. Oh, I know that sanctification is both a process and something that comes from cooperation with the Holy Spirit, a giving over of the self to the power of God, practiced in disciplined, loving community in which others support me, and we all support one another as we journey forward, the hope of perfection in love the goal, the stripping of the ego the means.
When I started this, I wrote the way would be bordered by horrors. The truth is, I look around me and what I see are the sad whining of a middle-aged, middle-class white dude. The truth is simple: I haven’t dug enough because I’m afraid. While I know this Lenten Discipline I’m practicing isn’t the end of my Christian journey toward perfection in love, it feels like I’ve finally arrived at the place within me where the worst parts dwell: Prejudice and bigotry; hatred, a kind of murderous rage with no object; the fear that, without the presence of God in my life, I would feel no empathy for others, feel no desire for justice, feel no love toward anyone, including my family. Deep in places I would prefer not allow others to see, there lurks this creature that wears my face, speaks in my voice, yet would relish the power to destroy, to kill, to become that which all of us fear most.
I haven’t gone there yet because to do so would be to show others that I am no true Christian soul. On the contrary, as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 51, my sin is ever before me. When I say “sin” I don’t mean the petty actions to which all humanity is prone. I’m talking about the capacity I know is there for me to toss it all aside, to rend my life apart, laughing madly in the joy of rage, madness, and death. It’s like in those movies where someone breaks through a layer of rock or dirt only to discover not the beautiful light of shining diamonds, or some lost utopia. Instead, a sickly light, nauseating even at a glance, emerges along with screams of terror mixed with the demented voices of the demons and the damned. Covering it up, of course, is nonsense. Once that portal is opened, it can never be closed except by some force greater than any human being, or group of human beings, can muster. The evil within escapes, and either possesses those stupid enough to open the door, or kills them. Sometimes both. This is the point at which I find myself.
I stand on the threshold of places I would prefer not acknowledge exist within myself. Up ahead on this path, I see dead and decaying trees, smell the rot of putrescence and ordure, hear the sound of my own madness, my own malice, my own declaration of my power, my desire to stand where none but God can stand. I do not want to move forward. I also know that through this wasteland lies the only way I can arrive at the cross, where the journey will offer me choices: I can run and hide; I can stand and laugh and mock, throwing stones, denying Jesus even the dignity of a death free from the evil he came to end; or I can collapse before the cross, with all the baggage I have carried along this journey and, through my weeping, hope beyond any reasonable hope there is, as the hymn says, room at the cross for me.
In the meantime, what I hear sounds far more like the song below than any song of God’s victory. And I sing along because, right now, that is where I stand. This is, indeed, the story so far.