Thursday, November 13, 2008

Navelgazing in November: The life that I am meant to lead

The title of this blog post comes from a song in the musical Little Women, titled "Astonishing." Jo March, the lead female character (and the fictionalized version of the author herself, Louisa May Alcott---the book being based on her own life), sings this anthem after refusing the proposal of her childhood friend, Laurie (Theodore Laurence). She has such dreams for herself, but they are only partially formed. She knows she wants to be a writer and to become famous. But she doesn't know where to begin, how to start, or really what to do. She does sense that the life that was placed in her to live is more than the life she is living now. Jo sings

I thought home was all I'd ever want, my attic all I'd ever need. Now nothing feels the way it was before, and I don't know how to proceed. I only know I'm meant for something more. I've got to know if I can be ... astonishing.

There's a life that I am meant to lead, a life like nothing I have known. I can feel it, and it's far from here. I've got to find it on my own. Even now I feel its heat upon my skin: a life of passion that pulls me from within, a life that I am aching to begin. There must be somewhere I can be ... astonishing, astonishing.

I'll find my way; I'll find it far away; I'll find it in unexpected and unknown. I'll find my life in my own way today!

Here I go, and there's no turning back. My great adventure has begun. I may be small, but I've got giant plans to shine as brightly as the sun.

I will blaze until I find my time and place. I will be fearless, surrendering modesty and grace. I will not disapear without a trace. I'll shout and start a riot, be anything but quiet. Christopher Columbus, I'll be astonishing! Astonishing! Astonishing! At last!


Jo isn't your usual heroine of the 1860s. While older sister, Meg, longs to be a wife and mother and worries greatly about propriety and appearances, Jo is brasher, more daring, and independent. She doesn't know how to stay quiet all the time, and she wishes that she could do some of the things that Victorian society thinks are unfit for women to do. Thus, she wishes to surrender the stereotypical modesty and grace. She sees these ideals as oppressive. She doesn't want to sit in a corner and embroider cushions. She wants to blaze!

Such is the Jo portrayed in the musical. And the Jo March of the book doesn't differ greatly from the musical's version of her. Perhaps a bit less strident. (And Sutton Foster's original Jo of the musical certainly has a bit more brashness and stridency than the Jo I "get" from the book. [Foster originated the role in the Broadway cast.])

Now, why would I, an evangelical Christian who readily discerns the spiritual problem of one's wanting to "shine as brightly as the sun," find Jo's words as resonating with my own yearnings? I don't wish to shine as if I were the sun, to compete with it...or with God Himself. I'm not attempting to build a tower of Babel! (Or am I?)

Well, though I would not phrase it as the musical's writers have done, I do understand a bit of what Jo is trying to express. She knows that there is something in her that has yet to be birthed fully into the world -- something far more than her circumscribed life in Concord, Massachusetts. And I feel the same about myself. And have felt that way for more years than I can count. All my life, really.

Why did God make me the person I am, with the natural talents and gifts (such as they are, and in what amounts they exist) He's given me? Why did He direct me the way He has, upon dwelling as the Holy Spirit in my life? And for what purpose?

Of course, the general, overall purpose is to glorify Him -- to make Him known.

But... what about those nitpicky details of how that reality actually is lived out...by me...on this earth?

The post "Your Path to Purpose", by Pete Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Community Church (where my best friend attends church), helped flesh out some of those practical questions:

1. Who Am I to Serve? Your deepest purposes must bring good to someone who is without justice, reconciliation, or hope. It might be abused women, orphans in Africa, or business men who don’t know Christ.

2. Where Am I to Be? What is the primary context where I will serve the people I’ve been called to love?

3. What Burden Am I to Bear? This is so important!! Everyone of you reading this right now is called to battle some unique effects of the Fall. Don’t just blow by this. Stop for a moment and think about this… there’s a problem in this world that brings you to tears or makes you downright angry. What is it?

4. How Am I to Engage? Your engagement to the problem might be to pray, administrate, teach, serve, lead, paint, sing, confront, repair or nurture. EACH of us will do what we do with a style which reveals something about God in a way that no one else can.


So... meshing the song "Astonishing" with Pete's questions, I come up with some of my own, for reflection:

Why do I want to "blaze"? Who (or what) would I be blazing about? To what end? Where does the power and fuel for blazing come from? And why merely blaze? Doesn't blazing "peter" out eventually? Wouldn't I rather radiate and illuminate? Like a banked fire... or a candle or a lantern...

Dear readers... these questions are likely some that all of us should ponder.

Part 2 will continue our investigation into this. May the questioning now be far less about navelgazing. And more about that actual change we want to see in the world. It's me and you and the other guy and the other gal.

See you next time!
~ Elena ~