A crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold. It involves both a leaving behind and a stepping toward, a separation and an opportunity.
The word crisis derives from the Greek word krisis and krino, which mean ‘a separating. The very root of the word implies that our crises are times of severing from old ways and states of being. We need to ask ourselves what it is we’re being asked to separate from. What needs to be left behind?
As I asked myself the question, I drew courage from a Bible story. One man who came to Jesus wanting to be a disciple said, ‘Let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus gave him what seems like a harsh answer: ‘Follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead'(Matt. 8:21 – 22). But when you apply the answer to the process of inner transformation, it makes perfect sense. This s a call to separation. To ‘leave the dead.’ In order to follow the inner journey, we need to leave behind those things that are deadening, the loyalties that no longer have life for us.
Crisis is a separation, but it’s equally a time of opportunity. The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two characters. On top is the sign for danger; beneath it is the sign for opportunity. That character graphically illustrates the saying ‘Crisis is really another name for redirection.’
A minister friend of mine, who has seen countless Christians through crisis events, told me that he didn’t think most Christians new how to have a crisis – at least not creatively.
He started me wondering. For the most part, we do one of two things in response to a crisis. We say that it’s God’s will and force ourselves into an outwardly sweet acceptance, remaining unaffected at the deeper level of the spirit. People who have a crisis in this manner are generally after comfort and peace of mind.
Or we reject the crisis, fighting and railing against it until we become cynical and defeated or suffer a loss of faith. People who choose this way to have a crisis are after justice.
Yet, there’s a third way to have a crisis: the way of waiting. That way means creating a painfully honest and contemplative relationship with one’s own depths, with God in the deep centre of one’s soul. People who choose this way aren’t so much after peace of mind or justice as wholeness and transformation. They’re after soul making.
If you choose this way, you find the threshold, the creative moment of epiphany, which the crisis. You discover that the stormy experience can be an agent drawing you deeper into the kingdom, separating your from the old consciousness and the clamp of the ego. It’s not an easy way. As Jon Sanford notes: ‘At first the approach of the kingdom may seem like a violent attach from something dark and dreadful … . Entrance into the kingdom means the destruction of the old personality with its constricted and uncreative attitudes … . The fortress behind which the ego had been hiding must be torn down, and as these defences are battered down forcibly by the movements from within, it may seem at first like a violent assault.’
It may seem that way of course, but as theologian Martin Marty writes, ‘Brokenness and wounding do not occur in order to break human dignity but to open the heart so God can act.“
Jesus had some curious things to say about the way a person comes into the kingdom of the True Self. You do it, he said, by entering a ‘narrow gate’, which only a few folks ever find (Like 13:24). You do it by way of tight, difficult, uncomfortable places that separate you from the rest of the heard.
In another biblical reference Jesus proclaimed. “I have come to bring fire to the earth,'(Luke 12:49, JB). The coming of the inner kingdom often erupts through a fiery experience. That verse reminders me of the moment in the Divine Comedy when Dante enters the searing fire through which all persons must pass in order to make their way to Paradiso, the dwelling of God.
Dante is afraid of the flames; but he’s assured that it’s okay to enter, for this is he fire that burns but does not consume. To walk through this fire is not to die but to be transformed and purged. This is the fire of Christ.
When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd, pg. 187 – 192