An Anchor for My Soul
Finding a Foundation during Transition and Change

When all about my soul gives way,
He only is my hope and stay.
Through every high and story gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

* * * * *

There's roads and there's roads,
And they call, can't you hear it?
Roads of the earth, and roads of the spirit.
Best roads of all are the ones that aren't certain;
One of those is where you'll find me
Til they drop the big curtain.

     Bruce Cockburn, Child of the Wind

Two poets, two songs. Do they represent different visions of reality, or are they connected?

In times of change we can feel that our anchor has been torn loose from its moorings. In order to discern change and rethink our direction in response to change, we have to be secure in something that does not change. If we are too rooted in the culture around us, change will threaten everything we hold dear. That in turn will generate tremendous anxiety. Anxiety in turn prevents us from hearing the voice of the Lord.

Leadership coaches tell us that those who can stay centered and non-anxious in times of transition are those who will adapt and continue to stand, because they are able to remain tuned in.

We know there is no security in our culture; there, change is continuous. But sometimes we idolize culture without knowing it. We become addicted to it, to the rewards it offers, to power and prestige and relevant. Gordon Cosby, one of the founders of the Church of the Savior, comments:

"We are subtle control freaks, truly believing we are turning our lives over to God but demanding a minimum of comforts, whether it be good health or a secure home or caring friends. We strive after positions that seem important in our jobs and our churches, whether or not God is calling us to them; we long to be noticed and honored, superficially if necessary. We forget that Jesus, 'though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.' Our culture promotes a constant filling up, but our disciplines will draw us toward greater emptiness, so that we can be better prepared for obedience and, ultimately, for finding our place in God's plan-finding true relevance." Quoted by Jeff Bailey in "Cutting Edge" Magazine.

So, if all is lost, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, "Thanks be to God!" Praise to God who won't permit us to have our anchors, except in Him. Praise to God who both gives, and takes away.

"Many people are either unwilling or unable to suffer the pain of giving up the outgrown which needs to be forsaken. Consequently they cling, often forever, to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, thus failing to negotiate any crisis, to truly grow up and to experience the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity." M. Scott Peck

We have to find the ability to release our security in the familiar things around us while the new things are still being formed. When the seas are storm-tossed, it is far safer to pull in the anchor and learn to run before the wind. If we throw out our anchor in the midst of transition, we may be trying to find an anchorage in shifting sand. Setting the anchor at the wrong time can cut us off from opportunities to learn and grow -- to grow in new dependence on the Lord, and to learn about ourselves and our culture. As Graham Cray put it, "The gospel must be constantly forwarded to a new address because the recipient is always changing his place of residence."

There was a time when I thought ministry was about finding the truth, and discovering the correct methods, and then camping in that place. One day I awoke to find that someone had pulled all the tent-pegs from the ground. Furthermore, a powerful wind was blowing and my tent was beginning to drift. Wisely, I looked carefully at the ground. The prints in the soft soil glowed warmly. The Lord was tearing me loose from my moorings!

Ultimately, we are on a journey with the Lord. He hasn't offered us the map, though we know He has it. Sure, we would prefer it was in OUR hands. We would really prefer a five point outline that would cover the next ten years or more. Honestly? We'd prefer a quick seminar on change and transition and then get back to business as usual. In "Hope Against Darkness" Richard Rohr writes:

"The Bible seems to always be saying that this journey is indeed a journey, a journey always initiated and concluded by God, and a journey of transformation much more than mere education about anything.

"We would sooner have textbooks, I think. Then the journey could remain a spectator sport, as much religion seems to be."

Sigh. If only we were as secure in the Lord as we think we are. We have a long way to go. As a result, we substitute the vehicle for the journey, the menu for the meal. We substitute answers for questions and park the car. But the Lord invites us to an adventure, to pull up anchor and come with Him on a journey of discovery.

We aren't the first believers to face a time of rapid transition. Neither are we the first to face a time when the anchors that firmly held us were suddenly uprooted. There are a variety of historical parallels.

One in particular stands out to me. The scholastic movement in the twelfth century, founded primarily by Anselm of Canterbury, wedded Greek thought and method to the Gospel. Anselm's famous dictum, "I believe in order to understand," stood firmly in Christian thought until our own day.

Not everyone was enamored of scholastic methods, however, and there was a powerful reaction to the scholastic movement in the monastic movement. If the scholastics believed the path to God and the transformed life was via knowledge, the monks believed it was through love. Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St. Thierry wrote a series of letters and pamphlets defending love as the path to knowledge. Moreover, they lived in poverty and worked among the poor!

Bernard's dictum was, "I believe in order to experience" (credo ut experiar).

"In massive historical shifts, the very structure of knowing changes-not "what" we know, but "how" we know. Today, we are rethinking "thinking." More to the point, we are no longer "thinking"-in the usual sense of the word-but projecting a new world." Thomas Hohstadt, Dying to Live

I'm galvanized by the parallels to our own time. The center of the debate in Bernard's time was both the method of knowing, and its purpose. In some ways the debate anticipated the work of Heidegger in the last century.

At the heart of change in our culture is this same debate, albeit with new evidence that calls into question many of our previous conclusions. Moreover, as uncertainty shakes our entire culture loose from its moorings, there is a tremendous insecurity and hunger for community and relationship. When the answers no longer make sense, we look for security by other means.

If we make this time of change and relativity an opportunity for dialogue, we embrace tremendous possibilities for the Gospel. If we hold securely to our answers, we cut off dialogue and "prove" to observers that our security was not really in Christ, but in our own understanding - in our formulations and systems and structures.

The church embraced primarily Anselm's road. Today our culture is hungry for the way of Bernard.

What is knowledge without love? It puffs up. What is love without knowledge? It goes astray. Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica, Sm. 69, n.2

Bernard was not na´ve. He understood implicity the unity of the word and the Spirit. But he firmly maintained that true knowledge was founded in love, and that love had to be walked out in our relationships in community. Love for Bernard was not simply an idea, but a practice and an imitation of the beauty of His Lord.

As you stand amidst turbulent waters, you will discover only one place of security. Our need is to learn to listen more deeply, and to cleanse the lens with which we view ourselves, our God, and our culture. As we see and hear with the eyes of Christ, we will find the way forward. God bless our travels!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

TS Eliot, Little Gidding


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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 25, 2002