Fixed Points and an Accurate Compass
How secure are you in the choices you have made and the course you have set for your life? Are you following an accurate compass? Are you a person of “fixed points”?
I have a friend named Joan who applied at a local hospital for a position entitled “spiritual director”. At the job interview the current spiritual care director asked Joan how she felt about entering into the rituals and rites of religious belief systems other than her own. The director went on to explain that in order to relate to a particular genre of spiritual seeker she would sometimes find herself chanting with the animist, smoking a peace pipe with the native American, or dancing with a group of neo-pagans.
Joan responded that although she has a very definite set of beliefs that would make it difficult for her active participation in those particular spiritual expressions, she did not feel it would hinder her in providing spiritual comfort and help to those in need. She added that she could refer people to professional holy men and women within their own religion if they needed something other than the spiritual counsel or encouragement which she could offer. The interviewer patronizingly cleared her throat and thanked Joan for coming for the interview. She explained that “of course, the hospital has several other applicants to interview before we can make a decision on whom to hire”.
In relating the experience to me, Joan said, “I really don’t expect to hear from the hospital. I’m sure I’m not the type the director has in mind for the position.”
I thought a lot about that interview and our ensuing discussion regarding the “broad-minded approach to religion”. There appears to be a mindset in today’s educated western society that to have a “fixed course” in religion is less than desirable. It’s better to be eclectic, open minded, all embracing, indefinite, non-judgmental, inclusive, pluralistic and wishy-washy. We are pressed to believe that if we are too steadfast and sure of our own particular faith, it will make us unable to empathize with people of other faiths and will certainly disqualify us from serving or being helpful to them on their journey to spiritual wholeness.
Something about the broad-minded approach troubles me. It woke me up in the middle of the night and I thought about its implications: if you are too sure of your own course, you can’t be helpful to others who are on a different course, or who have lost their own course, or who have no sense of direction at all? Interesting concept, that personal “absolutes” might render one ineffective in a spiritual care-giver role.
Yet, the planet on which we live runs on a system of definite and sustained absolutes. The whole world operates on fixed standards of time, seasons, and locations. We have a north and south pole, out from which run imaginary horizontal and vertical lines that enable us to pinpoint exact locations of peoples and places in any hemisphere. We don’t have to wonder, like the early explorers did, how far it is to such and such a place. Or at what time we will reach a location if we travel at such and such a definite speed. We can figure these things to the minute because there are universal absolutes, fixed points.
Just as our planet’s absolutes are valuable to global relationships, personal relationships also benefit from people with settled beliefs; absolutes by which they govern themselves; predictable, reliable people, fixed in their course. There is a strength and optimism of hope that radiate from such people, which helps to stablize our own course. Like the steady flashing from a lighthouse, a person with spiritual integrity can lead us through the rocks and sandbars to the shoreline. Their own security makes us feel safe when we are with them.
I believe that my friend, Joan, would have been perfect for the job of spiritual director for the hospital for the very reason that she was rejected: she has a fixed point in her spiritual life. While others don’t have to adhere to her course or navigate by her chart, neither does she have to give up her standard in order to comfort or encourage those in need. People of other faiths can look at my friend and draw something from her strength and courage and compassion. They can set their own course much more easily by looking to the light from the windows of her life, than by drifting on a sea with no stars, no moon, no sun, and no compass pointing north.
As a Christian, I have a fixed point that has guided me through many difficult life experiences; as it says in Hebrews 12:1-3:
” . . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
The Scriptures also encourage me to know what I believe and why:
1 Peter 3:15 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
There is a category into which people with well defined spiritual journeys are often lumped; it is called “narrow minded”. Often these people are disqualified by the very fact of their dogma. But “narrow” is not synonymous with ignorant, confused, unkind, unfeeling, or uncompassionate. “Narrow-minded” in a broader sense can mean secure, steady, sure, or focused. When guided by compassion, a person who has such a fixed point can be much more steadying to troubled souls than someone adrift on the sea of spiritual possibilities. Floundering people need to know there is a shore-line in sight in their time of spiritual storms and troubled waters.
It would be hypocritical for a person who is safely standing on a rocky shore not to throw a lifeline to a drowning person. There is also an irony in a person who throws out a lifeline, but can’t pull anyone into the safety of the shore because she is still floating in the drink herself. If I were drifting on an ocean of doubt and insecurity, feeling threatened by the towering waves around me, I would want a fixed point person to come to my rescue, not someone who is merely able to identify with my drowning experience.
How about you? Do you prefer someone with spiritual steadiness to minister to you in times of fear or doubt, or someone who pats you on the arm and says, “We just have to hope for the best.”?
Marcy Alves 2012 (revised post from 3/11)
Posted on July 23, 2012, in Christian Growth and tagged absolutes, certainty, fixed points, know what you believe, stability, standards, steadfastness, strength, wholeness. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.