”Deconstruction” has been a difficult concept for me to accept as a personal experience.
Not because I’ve never questioned my faith and morality and worldview, nor am I disinterested in other’s journeys.
And it’s not only because “deconstruction” as a thing has totally jumped the shark.
What I struggle to accept is that someone once was not asking questions and now is. When I realize they were at one time blissfully ignorant of their doubts and questions and fear.
Many speak of deconstruction as a thing that happens to them: a singular season of change and doubt in which the walls holding up a life’s house are torn down, then reconstructed.
But how do you explain an entire life characterized by this breaking and rebuilding? A life tracking a Desire whose sole purpose is never to be found?
What if the concept of questioning, doubting, reforming, and rehashing are so second nature that it never occurred to you some people were once not doing those things, then began doing them, and then look forward to a time when they can stop doing them? How do you talk with people who find the whole affair frustrating and anxiety-inducing while you, the metaphysical masochist, actually enjoy it?
Or used to.
The last two years out of the ministry have been a school in humility in this regard. Once, I believed myself to be ahead of the game: broken by circumstance, but philosophically and theologically prepared for the work I set myself. I was ready to start a new job as a social worker, ready to plan for the next iteration of my career as a priest in a liberal denomination—ready to be healthy for my family.
Only I wasn’t.
I was doing everything right: going to therapy and receiving medication, working out and spending time with loved ones, but nothing could break the malaise. Always I had been able to question-and-answer myself through difficulty. I knew the God I had pretended to preach about as a six-year-old would always be there waiting. That it wasn’t God who changes, but me.
Only this time I was still as depressed and lost as the first night in Bloomington when I ate pizza and set up IKEA furniture with my dad, accidentally drilling holes in the wrong side of my dresser.
And I was confused AF.
I was a thinker, right? I was one of those unique few who didn’t have to worry about being surprised by doubt because I (supposedly) welcomed it, invited it home for a drink, and made it breakfast in the morning. I bathed in the blissful melancholic dreariness of questioning my existence. Yet here I was, just like all the other deconstructing chumps, asking basic questions about God’s existence and wondering if it any of it mattered.
Hadn’t I already done the “work” and come out on the other side? Hadn’t I already become REAL? Didn’t I know this was just a season and that soon, the refreshing springs of celebration would come?
Yet here I was, finding myself awake in the cold light of an early dawn, dreading the sun and all it brings––the work, the doubt, the despair—and realizing I was just another no-name waiting their turn on the burn pile. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I realized I had never been REAL, but was in fact a disposable mechanism in someone else’s machine. My god was weak: he had come down with scarlet fever and things would never be the same.
Or maybe . . .
Or maybe I was in fact REAL all along and had been unable to see it. Maybe I’d begun to mistake the destination for the path; had believed I required another’s affirmation in order to validate my REALness.
Maybe I mistakenly believed that becoming had a terminus.
What if I had found myself on the burn pile of life, looking back on all the time wasted fretting over whether or not I was something that I had always been and would always be in the process of becoming? What if Velveteen needed neither Skin Horse, nor The Boy, nor the wild rabbits to declare his worth?
But still, his insignificant life was slated to end insignificantly. Here he was, sitting atop the trash heap, waiting for the End. What was it all for? Was he REAL or not? Was he loved or not? Had he become, was he becoming, or was it all rot in the end?
The sack had been left untied, and so by wriggling a bit [Velveteen] was able to get his head through the opening and look out. He was shivering a little, for he had always been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by this time his coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no longer any protection to him. . . . He thought of those long sunlit hours in the garden–how happy they were–and a great sadness came over him. He seemed to see them all pass before him, each more beautiful than the other, the fairy huts in the flower-bed, the quiet evenings in the wood when he lay in the bracken and the little ants ran over his paws; the wonderful day when he first knew that he was Real. . . . Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
As our friend Velveteen sat in the midst of his confusion atop the ashes of other toys who once also believed they were loved, his tear falls on the dewy earth and something magical happens. A flower blooms and reveals the tiny Nursery Magic Fairy, who cups Velveteen’s face in her minuscule hands and explains that she appears when it is time for toys who have “been loved and forgotten” to be taken and “turned into Real.”
As he’s carried to a nearby clearing, the Fairy answers the obvious question, what about The Boy’s belief?, explaining that while Velveteen was indeed REAL to that one who loved him, he would now be Real to everyone: The Boy, Nana, the doctor who condemned him to the fire, the wild rabbits—and himself. What the Boy saw in him would now be found in all things, especially in the good earth under his now quite real feet.
It’s the moment of apotheosis we all so desperately long for: the fool’s hope that our tears and those of every mother’s child weighed down by troubles large and small might water the soil of our collective restoration. That we might be raised from the ashes by impossible magic and find the truth of all we most hoped for.
Maybe I am a fool—maybe there is no Nursery Magic Fairy that set all this in motion. Maybe there is no one to kiss our ragged, tear-stained faces—but the hope keeps me going. The hope of finally reaching the source of this Desire, whether in this life or another. The hope that, as St. Teresa of Ávila said, “God is on the journey too,” that the faint music I hear behind the darkened hills bears the message of our salvation from this life in which we all too often forget the Truth of our Realness, and we will—together—find a pass into that land where our longings will be met with Divinity under every step.
Joshua M Casey is a former campus pastor and current English ale enthusiast. He lives with his wife and three children in Bloomington, Indiana. You can find his writings at www.joshuamcasey.wordpress.com
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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