Thursday, June 01, 2006

Overenthusiasm and Despair

As I continue to discern my new leading, I find myself cycling between overenthusiasm and despair. When I face my new ideas directly, I get soul-shakingly excited. Something in me comes very alive -- almost too alive to bear. It is interesting that the original definition of "enthusiasm" (from Greek) means "possessed by a god." And this way of putting it shows an ambivalence: is enthusiasm something to be admired or feared?

Similarly, earlier understandings of "discernment" carried connotations of "discernment of the spirits," or, more specifically, trying to distinguish between whether the spirits inspiring a person (note that "spirit" is at the root of "inspiration") are good ones or bad ones.

We are rightfully wary of any sense of "possession" standing in the background of enthusiasm or inspiration.

And yet, more recently, "enthusiasm" has become mostly a positive word, connoting a special kind of happiness. It is fun to be enthusiastic. It is fun too to be inspired.

But am I the only one who ever suffers "overenthusiasm," or enthusiasm so intense I sometimes want to run away from it?

So, then I run away for a time. My ideas are in an early-enough stage that I can still choose to ignore them. While I have started to share my thinking with trusted friends, I'm nowhere near a stage where a momentum gets going and I no longer have the power to stop it. At the moment, I do still have that power. It is only an idea; it is only my idea. There are things that I can do with this idea to make it take an existence that is beyond just me, and beyond my control, but I have not yet done this. And so this is an interesting state of being, phenomenologically.

It is mine ... and yet, is it?

My unilateral possession of it keeps it inert and powerless. So why would I want to hold on to it?

And, most interestingly, when I succeed in burying it for a while, I become beset by despair and listlessness. I feel like I've forgotten something. I feel unhooked from what truly powers my life and my soul.

Is all of this a sign that my new leading is from God?

I have spoken recently of my theology: God as love and goodness. But now I might add: energy. A kind of living energy, a joyful energy, even "soul-force" -- satyagraha.

To feel a touch of light that ignites your soul and makes you feel most truly and fully yourself; to be amazed at how alive you can feel -- these are powerful and humbling moments.

So, little by little I take the steps I need to take to test this leading.


  1. I have no idea what you are being called to do, but it seems in your writting that you should be doing something. I have always found that the hardest part of any project is getting started. I think that God (or what ever) finds it easier to guide a moving boulder than a stationary blump. Get Going!!
    Peace and Love

  2. Thank you for your encouragement, gmc! Yes, the hardest part often is getting started. I have gotten started now.

  3. I have a different response from that of GMC.

    I would say that it is important to be able to wait in the enthusiasm, to hold it with awareness, and to continue to ask the questions, "Is this where I am called? And am I called to it right now?"

    In my own journey among Friends, it is only recently that I have begun to understand, experimentally, what is meant by the phrase, "to be cool in thy own mind."

    I will also add that it can be valuable to hold both the joy and the dread of having enthusiasm. Over time, our leadings will become more clear, and we will know how and when and in what way to act.

    Granted, I do not know the specifics of where you find yourself. ...Have you been in touch with other Friends to help draw you out and help you test your leadings? That, too, is a valuable exercise and a long tradition among Friends as we seek to understand what it is that God wants for us.

    But it sounds like you "have gotten started," so I will hope that you are continuing to test your leadings--sometimes we must begin in order to continue to test--and look for fruits of the Spirit: patience, lovingkindness, joy...

    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  4. Thank you, Liz! I really appreciate your sharing the phrase "be cool in thy own mind" -- I really like that! And thank you for the reminder of the fruits of the spirit: very important for discernment!

    I have begun to talk with friends and Friends, and this has been an interesting and helpful experience. I'm sure I'll be writing more about this as things unfold.