In his book, Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Parker Palmer writes:
"I do not know who coined the phrase 'Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better,' but he or she must have had a great fantasy life. In sixty-five years on earth, my pattern has never been onward and upward. It has always been up and down and back around. I follow the thread of self faithfully for a while. Then I lose it and find myself back in the dark, where fear drives me to search for the thread once again...That pattern, as far as I can tell, is inherent in the human condition. Yet its grip on my life has weakened as I have explored it in circles of trust."
Up and down and back around pretty much says it for a lot of us. The Apostle Paul's frustration sounds slightly more theological, when he writes in the seventh chapter of Romans that the very things he does not want to do, he finds himself doing; and that which he does want to do, he finds himself not doing. But whether it's Paul or Parker, what is being described is the one step forward, two steps backward that many of us know so well from our own experience.
But there is hope, and it is a deep, great hope. Paul's Romans 7 flows into Romans 8, one of the most brilliant and luminous writings ever on the Spirit Who dwells within us. If you have to choose between reading the rest of this column and reading Romans 8, I'd suggest you pick up your Bible. It is magnificent, and would lift the spirits of anyone who for the moment is in the dark.
Romans 8 reminds us of many things, one of which is simply this:
We don't have to be moving onward and upward every day in order to be grateful for our lives. Nothing delivers us from a bleak inner landscape of self-absorption more than what Parker Palmer calls circles of trust. Paul writes that "All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God," and the best circles of trust that save us from isolation and self-loathing are the circles in which we are surrounded by those who are daughters and sons of God. To be in a circle of trust with fellow children of God, and to see reflected in their faces the love of God is even better than fantasy.
The circles of trust occur within community, and that's a wonderful picture of church and who we are together.