Friday with Michael Spencer: Holes in the Soul

Dark Place. Photo by Terry Johnston at Flickr.

Friday with Michael Spencer
Holes in the Soul

Back in the day, I got a psych major in my undergrad work. That’s pretty ironic, believe me, in more ways than you can imagine.

I can’t say I learned a great deal, but I did begin a lifelong journey of making observations and drawing tentative conclusions about myself. If I would have paid attention to all I’ve discovered about myself, I’d have a very different life. Some psychologist can tell me why I routinely ignore the lessons I’ve learned and repeat all the same mistakes.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’ve got some holes in my personality that go a lot deeper than I can understand. They are caverns in my self-understanding; potholes in the soul, so to speak. Like a series of tunnels that connect with points in my past and experience, these dark places are imperfectly mapped, sometimes frightening and very, very real when you fall into one.

What I’ve found in some of those dark places can be amusing, irritating or terrifying.

Of course, I’ve learned to avoid these traps whenever possible, and some of the time I’m successful. I have the most well known holes in my soul marked with warning signs that I respect. The trouble is that you never know when a new hole is going to appear, often in the most unexpected places. And you never know how that dark place in your soul is going to help you understand what you’d rather not even thing about.

When it became apparent that my wife was going to go down the road to the Catholic Church, I fell down one of those holes. It was, in a word, an overpowering dark place of fear and anger. It came from someplace in me, but I couldn’t see where. For many weeks, it was my world.

In that hole was everything I heard about Catholicism growing up in a fundamentalist church more than 30 years ago. In that hole were a collection of fears about things I thought I understood and had under control. In that hole, was my fragile concept of vocation and marriage.

I fell into that hole and stayed there for a very long time. All I knew was how I felt. Feeling and fear were everything. I was thinking, reasoning, talking and asking questions, but I could not pull myself out. My journey out of this irrational, fearful darkness was slow and may still be incomplete.

The other night I picked up my son for dinner. I noticed that he had pierced his ears.

I have no problem with this sort of thing. He’s almost 21 and engaged. I don’t tell him how to live or dress. I have dozens and dozens of friends with pierced ears. I teach a lesson on this very issue in Bible class. I’ve told my son a dozen times that I don’t care, God doesn’t care and it’s not an issue.

But there I stood, and for that moment, I was falling down a well of feelings from another place in my soul. I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and disappointment. I had failed as a dad. My son was going down the wrong road. I was hurt and wanted to say how I felt; to express my disapproval.

It was, in a word, irrational.

Now in just a few moments I recalibrated myself back to rationality. My thoughts and my feeling matched back up with what I know and believe, and those moments in that dark place of irrationality faded away.

Now, why am I talking about this? More iMonk whining and dirty laundry? No, something different.

How much of our lives do we spend reacting entirely out of those places of darkness, fear, irrationality and disconnected feelings? How many of our conflicts and problems come because we are deep in a hole, and do not recognize where we are?

How many of us are dominated by aspects of our history and experience that we are unable to view truthfully and rationally? Instead, we are speaking and acting in ways that are destructive and hurtful to ourselves and so many others?

I wonder how many of us are dealing with our spouses and our children out of places of darkness, but we are so submerged in the darkness and so afraid to see where we are that we will fight to the death anyone who challenges out view of reality?

When I listen to Christians speak- especially pastors and other leaders- I hear a lot of anger. I wonder where it comes from. I hear anger from Christians over things they say they believe deeply about love, truth and justice, but what comes out from so many is confusion and bitterness, but they don’t realize this is happening. They are unable to see that they are living out of fear and irrationality.

Years ago, a friend- an older man- was widowed after caring for his sick wife for many years. Six months later, he remarried. But his son, a good Christian man who I knew to be a loving and reasonable person, went completely over the edge objecting to his father’s marriage. His behavior was embarrassing…and it didn’t take a great deal of insight to see that his feelings came from places within himself that he could not acknowledge.

I can point out this fellow as an example, but I believe many of us are as conflicted and live out our lives in similar embarrassing conflicts. And I believe that if we can find a place where we can see what is happening to us, we will realize that these “holes” of emotion and irrational fear are not where we want to spend our lives.

The answer? Certainly we need to ask for insight in prayer into how we are living our lives, what we are living “out of,” and who we have become.

We also need spiritual direction, or at the least Godly counsel of those who can gently help us see the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the effects of our words and actions.

In our personal journeys, all of us should begin to map out those dark places we are aware of, and we should consider how we can grow in ways that will not lead us down those roads so easily.

Where we’ve done damage, and where we’ve insisted we were right and rational when we were, in fact, irrational and wrong, we should go back and make amends.

Somewhere, we need a community that can come to know us with an honest awareness of our personal “potholes of the soul.” In the honest acceptance of others, perhaps we can learn to accept ourselves with grace, contentment and compassion.

I will never come to a place where these “holes” of fear and emotion are not part of me, but I can live aware of them, transcend them by the grace of God, accept forgiveness and continue the journey on a better path.

30 thoughts on “Friday with Michael Spencer: Holes in the Soul

  1. Posts like this from Michael helped me through some rough times. I never knew him personally at all, only from the podcast and blog, but good grief do I miss him.


  2. “Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on..”

    Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable


  3. “Unfortunately I am afraid, as always, of going on. For to go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.”

    ? Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable


  4. Most of the time, you couldn’t see Neil that well behind that huge drum set, just as you can’t see him much in the long Youtube post I linked to. It’s said of him that he was a humble man, and preferred to stay behind his drums, making his music. But he plays a more visible role in this video — Xanadu. Neil Peart: rock percussionist extraordinaire.


  5. Yeah, most of ’em are probably going to go bust a wheel somewhere else up ahead… and you won’t see the ones who busted a wheel behind you 🙂


  6. fall forward, get up, fall forward, get up, fall backward, get up, fall forward, get up, fall forward, get up

    sojourn, interrupted . . . very human


  7. –> “Monk to Pilgrim: We fall down and get up; we fall down and get up; we fall down and get up…”

    That is indeed many of our journeys… fall, get up, fall, get up…

    Well said!!


  8. Pilgrim to Monk: What do you monks do all day?
    Monk to Pilgrim: We fall down and get up; we fall down and get up; we fall down and get up…

    Many Eastern Christian saints have commented that our lives on this earth are given to us for repentance. As this is understood in the language of Scripture, it is not simply an inner feeling of unworthiness about how we fail to measure up. It is that when we find ourselves turned away from God, we turn back toward him. It’s Prodigal Son time all the time, and Jesus has shown us that the Father is truly that kind of father.

    Dallas Willard had some pointed words to say about Christians and honesty. He believed 12-Step programs do a better job of helping people be honest than a lot of church environments. The reason I love the sacrament of Confession is that I regularly get to do a searching and fearless (as fearless as is possible in the given moment) moral inventory and admit to God, to myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs. Where Confession surpasses this is that I am tangibly assured by the priest’s stole resting on my head at the end of the Confession time that my sins are covered and forgotten, and that God and his people (the Church) have me under their care. One’s whole Self – soul and body – is brought into this moment of the Holy Spirit’s work (=grace).



  9. –> “I think the ideal is probably a happy medium halfway in between the two.”

    Yep. But finding that ideal? Almost impossible.

    –> “But, it does seem true to me that deep knowledge of God and deep knowledge of our innermost selves go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other, and if you’re afraid of one you’re unlikely to be able to attain the other.”



  10. Bingo. I try to own my own darkness. Fixing it ain’t easy. And if God and Jesus have shown me grace knowing the darkness inside me and my lame attempts at fixing it, then I should show grace to… well, pretty much everyone.


  11. Owning our darkness is the most critical and difficult exploit of our lives. Absent that regular activity we routinely place it onto those around us while subtlety and sub-consciously patting ourselves on the back for good behaviors, which are utterly and entirely beside the point of inner transformation.


  12. my lawn is troubled . . . literally . . . my husband had a stump of a dead apple tree taken out, but the hole was left unfilled . . . come the pine needles and the leaves to fill it ….sort of …… comes me into backyard to walk for exercise and OF COURSE I step into the ‘hole’ and it’s ‘assover-teakettle kaboom’ . . . .

    life’s little surprises . . . sometimes they are a little bit too real

    having hit my head, I am now a TOTAL mess.


  13. One of the things (among many) that I appreciated about Michael Spencer’s posts was his willingness to use his own life and experiences, good and bad, in his discussions. It’s a vulnerability that not many people of his religious beliefs are willing to show. He was, he admitted, a far-from-perfect person; but he shared his insights into himself, and his efforts to be better, with his readers. I can’t believe that it has been nearly ten years since his death. Thank you Chaplain Mike, for ably continuing the Internet Monk, and for continuing to revisit Michael Spencer’s posts.


  14. Are we really on a journey?

    Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in a wagon with a busted wheel on the side of a road watching the world go by. The people I see heading on in a hurry do seem to be going somewhere.


  15. As an introvert, when I encounter these sorts of “dark places” in myself my response is often not to try to ignore them, but to go to the other extreme of lengthy introspection and self-analysis, as if the problem will go away if I can just fully understand where it’s coming from. I’m not sure if that’s any healthier than the people Michael is talking about who are “submerged in darkness and afraid to see where we are” – as with most things, I think the ideal is probably a happy medium halfway in between the two.

    But, it does seem true to me that deep knowledge of God and deep knowledge of our innermost selves go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other, and if you’re afraid of one you’re unlikely to be able to attain the other. Our defense mechanisms to hide from the woundedness or fear inside ourselves often end up separating us from God as well.


  16. After many years I’ve discovered holes within the holes. I know what some of my dark places are, but oft times I choose to enter that door anyway. I choose willfully to enter it, explore it, and make sure someone else can taste it also. Knowing what I’m stepping into, yet choosing it anyway makes thicker darkness, and choosing to come out isn’t always as easy as that first step.


  17. Surprisingly [ not really ] Scripture references the problem.


    ? Matthew 7:3 ?. You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    Romans 2:1 You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

    Psalm 51
    2, Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

    “Scripture, Scripture, Scripture” as Hug likes to say

    I try, often unsuccessfully, to keep these things in mind when commenting on blogs.


  18. Gee, I hope nobody criticizes me for being a “Debbie downer”, or my comment for “chicken little curmudgeon-osity”, as they did the other day! But if they do, I guess they’d have to say the same about the post itself, so I would be in the good company of Michael Spencer — I’m okay with that!


  19. Spencer is describing the holes, and the sinkholes, in the soul. The holes you can see, that have been there for years or decades, you sometimes can avoid, if you’re careful; but the sinkholes open out under your feet where you stand — then you have to climb out, even as the walls give way as you try to clamber up the sides.


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