to bear or not to bear?

Lent. The Christian 40-day season of preparation for Easter. It’s chief character and call, penitential self-reflection and spiritual renewal. A primary image, wilderness.


Jesus, after his baptism, was thrust by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan[1] (or, interpreted existentially, to wrestle with his own inner tensions between sharing power with others or seeking it for himself, sacrificing himself for others or seeking to serve himself).

Following Jesus, Lent, then, is an annual opportunity to reenter the inner desert of one’s soul, where, in its stark barrenness, one may see again one’s self clearly so to emerge with a renewed sense of self and of life’s purpose.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, this year falls on March 1. However, I feel as though I’ve been in my personal Lenten season for quite a while. It’s been and continues to be a time of intense wrestling with myself in thought and feeling, intent and action…

Some of it in relation to externals. A big part being the current roiling temperament of support-and-resist-Trump people and parties[2] and what I perceive as the resultant sorrowful broken relationships among families and friends, associates and acquaintances and the seeming woeful incapacity of folk on all sides to speak with clarity, listen with charity, and reason fairly with those with whom they disagree and the dreadful rise in anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and racist hate crimes and civil rights violations…

Most of my wrestling, however, is with me…

Some years ago, at a weekend retreat focusing on team building and personal self-awareness, participants were invited to take part in a small-group activity, The Animal Game. The scenario: You are in a group of different animals gathering at a watering hole. You watch the other animals, their appearance, their manner. The task: Name and describe the animal you perceive each person to be.[3]

Of all the descriptions of me, I remember only one. It was spot-on in accuracy. A member of my group said, “Paul, you are a circus bear.” Surprised and uncertain as to the meaning, I could feel my eyebrows rise above my hairline. He continued, “You are bright and glib, attractive and entertaining, and inviting. People want to draw near to you, but they need to remember you have claws. If they get too close, you’ll swat them.”


How true. Then and now…

In public, I tend to wear a wide-eyed, brightly smiling countenance of accessibility and availability to others. This persona is true. For as long as I have strength, verily, breath, I am a Christian minister who has pledged his life and labor in the service to, for, and with others. Nevertheless, those who know me well have beheld my private self (veiled in the still powerful, in some measure, not so healthy elements of my familial formative years). The alway self-questioning Paul who wonders whether I am loved, respected, and valued as a person and who often enough worries that I am not (that I cannot be!), and who, therefore, is cautious of being too well known, for those drawing near will see and dislike who I fear (believe?) is the “real” unlovable, unrespectable, and unvalued me.

All this comes up for me, for recently I lashed out, “swatted” some friends for failing, as I viewed it, to give me the care I desired. In this instance, as oft is the case (because of which Pontheolla always advises me to wait and to think through what I’m feeling before I react, for almost always, I, intemperately, don’t pause and give loud air to my hurt!), my friends, given their über-busy lives with myriad stresses and strains, hadn’t had a chance to respond. In this and all other instances when this pattern prevails, I am thrown back on myself to ponder anew my faulty inner psycho-wiring, to reexamine my flawed internal emotional workings.

To bear or not to bear the bear within? My internal, eternal question. Suffice it to say, Lent, for me, is no annual 40-day interval, but rather a lifelong sojourn in the wilderness of my soul…

Lent is my life…

My life is Lent.


Illustration: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum

Photograph: Graffitie…Put on your happy face, The Bearstone Collection®; a collectible, capturing well my circus bear persona, I purchased some years ago


[1] Matthew 4.1-11

[2] Though, on this score, I believe that for some time this American political distemper has been brewing, then boiling, now bubbling over in the election of Donald Trump. For as a student of history, I also believe that nothing, whether predictable or unprecedented, happens in the course of the proverbial “overnight”, but rather always is years in the making. Thus, I further believe, those who could not anticipate, even conceive of Mr. Trump’s election were not giving due attention to the growing seeds of conservative and disestablishment discontent in our national political soil.

[3] An underlying socio-psycho-political aspect of this “game” involved the self-question: Will I choose to be (will I risk being!) transparently honest in my assessments of others or will I, if, when my judgments may be deemed (heard) as harsh, not wanting to cause dismay to others or fearing the reprisals of others, choose to speak less candidly?

4 thoughts on “to bear or not to bear?

  1. Paul,

    Thanks for baring your soul to us. Lent is your life and YOUR LIFE is Lent!! I loved this reflection. I’ve never felt that way about Lent but you’ve given me such a different way to look at it. I usually reflect during Lent as well. but this year I’m dreading it. Still figuring out who I am an as a newly single woman. It was helpful reading your post, because not all reflection is easy or fun. It’s hard work, and you’ve let me know that’s it ok for the work to be somewhat painful.

    I remember that bear story as you’d shared it with me a couple of years ago. But reading it again tonight I had the same sinking feeling as I did when you originally shared the story. I felt it was a really hurtful remark … about the bear and claws. I see the intent of it (and the accuracy of it too having been a victim of your lashing out at times), but it was harsh just the same.

    We all have “flawed internal emotional workings”. I hope that your friends that you mentioned in the post have forgiven you for lashing out when they didn’t respond to you as you needed. I think it’s clear to most people who know you well that it’s more than worth it to be in relationship with you, even if it involves enduring a lashing out every now and then. For the person on the receiving end, they show that unconditional love involves accepting the “flawed internal emotional workings” of close friends and they hang in there. A few years ago when I believed you had been especially cruel to me, I decided I was done with you. Then, I wrote down the pros and cons for being in your life. The list of pros was double the size of the cons, so I decided to stick around and am glad I did. I also reflected on how my remaining in your life could help you with your “flaws”. I wasn’t sure it could or would, but it made me feel good to at least try. I’m glad I have stuck around.

    As I reflect this year during Lent, I am hoping to find out how to deal with my only flaws and my guilt about Tim’s death. For example, Why didn’t I KNOW how sick he was? I saw him every single day!! You’ve encouraged me through this blog post to take that sojourn into the wilderness of my soul. I wonder what the outcome will be. But what I do know that if you can lay yourself bare when you write, I can do the same when I reflect and I’m prepared to embrace what I discover – good or bad. I wish us both luck.

    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Always, Loretta, I thank you for reading, reflecting, and responding to what I share.

      This, to bear or not to bear (an intended play on Shakespeare’s “to be or not to be”, for my self-inquiry fundamentally is existential, thus entirely about beingness) was a difficult, yet necessary bit of writing for me. For it focuses on one of my constant struggles with myself (verily, my self) and life itself (that is, being alive, for if…when I’m dead I will not need to strive so mightily to live within the confines of my temperament!).

      I believe I’ve gotten to the place where and when I know that I cannot outdistance me. I cannot abandon me. Me with all of my virtues (truly few) and many maladies, whether physical or spiritual (emotional). Yea, verily, in this life and world I’m stuck with me. So, again, given the latest incidence/evidence of my soul-deep need of longing to know (though never truly believing) that I am loved, respected, and valued, one that ne’er can be satisfied (at least, not to date), I had to write and publish this post. I had to lay near the heart of my longing. (In an odd, though perhaps not so odd, way, acknowledging this “hole in my soul” confirms afresh that I am alive, that is real, without pretense or falsity. Maybe I can settle, that is, be at peace, at least for a moment knowing, believing that I’m real!).

      My beloved sister, I pray you well in your sojourn in the wilderness of your soul. I pray you find peace with yourself in wrestling with your guilt about Tim, the death-dealing seriousness of his illness, and your not having known though being closer to him day in and day out than close. For, I believe, as no one of us can know the mind and heart, soul and spirit of another – no matter how long-lived and deep and close the relationship (indeed, none of us can know ourselves that well!; as I oft quote the Apostle Paul, “Now, we look in a mirror, dimly”), then how can we know the depth and breadth of another’s state of health? We cannot. Still, I also believe that your guilt is the fruit that arises from the deep and fertile soil (soul!) of your loving Tim. Therefore, as painful (perhaps, at times, bitter) as it is for you, it is real and true; thus calling for your attention and resolution.

      So, Loretta, carry on in your soul-sojourn. Know that Tim is cheering you on, for he, now, is in that “great cloud of witnesses” of which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks. Thus, Tim is numbered with your father, grandparents, Aunts Diane and Franny, and all those you love and who love you who have gone before you. They all are cheering you on. And with them, there are folk on earth, like me, who cheer you, too!


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Paul!!! My God your response is soul-stirring!! I hope it will be ok if I call you during this sojourn. I don’t have a problem dealing with the pain, but I may have questions! This will be my most interesting Lent I’ve had in years!! I wish you much success in your journey too!

    Liked by 1 person

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