Musings on the Way

Back from Desert Dissertation where…there be dragons!

When I last wrote here, I was getting to a point of closure on the PhD dissertation I’d been thinking and researching about for nearly a decade. Or so I thought. What I didn’t realize was that editing is really, really difficult when you spend that much time thinking and reading about a very narrow topic. It was painful for remove nearly a third of my second chapter on what was really just background material, better served in an appendix. I also found out just how opportunistic people can be when faced with new emerging content in their own area of interest. Other scholar-practitioners proved vociferous in their counsel on the supposed value of such commonsensical outcomes. But these experience also served as useful material for personal reflection.

For now that I am a freshly minted doctor of philosophy in psychology with a specialization in industrial-organizational psychology, I too find it easy to judge. Scholarly criticism can do much to help the process, if it’s provided as helpful counsel from one pilgrim to another on the shared highway of knowledge and enlightenment. However, it can be just as easily a finely tuned weapon for personal character assassination and ridicule. What I’m learning is to avoid those places where the unsuspecting can be quickly snared into conversation and then just as quickly be administered a subsequent annihilation. Better to take the more pastoral venue where the excitement is not as high, the return on investment more gradual, but where the personal interaction yields much more favorable outcomes.

As I muse on how an applied psychologist can ease the relational interactions of the workplace, I trust that they will prove helpful. For too long psychology has remained a collection of theories protected by its creators and their disciples. This is but the first propositional stage of learning where qualitative research provides a grounded theory for further quantitative analysis by hypothesis testing. The workplace receives those who often all too ready to offer pithy aphorisms that easily become commandments committed to memory and repeated repeatedly to one’s coworkers. Such metaphors help make clear complex concepts, but cannot suffice as the extent of our contributions. The difficult task of repeatable analysis through observable, empirical data must go with those first observations, if workplace psychology is to give the needed counsel humans require as their brains are being plowed with propaganda and their sentiments mined for niche-market preferences.

The desert has always been a place where people have fled for solitude and synchronicity. As I return from my sojourn there, I know that I will need to return from time to time for further meditative reflection and insight. However, it is a wonderful realization that the desert is not a permanent destination but merely a useful device in the mission of helping others along the Way.


She writes as a farmer’s wife, yet speaks as if a seasoned mystic. She quotes C.S. Lewis and John Piper. So I was caught off guard on page 39 of the first chapter of  Ann Voskamp’s A Thousand Gifts. She wrote, “Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience ; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. ‘If the church is in Christ, its initial act is always an act of thanksgiving, of returning the world to God,’ she quotes the words of Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann.

This Russian Orthodox priest has poked a hole in the fog of my political despair by reminding me of the word Ann is helping me to know–thanksgiving. In Greek it is written eucharisteo, the word from which we get two other great words of power–grace and joy. It is the Eucharist, though, with which it is most often associated, the giving of body and blood by Christ for us…in thanksgiving.

The reason, though, that these words are coming to you here is not in order to reflect about the sacraments, precious as they are. Rather it is instead to ponder the phrase “return the world to God”. To give the world back to its Creator, with thanksgiving. All too often I have considered this world but one huge pile of garbage waiting to be taken out and burned on the funeral pyres of Hell. Good riddance to bad luggage, I’d say. “Fuel for the fire”, was the way I’d often characterized the planet and its gifts. Yet now, I’m not so sure. Could it be that this planet has been given to me as an opportunity for offering thanksgiving to God, as a means of showing my gratitude to Him for the chance to do His work after Him in creation of the precious, the beautiful and the redemptive?

This means that the world I see if not supposed to be perfect, since it is a place of promise, of potential, of creativity. A place where I can imagine, scheme, and try out new ways of solving old problems, of bringing order to the chaos. After all, this is what my Creator did all those years ago when He found a planet “without form and void, with darkness covering the face of the deep.” He spoke, He called, He ordered…and it was so. Yet my voice is so often stilled when facing the faceless voids of my own world. I find myself all too often complaining rather than creating, cursing the darkness instead of remembering that admonition of My Savior–you are the light of the world!”

Yet Ann’s words help me to know that this is not something I remember, so long separated from the Garden. She reminds me that I must hear the words Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” Philippians 4: 11-12. Ann writes, “I would have to learn this word, eucharisteo… Learn how to be thankful–whether empty or full”. So she has asked me to travel with her as she learns to be thankful by writing a list of a thousand gifts. I will follow you, Ann. For in doing so, I believe that I will learn of His glory given for my good. And for that, I am thankful.