Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was a German author, in vogue in the 1960's when I became acquainted with his writing.
In "Steppenwolf", Hesse introduces his main character, Mr. Harry Haller, like this:
"For he was not a sociable man. Indeed, he was unsociable to a degree I had never before experienced in anybody. He was, in fact, as he called himself, a real wolf of the Steppes, a strange, wild, shy--very shy--being from another world than mine. How deep the loneliness into which his life had drifted on account of his disposition and destiny,.."
A wolf of the Steppe: a peculiarly apt description of some; a tendency innate to some degree in us all.
There are those of us who feel like wanderers, disenfranchised, viewing the banality of convention and civility as one watching a movie, but not a part of it… on the outside looking in. We do not look down on those who lead a "normal" life. No. We envy them for it, while knowing deep within, that somehow we would not fit in.
There is a restlessness embedded in the fallen machismo of the male of the human species... a strange mix of sensations: the need to dominate, to take charge, to be responsible, all the while dreading the commitment that such actions entail. So we choose instead a life on the Steppe... it would appear somewhat adventurous, I suppose, but it turns into a life of avoiding commitments, of aimless wandering that we like to call "freedom"... harming none, beholden to none; "friends with benefits"... yeah, that's right up our alley.
It is no surprise that we end up as cowards… empty-handed vagabonds occupying space on the planet with no tangible purpose for being here.
There is, at times, a certain noble element to our wariness over engaging and committing. Our inner demons convince us that living apart from others is a necessity. We know ourselves all too well. We do not trust ourselves to not do harm to people who get too close to us... just check our rap sheet. By choosing solitude and isolation, we think that we are sparing others the pain of seeing the real us in action. If people knew what we were, they would not want to be near us anyway.
Behind the bravado resides a skittishness that keeps us evading, on the move, maintaining distance. We are more sensitive than we let on. What other people think does matter. Real or imagined, we feel the frowns. We sense the long fingers of the disapproving and the intolerant pointed at the nape of our neck when our back is turned. We somehow "know" that others disapprove of the way we are. Safer to stay away...
Later in the book, Haller exults:
"Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve."
Careful what you wish for... The result of carving out a solitary existence does not usually include an enriched spirit, only a profound state of loneliness which can easily turn to dejection and hopelessness.
When God touched my life through the Gospel of His Son, I grasped that I was more than a speck of dust on a bigger speck of dust in the cosmos. I found a reason to stay alive. I had been a solitary wanderer; He turned me into a pilgrim. Now, I am just passing through on my way home, with a mission to fulfill for whatever time is left to me.
Along with that change came another, albeit more slowly and more difficult for me to keep in place: He led me off of the Steppe into spiritual community and service... a painful transition. Engaging with and committing to other human beings is not a concept I naturally warm to. But I need it... God knows I need it.
Yes, there is risk involved with committing to a particular body of believers.
Yes, there is risk involved with the openness required for effective discipleship.
Yes, there is risk involved with seeking friendship among others in the ministry.
But… it's worth the stretch!
(first posted April 04, 2010)
Yes...! As of July 5, 2020, my book is now available on Amazon.com.
It's a new book about an old problem: the cross and the crown… the Gospel and politics… do they mix? Should they mix?
If my words generate some reflection and healthy conversation—as in more light and less heat—I will be satisfied.
For feedback or questions, feel free to use the email link below.
Greg grew up in Menomonee Falls, WI. His ministry began in 1976: 5 years in Central America, 37 in Mexico. Church planting and discipleship have been his passion.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." -Matthew 13:44
GREG'S other BLOG
Concise devotions in Spanish and English, along with some lengthier essays… Designed for personal spiritual growth and to help anyone studying English or Spanish as a second language to improve their skills… Rev 14:6