Have you ever had the experience of being brinked? The Oxford dictionary defines the noun “brink” as the extreme edge of something (like a cliff) or a point at which something (typically something unwelcome) is about to happen. Similarly, the verb brinked (not yet in the dictionary) is the action of being brought to the “edge” but not over it. To be brinked is to be taken to a place where there is no safety net, no surplus, no backup… and yet no deficit. It is both a safe and dangerous place depending on your perspective and expectations. Let me illustrate with some examples.
I coined the word brinked in 2008 when I was doing graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh. As a prerequisite to entering the dissertation phase of our research studies, we were required to write five 4,000 word papers and receive a B or better on each of the papers. If we received a C on a paper we had only one chance to resubmit one paper. I received a C on my first paper and rewrote and resubmitted it for a B. But I was now brinked! If I received another C on any of my next four papers I was out of the program. I was “safe” as long as I didn’t get another C. As it turned out, I did better on the next four papers. Being brinked was uncomfortable (I battled with the fear of failure) but it helped bring out the best in me.
Another example comes to mind. One evening, I was fishing for pike in Dalsland, Sweden. I was using light tackle and spinners in shallow waters full of lily pads, fallen trees, and other obstructions. After two hours and no fish I was down to my last spinner (the others had been lost on snags) and ready to call it a day. Suddenly, I started catching one fish after another. It was then that I realized that I had been brinked… I was down to my last spinner. It wasn’t until the fish started to bite that I truly appreciated my one remaining lure. I was brinked. I had no backup but I had no deficit… I still had one spinner. It made me come ‘alive’ in a way I wasn’t before. I both hated it and loved it.
Isn’t this a common experience? If so, why do so many of us (myself included) spend so much time and energy trying to avoid the experience of being brinked? I guess we all like to live with a buffer and extra margin to protect us from error or the unpredictable. After all, isn’t there much wisdom in having a safety net and backup plan for the unexpected? I think so…yet, at the same time, there can be something deeply ‘human’ and therefore deeply spiritual about being brinked. It can be a wonderful time of reflection, refocus, and revitalization. It can free us from our anxiety of pursuing and securing stuff.
It seems to me that Jesus asked his disciples to brink themselves in Matthew 10:9 and Luke 9:3-5 when Jesus sent his twelve disciples out on a task and told them not to take any stuff with them. The Twelve were instructed to leave their food, money, extra clothes, etc. behind. In effect, Jesus brinked his disciples. I think he did this because he wanted them to experience what he promised them in Matthew 6:33, i.e. if they seek first the Kingdom of God all their needs would be provided for. Later (see Luke 22:35-36), once his disciples learned this lesson, Jesus encourages them to take stuff like extra food and clothing with them. This implies that it is not the stuff itself that is an obstacle to faith but our attitude or preoccupation with pursing and securing stuff. It seems to me that followers of Jesus need to learn to trust in Jesus not in their stuff. I think stuff may include more than just material possessions but also things like our education, status, experience, skills, etc.
St. Francis of Assisi (and those that joined his company) took this concept to a new level. They made a conscious decision to take on a lifestyle that was ‘brinked’ of earthly possessions. This choice seemed to be a practical expression of their love affair with Jesus. They seemed to be a merry society of people who pursued a life dedicated to the joyful celebration of God. They considered living ‘brinked’ as an asset to their pursuit of God. I have much to learn.