I was with a few close friends the other day, and we were talking about our experience of God. Now, please understand, Im’a simplify the context violently here, or we’ll never get anywhere. I’ll just cut to my part, which was kinda’ two parts:
First there was my general presence answer. The deep knowing, the kingdom in my belly, etc, etc, etc. I think I expressed about 0.03% of what I was going for here. Maybe this one will get a post of it’s own, but it is so big and so very wide, and I don’t even know where to start. Hence the flop of an explanation with my people. We’re going to ignore that one for now.
The other was a more specific experience of God in the heat of the moment, specifically in the heat of the hardest of moments, the real furnaces. How I find my way when I’m well and truly lost. How I know I’m on the right track when every path forward is terrifying, even awful. On this one, also, I flopped. This one is the one we’ll run with…
What I said, to my recollection. was that when I’m in that place where a decision needs to be made, like a big one, like the horrible kind that you never in your whole life want to make, the kind that has so much tied up in it that life topples no matter which way your decisions fall, I rely on peace. Because no matter what I want, or how I’ve rationalized my way through it, worked the numbers, crunched the data, considered all factors, the best way forward is the only way that gives me some measure of peace. And that was pretty much all I said. Which bore so little resemblance to what I meant, at least the whole of what I meant, that it’s been driving me batty.
For one, words are so limiting, so inadequate, especially when dealing with the numinous, the ethereal, the mystical, all that that lies beyond the physical.
And for two, I’m actually terrible with words. I’m a writer because I’m no good with words, not in real time. I’m slow of speech, slow of thought, and hence, spend a lot of time pulling my foot from my mouth.
People around me sometimes think I’m quick on the draw, a fast talker, but I’m here to tell you that’s only the case if we’re talking about a one-liner, a minimal construction of thought. If it’s just those few words I need to utter, like maybe seven, I might be OK. Quick even. (Though often the foot hits the mouth before my little utterance even sees the light of day.)
But if I need more than a couple of words to be strung together into coherent thought, there is always a lot of hemming and hawing and looking off into the sky. There is often (always) a pronouncement that I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. Most of the time (yes, always) I can feel the heat rise into my face. Because I’ve committed before I’m ready. And I’m never ready.
And then, shockingly, whatever comes out falls painfully short of what was burbling around in my brain. More foot in mouth. And this is why I write. I feel like if I have enough time (and a distinct lack of faces looking at me), I can actually get my point across pretty deftly. It generally takes more words than I’d like, as I’ve yet to master the art of minimalist thought, but my fingers generally have better access to my mind and my heart than my mouth does.
So… After my not-at-all accurate portrayal of what I wanted to say about peace, I spent the night with all that unspoken truth of mine niggling around in my head, desperate to come out in words that did it the tiniest bit more justice. Why even open my mouth if what comes out isn’t at least somewhat representative of the truth? Gah.
So here it is. How peace has helped me pave a way forward in dire circumstance, as told by my fingers, leaving my mouth out of it entirely:
We’ll start with this: It is true that peace is what I rely on to carry me through when there is no path forward that seems acceptable. It’s just that I made that whole thing sound a lot cleaner than it is, you know, on the ground.
In truth, I am in turmoil pretty-much 24/7 at those times when the sky is falling and my response hangs in the balance, and the stakes are so high I will never see the top. Peace is a scarce commodity. How I eventually proceed through the woods, though, has everything to do with the time I take in stillness, in silence, in the places that I know tether me.
In general, I try to base my decisions on love. Some smart guy once told me that any decision made in love is the right one. It’s a pretty damned good guiding principal.
Problem is, life is not black and white, and not at all simple, and love occasionally has competing interests. There are, painfully, times when a tie-breaker is needed and other criteria must be introduced. If it was clear what love required, I might still struggle to accept it, or to carry it out, but I wouldn’t be agonizing about the decision itself, but rather with what it means for me, what it might require of me. It would more or less be down to the whining at that point. But it is not always clear. There are times (I’m not a fan of this) when the answers and the truth take different sides (to quote a pretty great band) and we can’t know how to proceed through the smoke (to quote them again). It’s in those times that I’ve relied on peace.
But not, as I sadly made it sound, just like, “OK, which of these many options bring me peace?”
No. Not like that.
I’m not able to think in any way close to that at those times.
What I can do is move towards love, move towards God, move myself towards the places that I know hold me up, keep me safe, hold me together like gravity. This involves prayer, sure, but prayer and I have a sticky relationship, and I’m pretty easily distracted, and spend far too much time talking and not enough listening.
The listening I’ve only learned through meditation, through radical silence and stillness and solitude. That is the only place where I can really slow down. The thoughts, the feelings, the OUT-OF-CONTROL eye muscles (what is that?). It takes time for a hush to fall, and I’m not real great at holding still, physically or in any other way. (This might be obvious to anyone who watches me bounce around in church like a 2-year-old.)
Meditation helps to gets me there. In time. But that’s not all.
I need—like food, like water—to care for myself with a steady diet of quality nourishment. I need books, so many books, by brilliant people who have found miraculous ways to fit the ineffable into words, and not just words, but living words that somehow translate little bits of the divine into something digestible. I owe these artists my life.
Some I come back to and back to. (Anne Lamott, anyone?) They’ve proven themselves. I’m always on the hunt for those, which means that there’s also a lot of new, and my diet gets regular infusions of fresh perspective. But they all, the old and the new, qualify as spiritual food for me, whether they would to anyone else or not. If they point me towards the divine. If they teach me love, compassion, empathy, joy. If they cast light (to quote my favorite blogger ever), they’re my spiritual food. And it is these things, books, art, scientific awe, life, wonder, music, that bring me down from the heights of anxiety, they pave the way for forward motion, or a blessed ceasing of motion. And now we’re almost to where the peace comes in.
So I struggle and I travail and I flutter and throw tantrums, all trying to find my way, filling out my spreadsheets of risk/reward analysis, pros and cons, writing like a crazy person trying to flush the demons out through my words, chewing that cud like a blue ribbon cow, master of mastication, ruler of rumination. My gut clenches like a vice, my breath is shallow and stale, I curl in on myself like an armadillo, and I’m no closer to an answer than if I’d tasked the chickens with sleuthing it out.
And then I settle myself in with those faithful servants who know how to slow it all down and bring me back to myself, feet on the earth, and this miracle occurs. I strap myself in for some faltering prayer and meditation (literal strapping sometimes required), I slow it down just a little, baby steps, and I reach for the food that I know can heal me, I read it through clenched teeth until my muscles are exhausted and bested, and then I keep reading.
And then there it is. The answer is clear, and there is Peace. Just like that. THAT is the peace I’m talking about. One that is hard-won, but only because I’m an insistent and tenacious fighter when it comes to calming the hell down. I know I’m on the right track when every time I manage to place myself in the way of God, the answer is clear and brings peace.
Is that the end of the story? Rarely. OK, never.
Realistically, I’m bound to go through the whole cycle at least a dozen times, each one with no less vim and vigor than the last. But somewhere along the line, the road starts looking familiar, and some hidden spot in my mind (Pooh) suggests to the rest (Rabbit) that we might have seen that tree before. You know, the nice one by the stream, with the pillowy moss beneath it and the vast and sweeping branches above, filtering that perfect sun? We’ve rested here before. It was easy. Peaceful even. Yes, I think so… six or seven times at least. Interesting. Now that you mention it, it feels pretty good right now, too.
And THAT’s how it happens.
If you need me, I’ll be fashioning a muzzle,
Well, I’m going to have to re-read this at least once more, but it does sort of indirectly remind me of Pascal’s Wager. Much time is spent wrestling with the existence of God.
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Huh. I guess I can *kind of* see a connection, if you read my big decision as whether or not to believe in God. Then there is some resemblance. Yeah. I guess I see it. That was quite the leap though! 🤯
You have no idea how much I needed to read this right now!
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Well, perfect then!
I miss you… Hope all is well. ❤️