Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Truly, madly deeply...or, truly, deeply mad

Brother Lawrence writes about coming to know God through faith; a faith at once childlike and obstinate. This faith he considers to be a superior vehicle to knowledge of God than "deductions of the intellect." Knowledge of God thus acquired is deepened and sustained through "practicing the presence of God," and its fruit is a relationship of love.

For me, such a relationship, and by such means, appears exquisitely beautiful and appealing. It also appears dangerous. Whether seeking truth via faith or intellect, I feel that I am blind. Relying on the intellect, I reach about, grasping for a sense of my surroundings. My reaching hands are aimless guides, utilizing the accumulated knowledge of life to discern what is touched and to make inference of what is yet untouched. Relying on faith, specifically on faith in God (this is a challenging term, even with intellect a measure of faith is required; a trusting of learned facts, mental processing and memory. And then, can we assume an experience of "faith" is not being filtered through the intellect?), my reaching hands have found a rope. When I am willing to take hold of this rope and hold fast, I find that there is someone or something at the other end, drawing me forward. Wonderful, awful discovery! Am I saved? Am I being drawn to Truth, Light, Love? Or, is this a steady tug pulling me to a deeper darkness, drawing me into an enthralling delusion?

Encounters with certain gentlemen who experienced dramatic transitions towards what they perceived as transcendent awareness and even some of my own reactions to relationships and situations have left me scarred and wary of an encompassing spirituality or complete release of the self to the Other. I am afraid of losing my mind, losing control, losing my place in this world. The jubilation I felt this weekend is being crowded by gathering clouds of anxiety. Yet, I do not feel that my withdrawals from these situations and into more reasoned, rational ways of being has led to the life of liberation and purposeful action and enriching relationship that my heart persistently hunts for.

I feel more at ease moving at my own pace, reaching about in the dark, but I also feel alone and unsatisfied. So, disregarding whatever psychological or philosophical rationale may apply to qualify my experience (it is so tempting to me to enter into that realm where conclusions are indefinitely delayed), I feel there is something constantly being point to, that amidst a milieu of raucous clamor something insistently, consistently speaks in a still small voice, and I feel that this something is God and that God is Love. If this is so, how can I not desire above all things to seek after, to love and be beloved of such a One!

I hear my struggle voiced in the words of Dorothy Day when she writes,

"Always at the bottom of my heart was the desire to believe, sometimes so faint as to be imperceptible, at other times very strong. But I distrusted myself, my own emotional reactions and my own instability."

Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and C.S. Lewis are three spiritual writers through whom I am consistently inspired and challenged and with whom I feel a deep synthesis and mysterious kinship. All three had sharp intellects and brilliant creative talent, to the point that I feel overwhelmed in the presence of their work. They were well learned, curious and speculative. In the end their knowledge did not inhibit their aptitude for faith but in fact played into their inclination toward it.

Perhaps this matter of faith versus intellect is not an either/or affair at all, but a situation where each would benefit from humbly acknowledging the presence and purpose of the other. With that in mind, I think it is valuable (and has proved itself to be productive) that I continue to identify and pursue those things that kindle my heart, while simultaneously continuing to actively question myself and my influences.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

August, Part 1

Looking back over my journal, I found that August was a month of much contemplation with journal entries to accompany my thoughts. I began this post with my usual technique of simply typing up journal entries, cutting out pieces that seem too boring or personal. Halfway through the month though I realized that I wasn't going to make it to the end in this manner. Below is what I had already typed. Hopefully I will find a more constructive, creative way of exploring and sharing the latter portion of the month's meandering thoughts and experiences.


Reading Merton’s reflection on his mother’s illness (Seven Storey Mountain, 15) plunges me back to thoughts of perception and how shallowly we tend to view others and the world. A person’s character we assess based on a moments interaction, coupled with physical appearance. In this assessment they are encased and viewed as long as we have memory of them. Seeing the paradigm shift from Merton’s child p.o.v. to adult caused a quickening in my heart. How I would love to receive everyone I encounter with up close and abundant excitement. Accompanying this beating desire, a feeling of excitement—what a glorious way to live!—and a feeling of sadness—what an impossible way to live! These thoughts remind me that this journey I am on arose from a desire to learn how to love. (Why Jesus? because he taught me to love…) I’ve strayed from that goal, making the mistake of pursuing maturity, purpose, identity; valuable aspirations but I think misplaced when made direct objects.


“I wanted to be in all these places, which the pictures of LePays de France showed me: indeed, it was a kind of problem to me and an unconscious source of obscure and half-realized woe that I could not be in all of them at once.” (Merton, 48)

A sentiment I often share…

* * * *

I washed diapers today, feeling very satisfied as I hung them on the drying rack in a sunny patch of the concrete courtyard, noticing they had very few stains. Removing them from their rinse in the tub I’d been singing “Sisters” while squeezing out the excess water. “I like how you’re like Cinderella,” Anne said, “singing while you do your dirty work.”
After lunch, I took Isaac in his stroller to the Devon Market. I enjoy going to market, particularly browsing the produce and international food isles, pushing the stroller with one hand and hefting a full basket in the other.
While walking I listened to the sermon by a young pastor of a new church. I appreciate his zeal and scholarship, but own that I hold myself at a distance from his message. Though multiple factors doubtless apply, I attribute my reticence largely to the derisive statements he consistently throws in about other established religions; namely Buddhism and Catholicism…I don’t dare make a character judgment or ever dismiss his teaching. I will say that he (unwittingly, I think) portrays himself as an underground church elitist, justifying criticism of the traditional because that’s what Jesus did, forgetting that these other established groups are simply more mature bodies that were born into Christ many years ago. Everyone looks different when they are older. Because Jesus died when he was in his early 30s, should we never exceed the point of view of someone in that age group?

* * * *

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.”

-Proverbs 3:5-8


I was out of bed by 6:20 a.m. this morning. Light was already seeping redly through the window shade. It felt good to be awake, good to be on a schedule. I did yoga and meditated. This was the first meditation I had practiced in quite some time. I chose Lao Tzu’s “The Best,” and St. Paul’s “Love is…” from Corinthians. Short but very sweet. When I got to “love never ends” I kept examining and caressing the words feeling an almost suffocating combination of sadness, joy, gratitude, remorse and affection. I suppose I felt love; more than anything, the reception of it. Attached to the words was the image of Jesus. “I can’t not be in love with Jesus,” I admitted to myself. And I don’t know what to think.


Anne, Isaac and I packed a lovely picnic lunch…and walked to meet Angela at the beach. Outside it was absolutely beautiful; solid blue sky, light breeze, bright sun, high 70s…Angela looked out over the lake and exclaimed, “look at that blue!” It was tremendous. This great expanse of water with no end in sight had soaked up the color of the sky and implemented its small waves to add depth of hue and texture.
“Who wants to do sun salutations?” Angela asked, quickly responding to her own question, “I do!” And she did.


It’s a drizzly day and cool. I’m having a cup of tea, cursing myself for wasting so much of Isaac’s nap-time on facebook…It’s 2 p.m. and I am listening to beautiful, melancholy, Elvis Perkins. The music is probably more distracting than helpful. I’d had thoughts I wanted to explore, but now I’m thinking about how, according to Grace and Sarah, he wrote this song, “While You Were Sleeping,” about his mother who died in the 911 crash; just a passenger on a plane. And, as with any sad, sweet music of quality, I think of love. I have been thinking of this a great deal recently, particularly the nature of love itself and love for Jesus, for religion even, and then too love between humans; considering the distinction between these, if any exists. If any exists. And here is where I speculate that my jaded pragmatism toward romantic love has seeped through its compartment merging with my love for Jesus and influencing a stance of determined detachment. This detachment insists upon validation and definition before affection and devotion. I haven’t liked the feeling though. This week I’ve returned to meditation. I have also been listening to Poppa’s sermons and reading Merton and wondering, “can love take the lead over logic?” I hesitate in wording the question because of the implications that can arise from the words that take their place between “love” and “logic.” I don’t want to imply that one contradicts the other, nor can I assume that the plane they exist upon is a linear line. I it reasonable to even consider they might exist in a relationship where one leads to the other? In fact, I think my belief in the possibility of such a relationship may be an impediment in itself. I would withdraw from love for fear that a logic that followed after love would be bent, biased toward the treasure of my heart, the overflow of which my mouth speaks and my thoughts think.


It’s amazing how refreshing it can feel to wash one’s feet. I just got back from a night walk. I went to the beach, taking my flip flops off and walking to the water’s lip. there were five points of bright light in the sky. they gave the illusion of stars, but were something else. I don’t know what.
Many people were out, I was surprised how many; enjoying nighttime picnics, or taking a stroll. Most people move in multiples; couples or groups of friends. I felt self-conscious walking past them.

* * * *

…it is a curious thing, this feeling that follows shifts in place of occupation. This feeling that something internal, essential even, has shifted as well and you are not what you were. Yet, simultaneously, you are seamlessly imprinted with it, even when memories are vague.


While waiting for the train, I noticed another girl standing on the platform. My first thought was, “how is it that some people are so tiny?” She had curly brown hair pulled back into a short ponytail. Though it was quite warm, she wore a long-sleeved black shirt with a black cardigan. Her skirt was a light material, but long with a patch-work pattern. She wore brown Grecian sandals. For a few minutes she sat right next to me on a bench. I had my guitar propped upright between my legs, my hands folded on top and head resting on them. I observed this girl, discreetly I hope. the sleeve of her shirt had shifted a bit so that about two inches of her left wrist showed. It was covered in white raised scars. I considered what gift I could give this girl. I thought about saying something simple and stupid like, “your skirt is pretty,” hoping that might be enough to remind us that we are not alone in this world. That would be enough to remind us that we are both seen and seeing. I didn’t say anything. On the train we sat across from each other. I watched her face run through myriad of dour expressions. I watched her get off the train and walk away.


I don’t want to pretend,
nor to offend;
it seems we must always do one
or the other.


6:30 a.m. and the sun’s awake. I missed the meteor shower, too sleepy to motivate myself to get up and go out in the wee hours of morning alone…
…I am feeling very aimless, unaccomplished, and disheartened today. I imagine there are physical contributions to this—in the house all day, little exercise, possibly premenstrual—but I’m inclined to believe there is something of the spiritual involved as well. I feel as though I have not course, and I don’t like. And, I miss my family.