Sunday, December 30, 2007
Soul Held Whole and Round
"Do you ever find yourself scared to let God hold you? Or perhaps, resisting the prompting of the Spirit to let God hold you because you want to stand on your own yet knowing that you would never survive if you got what you wanted?"
The holding itself isn't that frightening. I wonder what John was thinking about as he reclined, head on Jesus' chest. Was he thinking of the future, when Jesus would be gone? Was he thinking of the ramifications of such intimate contact with his Savior?
The question is, I think, more complex than most Christians are familiar with. We have no end of books and preachers giving one-line answers to life's questions. "You want to stand on your own two feet? Can't be done. Forget about it. God will beat that out of you."
Well, yes, I can't stand alone... once I've started walking with Jesus. This causes problems for me. The standard answer would be the "on your own feet," pride-oriented answer. Pride may be involved but as an answer it's not very useful; how do you get rid of pride? I don't know. Judging from the failures I see around me I doubt that anyone else has a handle on this.
I'm pragmatic. Give me something that works regardless of the terms or how explainable it is. So, yes, I do want to stand on my own. I want nothing to come into my life that I can't keep going by myself because I've learned that I can't count on anyone else for help. When push comes to shove, they've shoved off. God's answer? Let me walk on my own two feet until I've come to the end of my resources or the point of choosing to end the walk.
One day on the bus home I closed my eyes and talked with God. The idea of holding was still pretty new and we were exploring the ramifications of that. What is the shape of a soul? I got this image of something like a dandelion seed head combined with the dendritic end of a nerve, finely divided and oh so delicate. Who could I trust to carry such a thing? Certainly not myself, as I've shown a strong tendency--before God interposed his hands--to trim things to fit what I saw as my acceptable, quiet place in the world.
Would God care about this delicate thing? I had an image of His hands around it... and that was about the end of that line of thought. It's just silly to believe such a thing. I got very crabby after that, which is typical of times when I'm arguing cross-threaded with God. Why? After a few days I began to see. If I come to depend upon God to hold and protect my soul he'll end up just like all the others and drop me somewhere in the desert.
That wasn't the only problem. I mean, I know God won't drop me. The argument is a kind of echo of old protective schemes. No, the bigger problem is about the effects of a whole soul. If all of me gets going in the same direction, a dream I've talked about here before but never really believed, what might happen? I like my quiet invisible life. I don't want to draw a whole lot of attention and I can see a soul whole shining brightly in this darkened world.
In simplest terms God isn't calling me to do anything but hold his hand and keep walking. I can do that. I can also extrapolate. I have a brain.
The effect of believing what I decide is true is the loss of contact with God. My reality or his? The truth is that he has always respected my soul far more than I have. He makes no effort to make me fit into old ideas. He skips ahead, laughing, calling. I plod, suspicious, looking for threats. He shows me his hands.
This is very hard for me to believe. I'm supposed to be beyond the wishful thinking stage of life.
God asks "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know. Other than finding a place to live and be left alone."
"Is that really what you want?"
"Yes. No. Maybe? It was. Might still be... I guess. Ummm... Lord... do you know what I want?"
I translate "What do I want?" into "What is possible?" and lose a lot thereby. So, I'm not a good judge of future possibilities. How much does God care about me as me, all those tiny soul-tendrils intact? Or am I about to get shaved? I doubt the latter. Would have been far easier to shave me a few years back before I even know any of this stuff.
The logical conclusion to reach from my experience is that God cares about me, about all of us, far more than we can realize. God has to teach me every little step. How do I know what I want? My answers were made of learnings from years ago. I'm not the person now that I was back when those plans were made, and with the Holy Spirit I have a walker-alongside and protector. All I have to do is believe. Interesting thing, belief. It's discounted but it's also the most powerful thing in our world.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Prayer is an interesting mirror. God said "You ask me to hold her, but you won't let me hold you?"
I didn't have much to say. He was right.
Everything God does leads to something else. He wanted to hold me because... I need His holding. His holding makes possible other necessary things, just as His direct help with some thinking a while back got me through a difficult night.
He holds me against my well-trained tendency for centripetal activity: everyone heads for the weeds to hide when conflicts come along. Wait for the storm to pass. This approach does nothing to solve the problem that led to the storm.
Who am I to challenge a storm? I stand up, shake my fist, and get knocked flatter than last week's sand sculpture. It's a battle I've never won. Never.
God started working on this years ago. The path to today's solutions started in times and places far away. Faith seems to be optional and belief is just kind of a challenge for God. What seems to matter more is wanting, and more than that perhaps is just being too damned stubborn to give up before I fall farther behind.
What do I want? I can't fit it into words. The Holy Spirit does his praying with groaning too deep for words. I think I understand some of that now.
Glue and Effects
Assuming that the assessment is in any respect true, the answer is quite simple. I cheat. I walk into every test with the answers written on my mind by the Holy Spirit.
Even giving that oblique reference makes me nervous. I think of cults, suicide pacts, congregations erupting into flame, people doing their best to hew to someone else's crazy line. What is left of me if God is that deeply involved? Why should I care about life? I've always been defined by my separation: I walk my own path. Right or wrong, I prefer making my own mistakes. This isn't so much an issue of pride as of necessity: there's so much bullshit out there, advice, catchphrases, endlessly repeated mind-memes and principles, that no one ever questions them. I guess there's even a chance they work for some. They don't work for me.
The truth is that if God weren't holding me right now, this second and all the succeeding seconds, I would myself erupt into flames of civil war. There are factions within me determined never to knuckle under to anyone and they will sink the ship rather than give up an inch or a compartment. I'm serious. I've lived with this for most of my adult life and have had to walk a very narrow path between the factions. Emotions, intellect, ideas, stability, reliability, principles, acceptance, invisibility waiting like a bunch of hair-trigger aunts and uncles to start a war if I stray too far into someone else's territory.
It is, I believe, about survival. Better to be a fragmented approximation of myself than to be wholly under some one idea's sway. Thinking for myself seems to require the multiple viewpoints, and so long as no one gains the upper hand there's some kind of balance. The problem has been the sacrifices required to maintain the balance. I live a lowest common denominator kind of life because I know that the displays of passion needed to push a course up the hills to accomplishment excite the parts of me that depend upon invisibility, and war breaks out. Don't even try it, because sooner or later the explosion will come and I'll be not only unable to complete what I started (as has been proven three times with colleges) but I'll get knocked back to someplace lower than the starting point was.
Now, none of this is really a problem. I live a decent life. The small gaps between territories do allow for some maneuvering. Sand sculpture occupies one such interstice, and is also aided by the impermanence. Sand sculpture leaves no tracks except for a few pictures, and anyone who has seen both the real sculpture and the images knows that the image is just a small clue. My secrets are safe hidden in plain sight, wrapped in sand. I have learned how to live this way. I am competent.
Life seems to want more than competence. There is within me a badly battered and yet still intact impulse toward... something. It wouldn't let me give up. It gave me nothing to really look forward to, either.
What does a fractured desert know of growing wholeness? What does a long-dry land feel as new plants start to grow through the hardened clay? I've learned how to live there; all of my skills are built in this assumption of minimum standards and any change, any crack, seems to announce impending failure.
So sanguine was I when I set out on this journey with God four years ago. I expected nothing but also had nothing to lose; if God turned out to be just another phantom solution, well, I'd bridged a few more months and maybe some other answer would come along just in time to pluck me up from the brink.
From what I've seen of religion, the good things that happen are attributable to God. The bad things are my fault, and it's up to me to keep God from becoming upset. This is why I have little to do with religion, the collection of code and tradition and principle that is wrapped around God, perhaps with the express intent of insulating everyone from His touch. Now that I've experienced His touch I understand the impulse. After I started feeling this touch I did what I always do: run. If God weren't real I'd still be running or I'd be dead. If God were the touchy, easily upset Tetchy Grandfather in the Sky that seems to be the Standard Model, I'd have been abandoned along the path years ago, left in the ditch with the other failures.
What does God want of me? He speaks to me every day, and holds me together. That seems to be enough for now. It's exhausting, living in an arrested war zone. Through trust, however, I'm learning to live with this.
What do I want of life? I still don't know. Beyond the miracle of still being here is another miracle for which still being here is a necessary precondition. This is the miracle of trusting God to teach me what I want. Wanting is, for me, a real problem because I know that as soon as I express a wish for something I will be ridiculed and effort will be put into keeping me away from it. I have to sneak up on things. I learned to live on the overlooked crumbs falling from the table. Wanting isn't safe at all, so God has to teach me how. That starts with the trust: Trusting God to keep the civil war damped so that the longer thoughts necessary to figuring things out can take place.
I discuss things with God. I cheat. He holds me and we uncover truth together. I'm still here.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Lying to Obey
Satan said "Go ahead and eat. You will not surely die."
They ate. They died... and they didn't die. Satan tells the part of truth that results in the actions he wants. God tells the truth, period, and lets us make the choice. Learning truth is predicated on asking questions.
The truth is that we can live without God. I can live without him. Life would certainly be simpler. The physical process go on and the years pass.
What is life? Physical continuity? Lots of people deny God's existence and prosper. Lots of people try to live within God's direction and have a hard time. What is this about?
There are people who can accept God's rules and live within them. Simple obedience. There are others, such as myself, who question everything. Having been raised without trust it's hard for me to trust anyone, especially God because he is often portrayed as vindictive, absent-minded, uncaring at best. "Don't draw his attention or you'll regret it."
Those who obey easily are unlikely to understand people like me, for whom obedience isn't even a second language. I've been lied to too many times, manipulated in the name of acceptance or encouragement or pure selfishness. How do I know God is different?
Jesus talks of leavening, that invisible stuff that gives bread its bubbly lightness. You don't see it nor taste it, but you know if it doesn't work. I've baked a few bricks. If someone had asked me for bread I'd have handed them a stone, honestly. With the aid of a microscope we can find out what leavening is but it's still something of an act of faith: put the dough into the warm place and wait an hour. Come back and it is much bigger. Amazing. It has its own way, too. Things must be in balance: temperature, sugar, spices. You get a feel for it.
The Way of Obedience and the Way of Questioning seem to lead to the same place. Ultimately we're all God's creatures. Why do I bother? Questions are hard and living with the answers even harder. Which hurts more? Living with God or living without him? Different classes of pain. Living with God is confusing and intense, always running into sharp angles. Living without him is more a pain of absence, a tire without air, bread without yeast. The object is still there but something hard to describe is missing. Ultimately I end up obeying.
I'd hope that I've learned something in the process. I'd hope not to need that lesson again. Move on to something new. But the something new is just a step to the next, painful, something new. I see people running on treadmills in gyms and think hamster. Is there really such a thing as progress? It all looks like an endless climb to me, sharp stones and steep grades.
How does one live as a long-term Christian? Current systems don't seem to work very well. Churches, emergent or otherwise, seem to follow the lowest-common-denominator route rather than encouraging individuals to make choices. Following Jesus is hard enough and organizations make it harder by adding their own rules and principles to the process. It'd be like asking a hamster to make sand sculpture with leaden boots on his feet.
Oh, I understand the impulse. I feel it too: make Christianity comprehensible. I'm not sure it can be done. Books, preachers, 10-step plans, seminars, intellect. Perhaps these can be a stepping stone or two along the way but the truth of life and death is, I think, something that takes personal quirks and effort to, dare I say it, feel your way through?
That day in the Garden of Eden the intellect and body went on. The heart and soul died and we barely feel their lack. God tries to bring them back to life and I cower away in fear. Unknown, out there, and why bother? I've lived without them. Lived? I'm not sure.
We're like plants living inside a dark box: yes, there's growth but it's pallid and short. God reaches in to take me, as gently as he can, out of the box and I wail. I may make this harder than it need be. Always expecting the worst I just hope the whole thing will blow over, disappear like a bad dream. Jesus promised, however: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." My belief in that is in inverse proportion to how exposed I feel.
Perhaps it's a good thing that so few other people seem to understand any of this. We'd get together, make a Church of the Holy Question, codify things and then die. The corpse would keep walking through the centuries, dragging more people away from God.
To be known by God is to be surprised. He knows us well.