Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.
In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.
That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.
That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.
When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.
That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.
When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.
When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.
When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.
As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.
And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.
~ John O’Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)
It never ceases to amaze me how little time I spend doing nothing.
In the past week I’ve had off from school, I’ve taken two road trips and a flight between North Carolina, Ohio, and Maryland, shopped in more than three outlet stores (a record for the past few years), sorted out my emails, started three books, slept in four different beds in a course of four nights, Skyped friends, and enjoyed many long, wonderful meals. I’ve been blessed by hours of conversation with newly forming and strengthening friends and family connections. In essence, it has been a week of working to both catch up and slow down, while processing all that has occurred in recent weeks and months.
This semester, I focused on observing and saying “hello” to my shadow, the hidden aspects of my being; first and foremost being my love for egoistic preoccupation. One gem that dwells within layers of my personality is an ability to plan three – and three thousand more – steps ahead. (If only I could tell you the amount of times I have reviewed a packing list for a trip that is coming in three months – or the amount of hours spent ruminating over my first day of work tomorrow.) I focus on my actions in the future until there is no room for others to enter. In other words, I tend to lean forward when I sit to meditate, pushing my body into an imaginary space of yet-to-come. I realize that we live in a world addicted to occupation, and that living in the present is a revolutionary, if not just rebellious, task.
I have accepted that my presence has been out of place for many years now, too far propelled into an illusion of the future, so that I am now seeking my re-center of gravity. This semester, I faced upsurges of emotion that challenged me to act spontaneously; I had to abandon my plans and react, or better, respond from my core. For instance, I grappled with being a nomad between religious communities, felt (and fell) more strongly in love than previously before in my short lifetime, lost motivation toward school work, spent twenty four hours alone in the wilderness, performed poems about death and recovery from mental illness, struggled through heartbreaking conflict with family, presented theories on the meaning of religion, and said goodbye to too many friends for the next nine months to come. It was a pretty rocky and transformational few months that, at times, presented me with three thousand thoughts and emotions at once (and no plan to escape them).
I found myself, through the whirlwind of change and tension, in a constant struggle to remain present. My five minutes of silence each day saved me. I came to learn that I could listen not only to my head and my emotions, but a deeper wisdom that surfaced from a realm beyond audible language. I listened to it speak through terrifying dreams, cathartic tear drops, glances in the mirror, friends’ eyes that disclosed hidden meanings in Bible verses. This wisdom does not fully reveal Truth in the visible realm; for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Yet the Spirit of Wisdom held together contradictions among many layers of truth in a way that I could feel hold me together. This experience of the Spirit melded shadow and light as one entity to form a more whole and all-embracing reality. This reality broke me open until I no longer could plan or form rules; I had to stand naked and defenseless, challenged to awaken through the pain and beauty of a single moment.
Being present, especially through pain, was a definite risk. Going to my affinity for maps and lists, I also learned this semester that I am challenged in the area of sitting with uncertainty. I may seem spontaneous at times, but inside I am constantly calculating the chances that I’ll be caught or scolded or punished (often by my own mind) for veering off track; for instance, I have the hardest time investing money in new purchases if there’s the smallest chance I could find a sale price better elsewhere. I re-read and edit messages to acquaintances like I’m publishing my first novel. It’s pretty silly what I worry about, but I know that my hesitation extends from a core fear of unworthiness. Will I still be loved if I fail to meet my own standards? Will my life remain in-tact if my security is no longer based on doing what I deem to be right?
When I caught myself in times of catastrophic thinking this semester, I learned to sit with all the irrationality. I breathed with the anxious child and told her she no longer needed to hold her breath in fear of being caught; it would be okay if she lost playing hide-and-seek. I learned to get a little less sleep and be at peace with the fuzziness in thoughts that resulted. I ate chocolate just because I wanted it. I failed to plan what dress I would wear to formal until ten minutes before we left (thank God for my friend Haley’s closet and calm-mindedness as I struggled). I stayed up too late writing papers and enjoyed it. I went on retreat when I had hours of more packing and errands to accomplish. Looking back, I see that each risk became an invitation for God’s transforming love to enter and delight me in my mistakes. It was tremendously humbling to witness how each time I ran late, answered a question incorrectly, or miscalculated my steps, I ended up stumbling upon exactly what I had been looking for: grace.
Grace, like a perfectly paced stream that carries us through our brokenness, also fills us with a desire to drink in all wholeness. Grace says: I love you, and I always will, no matter what – so why keep focusing on all that you try to do in the false pretense of solitude? Grace makes us want to be yes-sayers to God within an active call-and-response dialogue. This spontaneous, relational power moves slowly, and overcomes our selfish fears and anxieties by showing us never-ending mercy. As what Richard Rohr describes as a synonym for God, Grace is a gift that opens our eyes to find meaning hidden within trivial and trying moments. It opens our mouths to taste the fullness of reality in a single, nourishing bite. Grace works to mold together the fabric of our shadows and our gifts into one miraculous image of an abundant life, one that is formed in the image of Christ. Through grace, our lives become tapestries of blood stains, heart-straining conversations, and colorful strands of wonder-evoking sunsets, all forming an image that is perfected through God’s crafts[wo]manship.
This theme of grace carries me to where I am today: in the beautiful home of a family that has blessed me with a safe and nurturing environment in which to grow this summer. After a long and challenging semester, I am deeply grateful to be growing roots in a new setting and throwing myself into a summer of service. Tomorrow, four friends and I will embark with the guidance of our mentors and host families to wrestle with challenges of urban poverty and faith through the Stapleton-Davidson internship. I will be serving as an intern at Moore Place in Charlotte, a housing-first project that serves the needs of over eighty homeless and disabled adults. I hope to practice being present, particularly when days of chaos strip away my ability to predict the future. I hope to listen more deeply and attentively in order to witness God’s hands at work forming the Kingdom in our midst. I also hope to take risks in opening to vulnerable relationships, and to risk being humbled by my own ignorance. Mostly, I want to continue saying “hello” to the familiar faces of my shadows, while growing to say “yes” to sustaining power of grace.
May God continually open you to re-imagine your life as a miraculous tapestry, woven of risk, presence, and imperfection. Blessed be the words found within you.