June 13, 2012

Help Thou My Lack of Trust

I felt agitated in our silent Meeting for Worship this morning. My mind kept going to the ways in which I am not satisfied in my life, the mistakes I have made, and the anxiety I can feel about “getting it right.” As I sat with the agitation – I have learned that it is not helpful to try to tame it or replace it with more comfortable feelings, like peacefulness or calm – I became aware of the presence of Jesus.

This doesn’t happen to me often. Although I like Jesus a lot, and feel that he is definitely my Friend, it has been quite some time since he stepped into the picture without being asked. But there he was, standing before me in Spirit, inviting my spirit to lean on him.

As Jesus is standing there before me, I inwardly hear the words of an ancient hymn that is in our Quaker hymnal, Worship in Song, though I’ve never heard anyone sing this hymn in a Meeting for Worship or a choral event. It is set to a familiar tune by Thomas Tallis, circa 1567:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, worn and sad;
La-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la,
And he has made me glad.
I cannot remember the second-to-last line! The verse is going through my head, over and over again, with a missing la-la-la line, one that I know is critical to the meaning of the song. I work with it, trying to remember. I sing the song inwardly several times, hoping that my associative memory will click in and supply the missing words. No luck. I think of walking over to the stack of hymnals and bringing one back to my chair. I will have to cross the entire width of the meeting room, however, which could be somewhat disturbing to the other worshippers. Our worship dog, Dalva, is able to be still and silent during worship, even during ministry. But if I were to rise and walk across the meeting room, I think, she might think it is the end of worship and bound toward me for her after-worship hug. And that would disturb the other Friends present even more. I think of all sorts of excuses to not get the hymnal. I stay in my seat.

When I come home, I look up the hymn. The missing line is “I found in him a resting place.” It is one that I have rememorized countless times, but always, if I haven’t thought of or sung the song in awhile, I forget that particular line. Memory is a chronic issue for me. But even so, I can remember the rest of the verse. Why does this particular line continue to elude me?
I think it is because that line, of all the lines in the verse, evokes for me the inward experience of actually consenting to rest in Jesus. The rest of the verse is either an invitation from him or the happy outcome at the end of the story. But the actual, uncomfortable, inward act of making myself vulnerable, of laying my head down, of consenting to rest in Jesus – that is the sticking point for this stiff-necked, independent, “don’t tell me what to do,” theologically multilingual Friend.

Today Jesus came to me. Today he invited me to rest in him. Nothing more. He didn’t demand that I give up my connection to Mother Earth. He didn’t ask that I believe that he, and only he, is the Son of God. He didn’t require that I believe every word of the New International Version of the Bible. He didn’t require that I treat my inward experiences of Spirit and spirits with suspicion.
He simply invited me to rest. Period. And he used my poor memory to help me remember that it is only my consent that is needed to experience the happy outcome of resting in him. Jesus is pretty brilliant.

At this moment I cannot, with a whole heart, consent to his invitation to rest in him. But I can say that I am willing to be willing. I can say that I want to be able to lean into him in this way. Like the father of the epileptic boy in the Gospel of Mark, I pray, “Help thou my lack of trust.”

June 5, 2012

Postcard from the Lip of the Void

It has been awhile since I blogged. I said in the beginning that I would blog as led - and guess what? No leading until now! So here is a new piece. Please let me know if and how it speaks to you.

I had just finished facilitating a retreat. I was tired but satisfied that I had been faithful to the leadings I had received as I prepared and met with these gentle Friends. But I also experienced a sense of disquiet. As time passed, I began to second-guess the work, and was beginning to engage in some negative self-talk: “I should have listened more deeply.” “Was I really being faithful, or just following my own egoic ideas about how things should go?” “I didn’t communicate well enough.” I was really doing a number on myself!
I went to bed acknowledging my limitation and anxiety, having come to an understanding of their origins. But I slept fitfully, struggling into the wee hours to remain groggily asleep. Then suddenly, about 4 am, I just woke up, very clear and calm, and perfectly alert. I felt as though I had been swimming under water, and had finally surfaced to get a good, long breath.

I rose for a bit, then got back into the bed with my husband.  Suddenly, still awake, I felt an infilling of energy and received a vivid visitation. Language cannot describe the impossibilities that I perceived in that bubble of timelessness. It was as if all of Life simultaneously appeared in a rush to my inward sight. The past, present, and future all existed simultaneously.
Babies were both being born and dying as the old people they had become, peacemakers were cheering in city squares while also driving the tanks that rumbled into empty, shuttered streets. I saw the kind, loving, deep pools that were the eyes of Mother God as she held me closely to her breast, while I was simultaneously uplifted by the exquisite, cold, and awful Perfection at the center of a mathematical equation. God and Not-God danced together. The seed hull burst, sent out a shoot, pierced the surface of the ground, gave forth fruit and died in exactly the same moment. The face of every animal merged with every other, but never lost their uniqueness. The world burned but was not consumed. The ocean waves leapt and crashed, receded and returned, inhaled and exhaled in the same breath. And in the waves I could see the images of all of the waves that have ever been or ever will be. Time and space stood still together and embraced. I heard, “I Am That I Am,” and knew that this was the true condition of Reality, that it described the actual reality of the world that we live in, and which we persistently misperceive.

My mind labored with the paradoxes, jumping forward into the future and backward into the past. I felt as if I might pop. My whole being felt impossibly stretched by an experience which I could not really experience, but only witness in part. I received the guidance to be content with what I could fathom, because this happening was far bigger than anything my mind and body could contain.
One would think that this would be a terrifying experience, but it was not. I wept with joy, with release. I wept to be shown that Life is far greater than anything we can comprehend, that God is far greater than anything we can understand or hang language upon. I wept knowing that the theists and nontheists are both correct. I wept knowing that love and life, birth and death, past, present and future, the cycles of seasons and paths of the planets, the Big Bang and Intelligent Design are all cut from the same cloth.

It seems impossibly paradoxical. But, standing momentarily on the lip of a great Void that was dark and warm and bright and cold, I knew that my human perception was just too short sighted to see the true condition of Reality. Were I able to rise far enough above that Great Void, and hold its impossible dimensions in my mind, I would see the face of God – and I would know Unity.
I wondered again why it seems that these visitations come in the company of suffering. For me, the willingness to be impeccably authentic seems to help create the conditions that allow God's spirit to break in.  In my case, authenticity usually involves some suffering. I stand in the Light, and see myself as I really am, warts, beauty, and all. So I have renewed my commitment to being as authentic as possible, as I stand before people and God. And I have renewed my commitment to work on behalf of the Unity that includes all diversity, which I name God. I invite you to join me in that commitment, if you have not already done so. And I pray that one day our world shall know the Unity that passeth understanding.