We define ourselves by running into things.
We begin our lives by feeling hunger. Then discomfort. Then the shock of separation.
It’s all new. And very quickly, it becomes who I am.
There is a cat in the house at this time – not mine, none of them are mine, but they are here nevertheless – who must have been sadly treated before he was adopted. It has taken quite a bit of time, but he has discovered that he can actually communicate with me.
So he has begun a routine: he jumps out of the open window and walks quickly to the door, scratches on it, and waits excitedly for me to come and open it, give him a great, big, friendly welcome, and pet him a bunch. And then he does it all over again.
We shape our thinking by smashing into facts and beliefs that leave their imprint on our minds. I believe we spend our twenties picking out thoughts we find in our own heads that we discover really belong to our mother. Or our father. Or the priest who was getting old and muttered impatient insults under his breath. Or the junior-high teacher that wrongly thought we would never understand math.
Almost everything we are comes from reacting to someone or something else.
It’s why contemplation is such a significant factor in our lives. It’s the breath of nothing. The complete letting go of all that we hold onto so tightly.
It’s the moving into the realm of possibilities. Without anyone else watching or having the ability to comment on such a move.
Our difficulty in finding God in our lives comes from this difference between the seen world and the unseen world: we keep expecting something tangible to run into, to slap us across the face, to mold us.
But that is not how the unseen world works.
Instead of walking on land, feeling the bite of the rocks and the grit of the sand beneath our feet, dragging our hand across the bark as we round the tree, kicking up the water in the puddle before us, maneuvering in the unseen world is more like being in the ocean. The currents are there, to be sure, and we can even learn to find our way just on feeling the subtle differences in the water temperature.
But it’s our responsibility to get about. It’s no longer a process of starting and stopping all the time. Responding to the activity that surrounds us. Even when we are alone.
For some odd reason, recently I’ve been treated to hearing (or reading) the following knot in life: I’ve been going three steps forward, and two steps back.
Or the even darker: I’ve been going two steps forward, and three steps back.
And I see the conflict in our understanding of God in just those lines.
In a dance, we may move forward and back. Our partner may spin us around; or, if we are the lead, then we can do the directing.
In an exercise class, we may step here and there, march up and back, step to the side, bend over.
But in God, there is only ahead. There is only the path at our feet that leads us forward.
In God, there is no back.
There may be returns, however.
We may return to something that we experienced once before.
Or many times before.
But that’s not a going backwards.
That’s a return.
And we return in order to deepen our understanding of the event. The person. The place.
We are there to pull yet something new off the burgeoning Tree of Knowledge that always has something for us.
Life, whether we like it not, is always a gift.
The challenge with working with prayer is to come to an understanding of this edgeless reality. That answers to prayers can slip in beside you silently and sit there until you get around to noticing it there. And knowing how to work with it.
We want to apply our living standards to God. We want to apply value judgments and critique the outcome of everything.
This isn’t what I prayed for, must be the most common prayer that God hears.
And yet, in God, it is all a gift.
A gift for which we are responsible. To unwrap. To understand. To utilize. To be grateful for.
To manipulate ourselves around in the unseen world, we must hone our ability to pay attention. To every little thing in our lives. Even to those things that we are accustomed to sweeping out the door.
In God, it is all a gift.
It is all our reality.
Our real reality.
Attentiveness isn’t just a spiritual practice that sounds cool when we read about it.
It’s the assumption of the role that angels have in the universe.
It’s the taking on the divine responsibilities that came with us as we entered our bodies.
If we know that we are always facing God, that God is always there before us, no matter what, would we learn to step more gently in our lives? To progress in a less jarring manner and allow our worst nightmares to become our inspirations?
With practice, perhaps.
With hope, perhaps.
With faith, most definitely.