Like today where I live, it was a time that wrapped itself close in darkness; night falling in the afternoon, morning blinking itself awake.
And so, for me, it was a time of wrapping myself in the darkness of the nave, letting the music fill me, the words caress me.
It was a year, however, that had given me a significant study: a study of evil that I could almost touch. I could sense it, surely, but I had never encountered a force of evil that dominated an entire space. It, too, liked being wrapped in the darkness of a church. Safe and warm. Hidden.
I had to define it. I had to track it. I had to find it.
And I did.
All this meant to me was that I was in flight, in that realm that lies between Earth and God, where my feet walked on sidewalks while my imagination defined My Reality. It meant nothing to anyone else. I still drove to work every morning, cooked dinner every night, helped a child wrestle with a homework assignment.
Swept the floor.
And went to church.
Flights are very, very hard on the body. For one thing, they take up my nights, so my days are malnourished yet still crammed with both life and God’s life living in me. Two worlds, demanding of me at the same time.
But there is only one time.
Only one time to do both things.
And I was on a cusp. I was finally willing to “give away” what I had learned in my “first level of learning,” so that I could enter my “second level of learning.” Of course, I had no idea what this really meant. I knew what I had learned. I understood the concept of “giving it away.” But this whole second level. What did it mean? What was the big deal? Why was there an entrance fee?
And how, exactly, was I supposed to put what I learned into “English” and sculpt the resulting words into something that could be communicated to someone else?
I have spent my life shrouded in invisibility. Mostly, just by blending into the background behind me. Sometimes, in reality, actually becoming unseen by the person standing right in front of me, when a slight motion on my part brings me into visibility and startles them violently. Realizing that I had been there, looking at them, all along. And they hadn’t perceived me.
There are even times when, hidden up underneath my hood, someone cranes around and looks up into my face. And screams.
I don’t know what they see, exactly. But the screams all sound the same to me.
No, boo! here.
And a taking off of the hood. And more startled stares.
Just the face of a woman, after all.
It was that time of year.
I was, in my terms, up to no good.
I was on the hunt.
It never, ever occurred to me, in my whole life, that I, too, could be become the object of someone else’s hunt.
I wasn’t being hunted for my evil.
But for my wonder. My glory.
Someone had heard tales about me.
I could see it in his face over the years. The double-takes when he saw me. The wide eyes. The increased excitement.
Sometimes, I even knew the time and the place that information was being transferred. Acquired. Amassed.
Seeing him talking, whispering, with someone from my past.
The arched eyebrows.
The quick turn of the backs towards me.
For a long time, this growing awareness in me of his growing awareness of me amused me.
It did, in the long run, mean nothing to me.
Until it did.
Until I became an exhibit in his cage.
And the stories about me spread about the church. A congregation does so much with words. Not like a small town, where an open reaction might flare up at any time.
No, in a church community reverence is paramount. Or the appearance of it is, anyway.
There was a time, years before this, when I was doing a lot of praying and studying at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Back before the days of it serving as a yoga studio and a mosque.
And as I would walk towards the front doors from the choir, people, scattered about in the rows of chairs and in the aisles, would fall to their knees as I walked past them. I had never spoken to them. I had no idea what was going on in their heads.
It was at this time, in this place, that the Dalai Lama, in the middle of a lecture to a packed house, stopped speaking, and started looking about the nave. He finally found what he was searching for – Me – leaning against a pillar (there were no chairs available), in one of the wings. He looked long at me, took a deep breath, and turned back around to finish his talk.
But the difference between That Time and the one I’m describing here was that I could walk out of the cathedral, into the fresh air. I could walk out of the rarified experiences of being seen and into a world where no one saw me. I could go from being Somebody to reveling in the glory and wonder of being nobody.
But this Advent, this year, the one I am writing about, I was trapped.
I was on assignment. I couldn’t turn my back on it and walk out. And I was massively confused: I didn’t know what “the second level of learning” was. Was this it?
All I knew was that I had to go forward. Finish the assignment. It was always what got me through these flights: the idea of the end. Landing.
And so there I was.
Being gawked at. Talked about in tones too low for me to hear. People arranging themselves to accommodate me.
And all this in my own church. A place I considered more my home than anywhere else on Earth.
But the shape of the home was rearranging itself around me. As I watched.
I went from being a person that no one noticed, really, to the Main Exhibit.
The biggest problem was that as they looked at Me and thought they knew what they saw, the sum total of their real knowledge of Who I Am was an absolute zero.
They had absolutely no idea of what they were looking at.
I was the first elephant ever to be captured and dragged back into “civilization” only to have every assumption made about me be totally wrong.
But how does an elephant explain itself?
Having a spotlight glaring down on me after a life of living in the shadows was more than uncomfortable. It was intimidating.
And as no one ever really talked to me about “it,” there was no relief.
Just Mass after Mass, anthem after hymn, prayer after prayer. Steps on my path.
I tried to shut “them” out and focus on my assignment.
And it was, in addition to everything else, the time when the “big” assignment was given to me. The one that had lurked in the shadows of my consciousness for years and years, parts of its dimension being revealed to me here and there. Bit by bit.
An assignment that I did (and still do) take very, very seriously.
So I was there. My work in front of me.
The dynamics of my relationship with God being picked through and held up for scrutiny by people who thought they Just Knew what they were doing.
But didn’t have a clue.
The cruelest aspect of it all was that my captor, the one who had created this environment around me, didn’t like what he saw.
I wasn’t performing to his ideals. His dreams.
He must have seen himself as the ring master, the one who, in the end, will be the one in the spotlight, getting all the applause.
This is all mine! he must have been thinking.
Except who he had captured was Me.
He wanted me, in truth, to belong to him.
But I belonged to God.
I kept thinking that he wanted me to be the genie from the magic lamp. He could rub, and he could wish, and I would make his dreams come true in a poof.
Except there was no poof.
Such a disappointment. That turned into real anger.
He discovered, much to his chagrin, that he couldn’t control me.
He couldn’t dictate to me.
And, worst of all, he couldn’t out-think me.
He tried, I’ll give him that.
But one mighty fine advantage of being me is that I can get knowledge ahead of time. I can “know” things. My father had that ability. My grandmother (on my mother’s side) had that ability. So I got it from both sides of the family.
And I could see him coming.
Every single time.
And rearrange myself in a manner that was sure to disappoint.
So there was, in the end, no turning of water into wine.
No healing of a crowd of lepers.
No procession of a long line of saints and angels to join the chorus in songs of worship.
No. There was just me.
On my knees.
Until the line that I had drawn around me was transgressed.
And I committed an act.
Not an act that will ever be written about and studied, like Jesus walking on water.
Not an act that will be remembered for its glory. Or its wonder.
Instead, my act was one of defiance.
Of a raised fist.
But I am good at what I do.
It was the act that freed me.
That allowed me to walk in the world again as I am.
Thanks be to God.