Archive for mystery

Groping Around in the Dark

Posted in Encouragement, true self with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2019 by thecrossingchicago

In a world where being sure about everything is the way of life, embracing mystery can be incredibly difficult.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are many aspects of our life to be gleaned in those dark places, so we shouldn’t forsake them.

It’s easy to feel that life would be so much easier if we could just know everything clearly and be able to define every occurrence accurately without having to take time for interpretation.  If we could know ourselves without all of the soul-searching and contemplation, wouldn’t life be so much better?  I don’t think so.
Those walks in the dark where the ambiguity is the rule and not the exception, are transformative.  Barbara Brown Taylor said that “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.”  Groping our way around in the darkness teaches us things about the world and ourselves that seeing them in the light never could.
During Lent, we learn to embrace the darkness so that we can appreciate the light.  That faint glimmer of sunshine that pierces through the gap between the stone and the cave wall is not a reassurance that we will be saved from the darkness, but rather a reminder that the darkness is good, too.  Light and dark need each other to exist.
When Thomas Merton was starting his writing career and making his early attempts at being a novelist, some of the beauty that would emerge from embracing the spiritual writing that he was best at shone through.  In this excerpt, Merton is having a conversation with a couple of Gestapo officers in London through the window of a bombed out house as he writes.  They ask him why he writes and he replies that it is so he can learn about the world and himself.  The officers then inquire as to whether it would just be faster to see things clearly from the beginning and that writing to figure things out would lead to many volumes of wasted paper and meaningless books.  Merton’s reply was:
No doubt.  But if I if it were all clear at once, I would not really understand it,
either.  Some things are too clear to be understood, and what you think 
is your understanding of them is only a kind of charm, a kind of incantation in your mind concerning that thing.  This is not understanding: it is something you remember.  So much for definitions!  We always have to go back and start from the beginning and make over all the definitions for ourselves again.
 
Even the things that can be seen clearly in the light aren’t always what they seem to be: scripture, the actions of another, our own lives, even.  It’s in the overcoming of the discomfort and the dis-ease of our own being that we finally start to reach out in the dark without fearing the monster that may lie waiting beyond our fingertips.  It’s in those moments when we really get to know the world as it really is.

Another Tale of Adam and Eve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 29, 2017 by thecrossingchicago
I once read an intriguing book by Patti Smith called M Train.  It is a wonderful memoir and in some ways, a treatise on life and all of its wonders.  In a chapter called Clock with No Hands, I came across this gem:
In the beginning was real time.  A woman enters a garden that is bursting with color.  She has no memory, only a burgeoning curiosity.  She approaches the man.  He is not curious.  He stands before a tree.  Within the tree is a word that becomes a name.  He receives the name of every living thing.  At one with the present he has neither ambition nor dream.  The woman reaches toward him, gripped by the mystery of sensation.

When I envision this scene, I see Adam and Eve.  Adam is disinterested.  He’s an automaton.  He doesn’t have much wonder or feeling.  He’s just created out of dust and has no capacity to feel.  Eve, on the other hand, was born of humankind.  She came from flesh, not dirt.  She has an innate capacity for curiosity and awareness of mystery.  She ponders, she explores.  In so doing, there are of course risks and the potential for causing or receiving harm is there, but it’s worth it.  Much better than not living.

 
Adam has the names.  He receives them and it gives him some sensation of power and, for him, that is enough.  He doesn’t feel the need to explore – even within his own mind.  He has control – or at least the illusion of it – and holds on to what he “knows,” e.g. the names, for dear life.  He becomes infatuated with the tree and likens it to his life and meaning when it was the names that were important, not the tree. In his unceasing grip on that tree he fails to understand what the names mean and they become for him a mere means to assigning purpose to his life, albeit a false one.

 
Eve has no memory.  Even if she does “remember” things, she chooses to not let them become a hindrance in discovery.  She still wears the scars and the bruises from past mistakes, failures, abuses.  But she moves forward with arms open to embrace life.
 
In essence, Eve has what Thich Naht Hanh calls a “beginners mind.”  She doesn’t come to the dance thinking, “Yeah, I’ve seen this movie before.  I’m not going to get in and get hurt again.”  Instead, she views each experience as a new one.  She doesn’t bring her preconceived notions that will hold her back or lead her to assume she already knows the outcome.

 
This idea of choosing to live with all of its risks reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.  This one is from Teddy Roosevelt:

 
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
 
Indeed life is not easy.  It can be downright dangerous and offending.  It can leave you beat up and broken.  But if you don’t choose to live it and take the risks, then you will never taste the sweetness of victory nor the elation of discovering new worlds.