The urge for life and the urge for death battle like embittered divorcees within me, divide my garments and vie for my unvarnished attention. The desire to zone out and numb myself of the pain of estrangement wrestles listlessly with the desire to focus in and reach the center of that pain. Some whittled intuition tells me I will find healing there, at the core of my suffering, that I can live fully only when I fully admit the part in me that does not want to live at all, and do not reject it.
I am powerless to live truly on my own, for I am a divided being, too confused, conflicted, and off kilter to do the will of God. The best thing I can do is pray to God to grant me clarity, to give me the readiness to do His will, the patience to hear his voice, which speaks in Silence to my heart’s stillness, resting undisturbed beneath the turmoil that disturbs it constantly on the surface. Deeper than my divisions, perfect unity rests at peace, but I cannot get to that resting place by following my own will, and so the violently willful part of my self longs to be nil, as a false imitation of the true resting place, which resides in the depths of my heart.
But much resides in the heart, and most of it does not encourage rest. My heart appears to lack the steadfast courage needed to seek peace and fulfillment within itself. It cannot find rest from the craving to be filled from the outside: by a drink, by a lover, by the sweat of the body as it moves. My heart seeks an outside God that will do all the work for it, but it does not let God in to do His work. It works itself up to a fever pitch until it cries out for it knows not what, twists itself into knots until the knots are all it knows. Who is it crying out for? I don’t think it is for God. No, it is attached to the very act of crying out. It is as if its distress keeps it in contact with itself, as if it is only through disorientation that it feels oriented rightly. Even-keeled serenity is too unfamiliar, alien terrain, too close to God for comfort. It is more comfortable for my heart to live on the rocky slopes of despair, painfully connected only to its own disconnection from its deeper and truer self, from others, and from God.
Every time I surrender to the part of my heart that cannot love anything but itself, that takes a sick pleasure even in its own self-loathing, I take a step backward and down, off the face of the solid sunlit granite and closer to the shadowy sandstone cliff that falls away into the abyss. I take a step in the direction of living death. This was the surrender I chose each time I picked up a drink. It is the surrender that will eventually bring me to my knees again and again, but it is not the surrender in which I come to believe that there is a power that can raise me up again, restore me to the sanity of walking forward on two legs, trusting that the ground will keep me steady. Surrendering to my small self strengthens my pride and locks me deeper in the cage of my crawling ego, allowing no room for freedom to spread its wings, no fertile ground for humility to take root.
Though I am unfree in a thousand ways, through practice and awareness I can become free not to surrender to the parts in me that want to keep me in bondage in the dungeons of my psyche, away from the sunlight of the spirit, far from its gentle breeze. I can choose to surrender my divisions each morning by kneeling in a posture of humility to the Great Uniter, with whom I was born to be in union.
It is hard that the experience of how pure and wonderful life can be, how liberated the soul can and was born to be, is so fleeting. My typical spiritual condition does not resemble a waterfall, overflowing with wonder and liberation. My inner life more often feels like a desert. I identify readily with words like desiccated, thirsty, desolate, barren, forsaken. I could travel all my life there, all the while thinking myself abandoned, and not find water, deaf to its quickening trickle, blind to its eternal presence beneath the desert floor. I need help to find water; I cannot find it on my own. Part of me does not even want to find it, for what if I find it, and drink of it, and still am not changed? What would that mean about me? That perhaps, after all, I was not born to drink the water from the source, and live? That there is no hope of my being resurrected, that healing and union will never occur, so I might as well call it quits? That God, or the nameless source of the pure water, will judge me as somehow unacceptable for baptism, not worthy to drink, a wedding crasher, a trespasser at the feast?
Fueled by these fears—of rejection, of unworthiness, of being deemed ultimately unlovable—I do not seek the truth with all my soul and all my might. I do not put all my chips on the table. I hold a few back, as if there will be a better opportunity in the future, and I will go all in only when I am sure to win the hand. But the hand is not mine to win, because the only true winners are those who are entirely ready and willing to lose everything, to have nothing and be no one, so, not yet someone and not quite no one, yearning partly to be someone and partly to be no one, I loiter at the gates of nowhere, wander for years in the deserts of somewhere, dying of the thirst to live and dreaming of a river that will take me painlessly to the sea.
Take me, river. I am yours. I have always been yours. I am not mine. There is nothing here I can call my own. All of it was given me. I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word.
Whose soul shall be healed? My soul is not mine either. There is nothing here. Lord, give me all of this nothing. There is so much here. There is nothing missing. I am missing everything. I am missing the point. What is the word?
The point kissed me on the lips, and I called it an invasion of privacy. I filed it away in the cabinet of experience that didn’t make sense, that didn’t confirm my prior beliefs. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life.
I do not believe. Help my unbelief. Breathe into me and through me, restore me to sanity. There is no sense in keeping these masks; they mask the glory of God. I mask the glory when I ask that the glory be mine. Not grace, not life given, but earned salvation. I cannot receive the gift. It is too much. How can a man bear it? How does a man learn to bear the beams of love?
He starts by doing the next right thing. He starts by starting out the day in silence, listening to the birds, the wind, his heart. He starts by asking his heart, ‘What song will you sing this morning?’ Is it a song of praise, or one of sorrow? There is always a song to sing. A song of sorrow is just another kind of praise. The heart is sorrowful because it knows how much it longs to give praise, and yet it cannot. It cannot raise itself from the swamp, move itself from the dark cave out into the light.
I do not know how to thaw these chronic thoughts in the warm sun of a new perspective. It is almost the end of winter, but I cannot sense the coming spring. Where does stillness stop, and paralysis begin? I don’t want this still ice pond of winter; I want the rushing snowmelt of spring. I want to run until I drop, until I fall flat on my face and like a snake shed all these outworn skins. What is the next right thing? Far beneath this cold skin lies a heart hot with unspoken desire, but I do not have the strength to dig beneath these pounds of ash to uncover the burning coals, and breathe them into flame.
Where will I find the strength? Who will hold me as I shiver, afraid to submerge my naked body into the icy river? I want to give myself without reservation, but I reserve the right to conclude I have nothing to give. When I finally admit I have no high aspirations to live for, only then will I begin to live from deep within. I live under the sin of dragging feet, struggle daily with the dragons of monumental reluctance, curdled longing, and sagging eyelids that keep the lid on medicinal laughter and laugh cruelly at all my efforts to be free.
Lord, have pity on me. Give me the strength to at least not waste precious hours pitying myself. The days repeat themselves ad infinitum, ad nauseum. But no, the days are not the same. Now it is sunny; tomorrow it will be cloudy. Yesterday it snowed, and today it will not. Each day is different, but I remain the same. I repeat myself ad nauseum, and wonder why I feel like a museum piece. Cease and desist, rinse and repeat. Let me not police my every thought and action, as if it is only through armed vigilance that I will feel safe at long last to be myself.
Secret surveyor, let me alone. It is not your place to keep me tied to this tired play, playing forever the tired and defeated, the mired and caged. I am not a slave to your savage demands. I can stand here without your crushing, kill-joyed, life-span-shortening support. Is that cool, sport? The hearse waits for no one and does not care how far you still had to go. I still have to be here. Correction: get to be here. It’s time I get going.
5 thoughts on “Divisions and Unity; False Resting Place and True Resting Place; Inner Life as a Desert; What is the Word?; The Next Right Thing; The Sin of Dragging Feet; Secret Surveyor”
Gut-wrenchingly honest conversation with yourself about God, and with God about yourself….about falling, about surrendering, about the birth pangs when God is creating something new . Thank you for inviting us in to that intimate relationship between you and God, for giving us a glimpse of what dying to oneself and the painful process of transformation feels like for you. Reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward I know you are not alone .
“We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For another union, a deeper communion.”
I associate myself with Liz’s comments. You so clearly and honestly communicate your journey of faith, doubt, and recovery, weaving in the professions of faith, which is quite moving, and you communicate what others feel but do not have the gift to express it so clearly. Thank you for this post.
Wow, Brian, this is so intense and moving. Thanks for sharing it.
Brian – I admire your honesty and your gift of words. And I feel good about what the future holds for you. 😘