Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fingerprints of the Divine

These are the things rumbling around in my head right now: Fingerprints of the Divine…Shadowlands…darkness…mystery...numbing of uncertainty...the beauty of “Maybe”...the breathing of a wanderer. They’ve been floating and flitting about for a week or so now and I haven’t been able to capture them all at once and line them up in any sensical pattern. I see glimpses of connection, almost as if someone is trying to get my attention from a block away and then I glance over my shoulder just in time to see them give up their pursuit and walk the other way. I’ve felt I’m “chasing the wind” in trying to connect the pieces; forcing a revelation that seems intent on remaining allusive. 

So I turn to words, to writing, which I’ve learned is such a necessity for my soul these days. I now know I have to write to find my voice. Even if she doesn’t speak with clarity or direction, even if she rambles and makes a thousand turns in one sitting - I need to hear her. I need to write. 

Months ago, this idea first sprung out on the page, birthed in one of my first ever attempts at art journaling, that all my questioning and wandering and refusing to accept the easy answers and struggling and waiting was all a sign of LIFE. Not pretty perhaps, not perfect and certainly not the life I often think I want, but living, breathing, actively engaging LIFE. At the time, I jotted down these thoughts: 

I’m seeing the beauty of “Maybe”. It means there is still hope, the spirit is still willing, the mind is still engaged; it means life and breath and possibilities; it means purpose for today and hope for tomorrow; it means the story’s not over and maybe, just MAYBE, I could still have faith to the full and friends to the full and heart to the full and LIFE to the full…Maybe.

I am open to Maybe’s
Maybe’s with substance
I am open to What if’s 
What if’s with life

What if’s with souls and breath
Maybe’s that have wrestled in the dark  

My soul yearns…
there is LIFE!
Silence & Pain
But still…

This was the first time I’d ever looked my soul’s struggles straight in the eyes and called them beautiful, yes, even blessed. Blessed soul of mine, wandering and wanting and asking and longing, you are alive! The questions are not death. The searching is not death. The wandering and waiting is not death. On the contrary, could it be the very essence of LIFE? And I pondered, How beautiful “Maybe” can be

I found in the weeks to come that these beautiful Maybe’s opened my heart to another new pondering. As I wrestle in the soulful shadowlands - and wrestle with the reality that these shadows have been my home for years now - I started to wonder, “Is the Divine here in the shadows, too?”. The thought was almost startling and yet so serene. I’ve refused for years to accept any form of “Be thankful for your trials”. From where I stand, tragedy is tragedy, pain is pain, and shit is just shit. I still stand there, today, unsure how such excruciating means could ever justify any end. Not that I’ve remotely experienced the depths of human suffering, but I’ve tasted enough to be aware of the abyss that is pain and injustice and I call it what it is. It feels crass and ignorant and utterly unacceptable to put a positive spin on such dark depths. 

But then this thought appeared through paintbrush and watercolors: “Is the Divine here in the shadows, too?” and it didn’t offend me at all. It just gently floated into my lap, almost weightless, like the peaceful decent of the fall leaves outside my window. I jotted these thoughts down then: 

As I read and wrestle and engage my soul, I am finding that so much of this “wandering away” journey has fingerprints of the divine on it. Did I follow a Wild Spirit into this darkness? Did the Divine lead me here? Is the questioning and wrestling and refusing all part of the journey to Love and Life? When I look back and ask myself, “What have you lost, in all the pain and confusion and years of questions, what have you really lost?” And the answer comes rushing clearly to me: Certainty. I’ve lost certainty. I’ve lost the illusion that A + B will always equal C; the promise that my action X will reap God’s action Y; the “comfort” of knowing the truth and being sure I’d planted myself in the right soil. And without much further thought, I repeated to myself, “So, what have you really lost?” 

That certainty, it was an illusion. A need for definite answers that cannot be known; a desire for control and stability and 100% guarantees. My soul longed for rest, and blacks and whites and rules and certainties seemed like a wonderful place to find it. But I never actually found it there; rest always alluded me. What I see, looking back now, are broken scaffolds of a system that had no capacity to deal with the utterly uncontrollable, unexplainable, exasperatingly mysterious and painful realities of life. 

And so, I relinquish you, Certainty. {at least I long to with all my heart} For though you served me well for a season, you were just an illusion. I choose Mystery. I choose ebbs and flows and questions and maybe’s and I wonder, “God, is that You? Is your home here in the Shadowlands, too?”. 


“It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go of our sane self-control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion and letting go is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.”   
~Madeline L’Engle

The paint was barely dry from my “Shadowlands” journal when I started in on a new week of the Brene Brown eCourse I am taking. The theme: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness. One of our assignments was to collage about the things in life that cause us to numb, to run from our emotions or hide from reality. Then we were to identify things we use to numb, and finally, create a collage of things that truly bring us comfort. I really enjoyed the experience of collaging itself and was quickly able to fill a page for all three categories. 

Here’s one thing that emerged: I want to numb, to run and hide (or in my case, busy myself and rush on), when I’m faced with unanswered questions. I squirm at the site of uncertainty. I don’t think I’m alone in this. And historically what have I used to frenzy myself out of facing the uncertainty? Certainty. Rules. Religion. Blacks & Whites & Busyness & Trying Harder. 

I see that certainty and busyness have been my shields of choice against the realities of life. Religion has been my numbing agent. And when the numbing wore off - or rather, when the shield had been pierced by the pains of life a few too many times - my “faith" crumbled. The illusion dissolved in my guilty hands and has been lying there a mess ever since.

I find comfort and community in thoughts like this one from Mandy Steward’s new book, Thrashing About with God,  "The Divine is Mystery and though that is maddening, it’s what keeps our heart alive, our soul breathing.”, and this from Rainer Maria Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

And so I sit, with Divine fingerprints and shadowlands and uncertainty and beautiful Maybe’s all flitting about in my heart and I squirm, still, at the thought of letting them just flit. I nearly writhe at the prospect of never fitting the pieces together or finding all the answers I think I need. I convulse at the sight of an endless road of unanswered questions. And yet, simultaneously, I realize this is where I want my home to be. Mystery is what feels real and alive. And so I challenge myself to stay, to linger longer in the Shadowlands and to find life in the wandering.


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