Follow by Email

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What It Looks Like

Sometimes what it looks like is a gray stone wall. You know there’s light because some of the gray is grayer (shadows), but you don’t see anything you’d actually call light. It’s just a wall of ugly rock, sheer and taller than tall — tall without end — and even if you had your spiked climbing shoes, what could be the point? Behold the cliffs of Mordor.
And so you are still for a while, and that’s fine. Stillness, even scary stillness in a fetal position, can be part of how the soul accomplishes some of its quiet work.

Eventually, you can no longer be still, and so you shout and rage and cry. This is also good. We would not have these vocal tools if they, too, did not have their place in the fascia that connects our worldly and spiritual experiences.

Eventually, the raging rages itself out. Maybe now you are moved to pray.  For some of you, prayer comes first, and God love ya. (I’m sure he does.) For others, the act of prayer is like dancing — something you prefer to leave to more confident people, because it makes you feel self-conscious. In the gilded sanctuaries of your youth, you were taught to speak to God using someone else’s words, and it felt like lying.  Or it filled you with guilt, made you very aware of how far you were from the sacred person the elders wished you to be.

Or maybe you gave it your best in-the-name-of-the-father shot once or twice and concluded no one was listening. But now here you are, Mordor before you and a desert of despair behind you. With nothing left but your hands and feet and broken heart, you pray in ragged words. You shout out “Help!” Or: “GOD! Help me, would you?”

And in your desperation, you think you’re asking for a helicopter to deliver you back to the world you knew before you woke up at the base of the infinite rock. You think you’re asking even for a godforsaken rope ladder, the kind you’re supposed to have in your bedroom to escape from fires. You think maybe you’re even asking for part of the rock to suddenly topple down and crush your head, because that would be better than the lightless rock face and the desert.

It does not matter what you think you’re asking for. That’s what I believe – though it’s important to add that I do not pretend to know. All the pretending-to-know under gilded arches drove me farther away, while the wondering and watching, the asking and receiving, brought me closer to – well, I’ll just leave it at “closer.”

So here is what I believe. When we ask for help at the base of the cliff, sometimes we get the helicopter. And sometimes we get just enough energy to lift a leg and find a foothold. We get footholds and crevices to grip.  I think we become inspired to move a little and maybe we’re struck with the sudden wisdom to stop looking for the helicopter, and to just keep groping for purchase and moving up.  We get the temporary relief of a distracting and beautiful memory, something to make us stop grimacing for a moment while we climb.

I believe we might have gotten these things even if we did not ask, but that because we asked, we are given help. It’s the one reliable. “Ask and ye shall receive.”

Reiteration: I do not know how this works. I do not know what God looks like. I do not know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know why children and animals are born only to be abused, or where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours.  I don’t know why my brother decided to go to that concert  on that night in that car with that friend, and I don’t know how or why the miracles happen, either. I don’t know why the same field of wildflowers blooms every spring without fail. I don’t know what to think of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, or whether the Bible is the Bible or a book of poetry or a novel or the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the Wisdom Traditions of the World. I do not know, I do not know, I do not know, and I do not need to know.

But whenever I have asked or shouted or raged for help, or pleaded in a little-girl voice, or awkwardly muttered for it, help has arrived. Sometimes it has been in a very direct, “Your meal is served, ma’am” way, and sometimes in a form of grace that I wouldn’t have dreamed up on my own. So I’ve decided it’s best not to be too specific when I ask.

I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know. But when I woke up, feeling (as perhaps you did) that today I needed to do something about other people’s pain, I knew this: I can ask for God’s grace to be delivered to them as they climb the cliff face. Grace, in all its disguises, will arrive.


honey said...

this is exactly what i see from my window, and i LOVED your drawing and your words. but, i knew i would, because there is something sure about you even in your un-knowing.

Roark said...

That essay is quite wonderful. All that, and Gordon Lightfoot, too!

Stanka Kordic said...

So beautiful. Thank you.

Leslie said...

Karen, Thank you for sharing this.

valorie grace hallinan said...

Beautifully expressed.