The Movement of Light

If you’re longing for a “mind blown” moment, consider all the ways we’re moving every nanosecond of our lives. Earth spins around its axis and orbits the sun; the solar system rotates around the center of the Milky Way; the Milky Way travels through space. Our cells move and divide; molecules cross cell membranes; we cannot pinpoint the exact location of the electrons in the atoms that compose us.

Welcome to finitude, where being is a verb. No wonder there are so many coffee shops.

And yet, we constantly grasp for some sort of arrival. We want to locate ourselves on a continuum of achievement or progress, and we think there is a point, always in the future, where we will have enough of whatever we’re striving for, where we will be complete. We want to know we are getting somewhere, but inevitably when we reach that place, the “thereness” fails to satisfy for very long.

We are always works in progress, particles of a greater process that’s pushing fourteen billion years now. The scientific jury is still out on what will happen to the universe, but there’s no question that during this lifetime we will never come to a resting point.

Still, we yearn for peace, so how can we be at peace with the reality of never being at rest? Maybe, as with electrons, we can understand ourselves better if we stop trying to define ourselves as a particular point. Maybe we can think of ourselves as both particle and wave.

Right now, I am this moment’s self, with all my gifts and shortcomings, all I’ve done and all I’ve failed to do, but that’s not the sum of me. Considering my life as a wave, I stretch back to my childhood and forward to the unknowable future, and all of that is inseparable from all the rest of it. As a wave, I am—we all are, our lives all are—movement.

The movement of what? Energy. Light. Each of us embodies a particular frequency, so to speak, but we are all composed of Light.

A Choice Called Love

Sometimes loving is hard. Perhaps that’s because love is a choice, not an emotion, as Richard Rohr says. He also says love is who you are.

I sometimes look at my own thoughtlessness, jealousy, contempt, or self-centeredness and wonder how this can be so, but maybe we miss the point when we confuse these tendencies for our selves. As Jim Finley puts it, there is an invincible preciousness at our center that nothing we or anyone else does can touch. “Nothing less than love has the power to name who you are,” according to Finley.

Even when we believe that Love is bringing us into being, accepting the reality that love is our being requires a terrifying leap. Our faults are knowable, measurable, and don’t change that much. This self is in control and controllable.

Love is infinite, eternal, ever constant and ever changing, ever evolving, ever giving itself away as new and different forms. It is unknowable, unpredictable, unexpected, mysterious.

It’s easier in this world to stick with what is known. Easier but deadly because what is not love is not real. I am that am, God says. Love is. So anything that is not love isn’t.

What does it mean to make the choice that is love? Nothing less than a conscious participation in our own becoming, which is an inextricable part of the universal becoming. Every smile, every kind word, every nanosecond of patience with an exasperating child—given or received—creates the world. Every act of forgiveness; every thrill at the beauty of a tree, a song, a painting—given and received—creates us.

Love is an ever-present invitation. The preciousness at the center of our being and of all being calls to us. Every moment offers another chance to choose to listen.

 

Trusting the Present

During a recent run, my mind decided it, too, needed a workout, but it preferred to travel the same loop over and over again. I spent a lot of time bringing myself back to the present, which was a mostly pleasant place to be. I felt my feet hitting the ground, the warm air, the presence of the oak trees around me. But now and then, after dragging myself off the hamster wheel, I sensed a moment of definite fear.

What was so scary? I was in a safe place—except perhaps for the mountain lions, but I had never actually seen them—on a trail through some beautiful country. I was healthy enough to be running. No one in my life had any particular or imminent problems.

Stopping underneath an oak to spend some time with the question, I realized that, with my mind in the present, I had no idea what came next. If we live here now, we have to live in the reality that we don’t control a moment of our existence. We can and need to prepare and plan to exist in this world, but not a single day entirely matches the picture in our heads.

To live this way requires an immense amount of trust, not that everything will go right—whatever that means—but that, as Jim Finley puts it, “God sustains us in all things while protecting us from nothing.” Life will happen whether we’re living in the present or not, but we choose how to respond. If we’re living from a place of trust in that which sustains us, we can respond in a way that is life-giving.

But this is really, really hard because there’s not much room for who we think we are or who we want to be in that kind of trust. It demands an openness to discovering ourselves rather than an attempt to dictate our identity. When we’re in discovery mode, we can see ourselves as God does, as divinity becoming creation, as process.

Our own vision is much more static and limited. It feels safer because it’s familiar, but it can’t take us where we’re going; it doesn’t bring us into being. That journey requires faith and trust—and I’m sure a little bit of pixie dust wouldn’t hurt.

Resisting Ourselves

It’s been a good couple of weeks for resistance, the fingers-in-the-ear, la la la I can’t hear you variety. I’ve been putting some pretty serious energy into noticing others’ faults, imagining different ways to order the world, and telling myself I should be doing almost everything better or at least differently.

During these times, I usually ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” a question that feeds the dissatisfaction loop while allowing me to believe I’m on the track to self-improvement. Practice with a seasoned teacher before attempting this advanced technique alone.

In the midst of this fight with reality, a new question occurred to me, “What am I resisting?” The answer that came back was “myself.”

Only one thing is happening in the cosmos: incarnation—divine love being poured out as our every breath and heartbeat, as Jim Finley would say. In other words, to quote those great spiritual teachers the Borg, resistance is futile. We can’t resist our own coming into being, can’t order the enzymes in our cells to stop breaking apart and putting together molecules. And yet I often approach life as if I can.

We are always on the leading edge of becoming, not through any effort of our own but because we are part of the continual process of creation. Life is movement. Each ending begins the next step, and so we are always incomplete.

Perhaps resistance isn’t resistance at all but a misunderstanding of the yearning that comes with our always transitory state. Life draws us forward; Love won’t let us rest unless we enter into the movement we are already a part of and accept that in our unfinished nature, we are already whole. This is not resignation but recognition that creation is not about completion, and that includes us.

We are not a life but the flow of life. We are here not to satisfy a yearning but to yearn. “The palms of your hands are God’s horizon,” Finley says. Horizons are never reached. God is always moving toward us. We are always moving toward God. Resistance is futile.

Being Love

I often have a hard time remembering what I’m on this Earth for, which is to love and be loved. I am not referring only to interpersonal relationships, though they are likely our truest guide, but rather to a way of being in the world, a participation in the life of God.

One conception of creation is that it’s a result of God pouring out God’s love. My understanding of a recent talk by Jim Finley is that we are called to live in this love and let it flow through us until we’re just one big love exchanger with God, both the unimaginably bigger than we can understand God and the God within all that we see and meet. That’s what creation is, including us, and that’s what keeps it unfolding—this reciprocal flow of love.

I’m not very good at this. There’s something about being human that makes it often difficult, but it’s desperately important. As a friend pointed out in an online discussion this week, if we’re not practicing love, we’re practicing something else—fear, retribution, take your pick among several nasty alternatives.

So I started reminding myself by saying, for example, “I have to do the dishes with love.” Whatever it was that was on my list, I added, “with love,” the way you add “in bed” to the advice from a fortune cookie.

Then an interesting thing happened: I realized that “with love” and “have to” don’t go together. Love is always free, never forced. I changed it to, “I would like to walk down the stairs with love.” The current iteration is “Grant me the grace to write this blog in love.”

I am sorry to report that I’m not walking around in an aura of glowing golden light yet, though I’m sure that’s right around the corner. Maybe I was more patient with a friend or my cat or the garbage disposal. Practice, practice.

Like It or Not

Coming into being is apparently not easy. From galaxies to stars to humans to any being that has to break its way out of an egg or a seed, taking form in this existence involves a good deal of struggle.

It’s so tempting to ask why, but that’s like asking why the lupine dotting the hillsides these days are purple. You can explain it in terms of the wavelengths of light, but that really only answers how they are purple, not the more fundamental why not red? In this case, why is not a useful question, as it says in one of Anne Lamott’s essays.

We are always coming into existence, but we—or at least certainly I—am not always happy about the struggle. There are things that we accept are going to be hard—giving birth, climbing Mount Everest, losing a loved one—and there are things that we can see will be hard for others—adolescence, for example. Yet we don’t tell anyone, you know, why don’t you just skip this whole adolescence thing, it’s not much fun. Whether a society has healthy or unhealthy ways of helping its members through this stage, they all still have to go through it.

And we don’t emerge fully formed at 20. As long as we’re alive, we’ll continue to be drawn forth. We’ll be invited to deeper and deeper communion with life, we’ll continue to be created, and that means we’ll continue to struggle.

In all likelihood, we’ll continue not to like that struggle, but maybe there’s something beyond our liking or not liking it. Maybe there’s a way to say, oh, this is happening, not in a passive but in a participatory way. And maybe that’s when it gets easy, not the kind of easy I generally picture where everything matches the version of life in my head but some other kind of easy that we can’t understand until we experience it.

This is one of those things I didn’t make up. The great religious traditions all include this idea. Now if only I would listen.

What Are the Odds?

I often choose to be annoyed by the tag line people attach to this or that online profile, but a few weeks ago, I saw one I liked: “Just to live is holy. Just to be is a blessing.”

A friend at work recently said that he often thinks about how huge the odds against his existence are. I once heard that if the timing at the Big Bang had been off by a trillionth of a second, particles would never have formed, much less stars, planets, and living beings. (This is one of those “I heard it somewhere” scientific facts rather than my usual “thoroughly researched on Google” scientific facts.)

He pointed out that you don’t have to get cosmic to be boggled by your good fortune. You only have to go a few branches back in your family tree because all of these people throughout history had to not only meet but also get together and feel frisky at an exact moment for your genome to come into existence. Not to mention all the twists and turns evolution didn’t take.

And then he said, “And what do we do with it? Play video games.” My internal response to this kind of reminder used to be, wow, I really need to change what I do. But trying to force myself to change my actions through guilt and mental chastisement has never really worked. The more effective question for me right now is “How do we do whatever we’re doing?”

If I could wake up every morning wildly grateful for and astonished by my existence, if I could maintain that reverence and wonder throughout the day whether I was doing dishes, working, or playing video games, I think my actions would change effortlessly, as a natural extension of my approach to life. If, with the psalmist, I could remember to sing, “I praise you, Lord, for I am wonderfully made,” I might start to do more of what I was made to do.