Who to Trust: God vs. Google

I follow the big G implicitly and without question—the big G being Google of course. I drove up to the Bay Area last weekend. I didn’t know how to get to my specific destination, but after plugging the address into Google maps, away I went, never giving it a second thought.

On the way home, the GPS took me on a rather circuitous route. I was vaguely aware that there was another, shorter route, but I didn’t pull off to see what it was or how to catch it. I just assumed the traffic on that freeway was horrible, Google was safely routing me around it, and my current route was the fastest available. Now that’s faith.

When things don’t go according to my plan in other areas of life, I don’t think, there must have been some traffic—or heartache or suffering—on that route I wanted to take; thanks, God, for safely routing me around it. Oh no.

My reaction usually begins with resistance, an attempt to immediately pull over to the side of the road and check the cosmic road map of life to see how I can get back on my chosen track. (My ability to see the cosmic road map of life has, thus far, proven annoyingly non-existent, but clearly if I just keep looking, the divine instruction booklet in which it is printed will reveal itself.) When this fails, I progress to wailing and gnashing of teeth until finally arriving at acceptance, at which point I often realize my surroundings are rather pretty.

I’m not suggesting that all of life’s detours are pleasant, but how might my way of existing be different if I placed at least as much faith in the creator of the universe as I do in a search engine? Here’s a poem from Hafiz that suggests an answer:

I Vote for You for God
by Hafiz

When your eyes have found the strength
To constantly speak to the world
All that is most dear
To your own
Life,

When your hands, feet, and tongue
Can perform in that rare unison
That comforts this longing earth
With the knowledge

Your soul,
Your soul has been groomed
In His city of love;

And when you can make others laugh
With jokes
That belittle no one
And your words always unite,

Hafiz
Does vote for you.

Hafiz will vote for you to be
The minister of every country in
This universe.

Hafiz does vote for you my dear.
I vote for you
To be
God.

From The Gift by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

A Good Week

There are small mysteries in this world, such as why no one seems capable of producing a generic band-aid that sticks to your skin for more than an hour.

Then there are larger mysteries, such as why right when you are feeling hopeless about the writing business, you win a contest, as I did this week. I won the Peter K. Hixson Memorial Award—$1800 of services from Writer’s Relief, a company that handles submissions for authors. They will submit excerpts of my novel to seventy-five magazines for me for free. That’s a rather fabulous number of magazines, and I am ever so slightly excited. (Check it out—my name appears on someone else’s website!)

The day before this happened, I said to God, “OK, I know I’m supposed to be trusting you, and I can see that when it comes to getting things done and to writing, I’m not. Nothing else is working, though, so I will.” I guess God enjoys a good spectacle now and then—parting the Red Sea, smiting folks, the Transfiguration, and winning writing contests.

I don’t think you need to be someone who talks to God for this kind of thing to happen to you.  Grace—“that blind benevolent side of even the fiercest world”—happens to everyone (“Grace Abounding,” William Stafford). Sometimes it comes when we are at our lowest and have done nothing to invite its presence except perhaps needing it.

But I think oftentimes, trust creates a crack in our doubt, our routine, our self-sufficiency—whatever it is that needs cracking—for grace to sneak in through. Sometimes trust might feel more like letting go or giving up, not resignation, but relaxing our death grip on having to do it ourselves or needing events to resolve in a certain way.

So keep the faith, whatever your faith happens to be, and may we all learn “that floating, that immensity waiting to receive whatever arrives with trust” (“Afterwards,” Stafford again).

Note: I will be at a writing workshop next week, and so the blog will be on vacation. Yes, I realize there is a certain irony in not writing because I’ll be writing.

Why Wait?

My life would be a lot easier if impatience were a virtue. Or if I could learn patience faster.

Recently, I’ve been telling myself to buckle down and do more of approximately everything. Myself and I have had this conversation often with no discernible results. So for Advent I decided to stop trying to figure things out and wait and listen instead. This may be what some people refer to as praying.

Our culture doesn’t particularly value waiting, and after two weeks of practicing it, I understand why. The first couple of days you can feel all la-dee-da and enlightened about it, but beginning day three it’s just not fun. The subtitle on the Advent reader they handed out at church says, “Waiting in joyful hope.” I’m not sure where the joyful hope people are, but I’m hanging out in the annoyed get-it-over-with-already camp.

Today I decided that two weeks is quite enough time for God/the universe/whatever to have straightened out my life and revealed at least the next few steps in a clear, concise road map. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, God/the universe/whatever doesn’t appear to be on my timeline, despite my having told her/him/it very sternly in the car on the way home that I’d had about enough of waiting.

But here’s the thing, the point of these four weeks is for people to make a straight path for God, not the other way around. We’re getting ready to celebrate a birth, and though I don’t have any kids, I’ve attended enough baby showers to know that requires a lot of preparation.

Once it happens, your life, as I understand it, does not get easier. Suddenly your time is no longer you own, and this tiny being has the power to disrupt your sleeping and eating and showering in ways previously unimagined. It also has the power to open up a richness and a depth of love that little else can provide.

So that’s what we’re preparing to celebrate, that opening of love in our lives. I suppose it might be worth waiting for.

Running the Universe

I have an atheist friend who always wants to know what I gave up for Lent. This combination of question and questioner is one of my favorite things in the world.

I don’t enjoy failure, so I don’t choose things like chocolate or sweets. Plus, I don’t really believe in the utility of suffering. Instead I give up an attitude or action.

This year I gave up being worthy, meaning earning God’s love. I think this could translate into non-religious language if you thought about earning being alive. No matter what you do, you can’t make yourself somehow good enough to have deserved coming into being; it’s all gift. I soon realized not being worthy also had to go because it gives me a reason to refuse that gift.

Letting go of worthiness is one step in my ongoing attempt to recognize that perhaps I am not running the universe. It’s risky, though, allowing God to try her hand at this particular task because clearly omniscient and omnipotent have nothing on me.

I confess I haven’t gotten very far. I like being in charge, and it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control if my actions are filling up some imaginary scales that will determine how nice God is to me.

My main practice has been remaining mindful of these few lines in St. Romuald’s Brief Rule for Camaldoli monks, “Remember above all that you are in the presence of God.” The rule goes on to suggest being, “…content with the grace of God,” which takes earning or controlling anything out of the equation. I sometimes translate the first line into, “Remember above all that you are in the presence of infinite love,” which helps me trust God a tiny bit more.

There are two more weeks of Lent, and my odds of achieving enlightenment by Easter are low. I’m not sure I’ve even given up enough control to fill a mustard seed. But occasionally I remember to stop and imagine myself surrounded by God’s presence, and in those moments, the world opens up and out and offers a sense of another way to be.

In case you’ve lost count, God, I think I’m at thirty-seven moments—approximately.

Morning Matters

The other night I stayed up past my bedtime, which happens often and generally leads me to resent having to brush my teeth. Sometimes, though, when I’m too tired to be useful, small epiphanies arrive. On this particular night, a peaceful feeling bubbled up and with it a thought: maybe the little things we do in the morning are enough.

Morning isn’t really complicated. Many of you may have figured this out already. Tasks tend to repeat on a daily basis: shower, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast. Remarkable.

The thing is, I have a little reality problem. In the evening, I arrive home around six. My evening to-do list generally reads something like the following:

  • Exercise
  • Sell novel
  • Clean entire house
  • Cook dinner
  • Play with cat
  • Answer all emails
  • Go to bed by 9:30

This list produces mostly guilt and a doomed attempt to stuff the unfinished items into the following morning. My vanmates can attest to the success of this approach.

I did not invent the possibility that getting dressed and eating breakfast is enough. Wise people have been telling the rest of us that for a large chunk of human history (most notably for me Paula D’Arcy, Kathleen Norris, and William Stafford). But despite hearing them say it, I’ve practiced it precious little.

The word “enough” often connotes just the opposite for us Americans. “Enough” in this case means “holy,” not “only.” Which inevitably raises the specter of the G word: God.

About God: I do not claim to know how you should call that power or connection or love, how you should interact with it, or even whether you should believe in it. The previous admissions make clear my lack of qualifications for that judgment. I will write only about my sense of and experience with God. Please translate freely into any language or frame of reference that helps you.

In my way of relating to this existence, God gave me a tiny taste of what it would feel like to honor daily tasks, an enticement, a temptation. If I could welcome the morning instead of launching myself against it, that peaceful feeling might seep into the rest of the day and, one can hope, outward to those I meet.