Moving in Faith

When I sit down to blog, I often have no idea what the subject will be. I’ve slowly learned that I don’t need to know, that something will come along that will surprise me, that as I write, some deeply held truth will work its way into consciousness for the first time.

I don’t generally approach my days with this same comfortable not-knowing. I tend to view the day as a to-do list rather than a revelation of divine love and an invitation to participate in that love. With a to-do list, I can pretend to be in control. Showing up to a divine love party requires that openness called faith.

In her book Abounding in Kindness, Elizabeth Johnson says, “faith is first of all an existential decision rising up from your personal depths to entrust yourself to the Whither of your life, the living God.” Faith is a decision to trust.

To entrust ourselves to anyone or anything, including God, “to put [ourselves] into someone’s care or protection,” as the dictionary defines it, seems like a dicey proposition. God doesn’t appear to be in the protection business. There are those times when we improbably and uncannily emerge safe from the midst of danger, and then there is sickness, war, school shootings, hurricanes.

God’s presence, God’s unwavering care in the midst of all that is incomprehensible and painful is what we must choose to trust. “God protects us from nothing and sustains us in all things,” Jim Finley says.

Without this trust, we cannot enter the fullness of our lives. Johnson calls God the Whither of our lives because God is our destination, “that ineffable plenitude toward which we are journeying.” The Divine Love draws us toward itself and places our feet on the road, “summons and bears our thirsty minds and desiring hearts.”

Trust allows us to follow that summons, to recognize the divine love party for what it is and know that every moment we are both already in the presence of and traveling closer to our Host.


Note: The Elizabeth Johnson quotes were taken from the essay “Atheism and Faith in a Secular World,” pp. 20-34.

Trusting Solstice to Solstice

On the solstice, the year’s high tide of light, I was reminded of the ebb and flow of our existence. This longest day, the peak of the wave, is also the beginning of the fading of the light.

I love the fullness of summer, the long days, the bounty and spectacle of fruits of all colors. I love the swooping and diving of the swallows who built their nests under the eaves of a nearby building and their little heads peeking out of the holes, keeping watch. Summer is a time for savoring some of the sweetest gifts of life, and its arrival began with the winter solstice.

I often forget nature’s rhythm or try to live as if I could choose to be apart from it, as if force of will could keep the wave of productivity ever cresting. As if this were somehow desirable.

If we try to skip our own ebb times—hours, days, or seasons—it’s so much harder for the fruitfulness naturally growing within us to fully ripen. We are so convinced that we have to do something, to work hard to become what we are supposed to be, but life is working within and around us to draw forth and bring into being who we are.

This process of becoming is not so much up to us as we think. We can’t hurry it along any more than swallows can build their nests in winter.

Allowing our own ebb and flow requires trusting life. There are so many reasons not to trust—chronic sickness, war, cruelty of all kinds—but perhaps the deepest reason is that we do not believe in our own divinity, that who we are becoming is beautiful and beloved.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Our culture tells us hundreds if not thousands of times a day that love depends on performance and appearance when anyone who has loved another person, animal, or plant can tell you that this is fundamentally untrue. We love the dog’s floppy ear, and we often love our friends most tenderly when they’re struggling.

Summer and winter, ebb and flow, the Life and Love that lives through us sees that we are dazzling.

“Everything in the World is Waiting”

Astonishing freedom is available to us all the time. Really, I’m not making it up. As William Stafford writes in “A Message from the Wanderer,”

…Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

This week, the transformation of a simple question pointed toward one escape route: trust. Pulling into my garage one night, I thought to myself about some aspect of life, “What am I doing?” in a mental voice tinged with a Pig-Pen-like cloud of despair. Then I heard the question repeated in an excited, joyful tone, as if the asker couldn’t wait to discover what wonderful thing I was about to do.

Many of our social and religious constructs teach us to deeply mistrust ourselves. They subtly say that we must be hyper vigilant to prevent ourselves from running amuck, as if our failings were just waiting for that one relaxed moment to rise up and overpower us.

While healthy self-reflection is necessary for growth, we need to remember that we’re made in the image and likeness of God and to consider what that means. We have our weaknesses, but we are manifestations of God’s abundant love, of God’s abundant self, and though it feels risky, we can trust that Ground of our being.

God is not waiting to smite us. God is loving us into existence with every breath and heartbeat, as Jim Finley says. God’s love is our true nature, and it is infinitely trustworthy. The more we know this to be true, the more we will trust ourselves and the more we will embody that trustworthiness in all our relationships.

We are going to mess up. We will almost certainly hurt one another by acting unconsciously or from a place of fear, but those mistakes don’t define us. “Nothing less than love has the power to name who you are,” Finley says.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Everything in the world really is waiting. And it’s so excited to meet us.

You Are Trustworthy

How does one go from “God is trustworthy, the world is trustworthy, I am trustworthy” one week to “Everything I do is meaningless” the next? I’m not sure, but I might add “covering almost the entire existential spectrum at high speed” to my resume.

The trustworthy part arrived unexpectedly during my drive to work one day. Sometimes the universe gifts us a download of knowing after which, for a little while, we can perceive reality differently.

“Trustworthy” didn’t mean everything will be OK as we usually think of it—no pain, no loss—but rather that love fills all of life, even the hard stuff, so it’s already OK in a way we rarely notice. Also, creation has a “benevolent trajectory,” as my friend Markus says. On the cosmic, evolutionary scale, it’s all headed somewhere good, though again not necessarily good as we understand it.

I am trustworthy because God’s essential nature and creation’s essential nature is my essential nature. I’m not going to singlehandedly derail the cosmic experiment. As a matter of fact, I’m participating in its becoming, as we all are.

That was profoundly real for three days, and then literally a week later I understood why middle-aged people go out and buy little red sports cars—preferably a convertible, thank you. When all of the identities we’ve confused for our selves stop providing any sense of who we are, life becomes quite uncomfortable, and surely a sports car will relieve that discomfort.

How did I travel such an emotional and spiritual expanse so quickly? Humanity, I suspect, in the form of returning to my really healthy daily practice of not-enough-ness.

A vast chasm separates the person I think I’m capable of being from the person I’m actually capable of being. The imaginary person in my head maintains complete mastery over the physical and spiritual realms at all times. She always focuses on the most important task and completes it brilliantly, regardless of whether she got six or eight hours of sleep. At the same time, she’s riding the express train to nirvana, and it’s a straight shot.

Unfortunately, aside from being fictional, she’s missing the point. The world is already trustworthy; she is already trustworthy. There is nowhere to get to, not even nirvana. We don’t live to attain spiritual or any other kind of fulfillment. We are filled—and therefore fulfilled—by embodying loving kindness day by day, as my friend Bardwell once described his approach to life.

And we are already doing it. God is trustworthy, the world is trustworthy, you are trustworthy.

Fear Less

Sometimes there is nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps most of the time. I didn’t realize how often fear is my go-to approach until one night this week it switched off.

I was puzzling through some non-life-threatening problem that I had invested with a great deal of urgency when it suddenly became clear that there was nothing urgent about it. There are life-threatening situations in this world that may warrant fear—fires, hurricanes, bombs, abuse—but whether the kitchen gets clean or the work assignment gets finished or the person likes me are not among them. Yet I invest these moments with such fraught energy.

I carry around a mostly unconscious, baseline assumption that unless I’m a little afraid, I won’t perform well. As if fear makes everything better. As if life were a performance.

This approach assumes a certain untrustworthiness in oneself and the world. This worldview does not admit the value of failure, the freedom of making mistakes, or, perhaps most importantly, the beauty of one’s self.

We are always changing and evolving along with the rest of creation, and though we participate in that evolution, we’re not in control of it. I think we’re taught that anything out of our control is scary, and that includes our true selves, hidden with Christ in God.

Maybe we have good reason to be scared of our true selves. The more we get in touch with the Love at the center of our being, the harder it will be to continue living as we have been. Our habits of thinking and feeling, the rules we’ve made for ourselves, the criteria by which we’ve reassured ourselves that we’re OK will all begin to feel empty.

But we’ll exchange survival for joy, stasis for dynamism, fear for trust, and self-protection for love. Not a bad tradeoff, all in all.

Transformation Happens

I recently discovered another “cherished illusion,” as Jim Finley calls them, namely that I grow and change through my own initiative and on my own schedule. This is simply not true. We’re not so different from the rest of creation. We can no more decide to enter a new phase of life before we’re ready than a tree can decide to drop its leaves in spring.

If a six-year-old informed us that she was going to learn to drive or do calculus or carry a thirty-pound rock, we wouldn’t expect it to happen. Yet when we become adults, we think that we should be able to will ourselves to be whoever we want however and whenever we wish.

Just as shorter days mean less sunlight and therefore less green chlorophyll to hide the stunning reds and yellows always present but not visible in the trees’ leaves, we change in response to events in our lives, most of which are beyond our control. The big difference between us and the trees is that we often have different plans. Maybe we want to be green all the time or, come August, are impatient to display our more showy selves.

Though what’s happening doesn’t originate with us, we can choose whether to resist or participate. If you’re like me, there’s a fair amount of push back going on. At the heart of my resistance is a lack of trust in the cosmic becoming in which we all play a part.

Let’s be clear, there are a lot of reasons to mistrust: black holes, dying starts, war, famine. But let’s be equally clear that my cosmic plan doesn’t extend much past dinner, so just maybe the Creator of the universe has something going on that I don’t fully understand, something bigger than me and my preferences, and maybe, in ways we can live but not grasp, it is a “plan for [our] welfare, not for woe” (Jeremiah 29:11).

This transformation is happening, but it’s not being done to us. It is coming into being with, in, and through us. “The world becomes new, if one does not stand in the way,” my friend Bardwell says. Let’s practice not standing in the way.

A Wonder-Full Unfolding

In describing the transition to civilian life, a young man who recently switched from active duty to the navy reserves said he was taking the energy of being on high alert all the time and transferring it into being curious. This sounded to me like a brilliant idea for everyone.

I’m not claiming that in the day-to-day civilian world we maintain the same intensity as those who serve in the military—though people who have experienced trauma probably do—but that we often approach the present moment as a threat, a situation that could go wrong or needs to be controlled. If, instead, we approached our lives with wonder and curiosity, we could better participate in what’s actually happening, better recognize what’s coming into being.

Wonder and curiosity will remove our habitual defenses, and so practicing them requires a degree of trust. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that existence is trustworthy, even for those of us who have always had food to eat and a place to live. Perhaps this is because our definition of trustworthy means everything will come out the way we planned, or nothing will be painful.

Or maybe it’s because we believe that whatever has happened in our lives has its origin in something we’ve done, that we are the agents of our existence. This belief is just too small to take us very far. In a recent meditation Jim Finley writes, “Our freedom from the prison of our own illusions comes in realizing that in the end everything is a gift.”

Curiosity and wonder open us up to this realization; they are tools to recognize the true nature of reality as something we participate in and help co-create but don’t originate. As Finley might say, though we are not other than the Creator, we are not the Creator.

Finley would certainly say that God is loving us into existence breath by breath and heartbeat by heartbeat, and so we are invited to wonder at this love and at ourselves, who are the manifestation of it, with curiosity about how that love will unfold.