Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Liminal fortitude? 7

Our waiting, our staying awake, and our watching, are not to be confined to whatever limited space and time we may allocate to it. Maundy Thursday highlighted that fact for me. A clearly defined period in which to “watch” with Jesus, in a church, is a thoughtful as well as comfortable way to approach the edges of the reality behind our commemoration of that day, but the urgency of my wish to be part of it slips further away with each year. Particularly on a warm and still night like the one we then passed through, it takes little more than a moment to enter into the emptiness and the pain, as well as the beauty of Gethsemane. All it takes is a decision to allow one’s inner awareness to surface through all the usual boundaries while out in the quiet solitude of the fresh night air. It is not necessary to be up on the hills, though that is where I would have liked to have been; just out, among trees, or even close to a single tree, in one’s own garden.

All that happened on that original Thursday night, cannot be separated from the fact that the root of Christian fellowship began its journey towards potential oblivion in a form of Eden: in a quiet seclusion, outside, between earth and open sky; in a place where all doors to God’s presence were open, but where those who could have spent time with Him failed to stay awake. They experienced the apparent non-existence of a mere moment in sleep, when they could have been consciously waiting and watching, bathing in eternity’s shallows (the gift we receive, and are asked to give back, as time), and gradually being drawn into the eternal miracle of a timeless and total immersion in His Presence: of being with Him.

The “when” of things has been a barely discernible part of my experience during the last twenty years. I have not been aware of anything resulting from my own sense of timing during that period, for I have not been conscious of having any such sense; at least that is how my waiting has seemed. I have spent much of that time feeling as though I was that startled and confused rabbit: motionless, in danger, not knowing which way to run, and unable to make a decision for fear of getting it wrong. Perhaps what has brought me this far, is that in having no real timing of my own, I have been prevented from seriously mistiming whatever I may have done. I have spent all those years waiting, and what has often disturbed me greatly has been my continuing lack of knowledge as to what it is that I am waiting for; what I am meant to be doing; where I am meant to be going. But whenever I have started to formulate ideas, they have occupied me for a while and then faded to nothing, leaving me with a feeling that they had been mere distractions from the path I was being asked to follow. Yet that path seemed to lead endlessly on, taking me nowhere; and with nothing new to grasp along the way, I found past experiences, people and places becoming even more firmly embedded in my limited catalogue of meaningful and trusted friends.

I have not been aware of passing through any particular doors along the way, and the only doors of which I have been conscious have always seemed closed to me. This has troubled me in waves that subside whenever I attempt to convince myself that they have been conjured from my imagination. They were doors I had wanted to find open to me, while suspecting that such doorways did not in fact exist. But now, in the last few weeks, I have found my unspoken longing being met by rays of hope that I may not have been as misguided as I had thought. I am now more inclined to believe that my continued waiting may have been the correct response to being asked to do just that: that I have in fact had an unrecognized ability to sense that I have not been called upon to do anything other than to wait, to stay awake, and to watch with my unseen companion, not on Maundy Thursday night only, but every night and day, and with every step that I take.

As my thoughts slowly turned themselves into a form of words, I came to recognize what may have been obvious to anyone able to view the situation from beyond its apparent boundaries. If I had remained at the very edge of it I would have been able to see it for myself long ago, but the whole nature and structure of the situation has caught me up into thinking far too much about myself, instead of doing what I have so often told myself to do: to wait, and to carry on waiting until such time as I am told to do something else.

What I have finally come to realize is that Hope and Wisdom feel that a door has closed in front of them, just as I have long thought one closed in front of me.
Might not that door be the same one? And leading on from that thought, if it is the same door, where are we in relation to each other? Are we standing together in front of it? If we are, are we being called to join forces for some reason? – to open the door together, or to search for another door which will lead us to where we are needed to be? This is the very possibility on which I have dwelt so many times. Or, are we standing on opposite sides of the same door? It would again appear that this door could be opened by our joint efforts, but from different directions. This image feels far more powerful to me, as though acknowledging that while we are travelling different paths and being called to different tasks, we are required to combine some aspects of our spiritual natures for the good of all. After so much time, could our closer fellowship, after all, be the answer to my long-running wordless prayer? – the opening of my closed door? And could their own closed door be opened as a result of my joining with them?

We need to have the eyes to see. Have mine been closed to what has been in front of me all the time? Could it really be that the door to that which I seek has been wide open for a long time? Could it even have been open to me all the time? Have I really been that blind? Or has the whole self-conscious delay been the product of my fear? 

Yet again, I am brought back to those same few lines from John Henry Newman; but this time they really do ring through my heart as an accusation rather than as a less troubling pricking of my conscience.
‘Perhaps the reason why the standard of holiness among us is so low, why our attainments are so poor, our view of the truth so dim, our belief so unreal, our general notions so artificial and external is this, that we dare not trust each other with the secret of our hearts. We have each the same secret, and we keep it to ourselves, and we fear that, as a cause of estrangement, which really would be a bond of union. We do not probe the wounds of our nature thoroughly; we do not lay the foundation of our religious profession in the ground of our inner man; we make clean the outside of things; we are amiable and friendly to each other in words and deeds, but our love is not enlarged, our bowels of affection are straitened, and we fear to let the intercourse begin at the root; and, in consequence, our religion, viewed as a social system is hollow. The presence of Christ is not in it.’ (Christian Sympathy. Parochial and Plain Sermons).
Yet still I do not speak out, other than in half-truths. My longing is hidden: kept concealed, or at least disguised so as not to risk the door which I long to find truly open to me, being firmly closed. It has felt as though a door has blown off in an aircraft at altitude, with a sensation of being irresistibly drawn towards the opening, and, if I allowed myself to be so drawn, being taken straight through it to freefall to a landing place which cannot be anticipated or pre-selected.

I still have not dared to take the risk; and yet I know that my one and only opportunity may be short-lived. I may hesitate too long, even while fearing that the door may close before me. But I also hear another voice ...

‘You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. 
What is of God will last.’
(Henri Nouwen. The Inner Voice of Love.)

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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