Things Hard To Contain

Sometimes I plan and think about a post before I blog. (Oh, that word, “blog”… it’s so ugly and dismissive.) Right now, though, I am typing quickly in a stream-of-consciousness way, maybe because this space has become a touchstone to me, and while I know I am talking out loud to a few people, I’m also talking to myself.

I’ve already posted two entries about the “On Being” gathering from which I just returned, and when I revisit them I see that they focused a lot on my own uncertainty and introvert tendencies. It’s interesting how the process of writing reveals so much about what we are experiencing. It is as Patricia Hampl said, “I don’t write about what I know; I write in order to find out what I know.”

But little by little I hope to talk less about my personal feelings and report a little more about the content of the conversations and presentations. There are so many things to write and think about in this post-gathering reflection time. I have so many pages of notes, diligent student that I am.

Dipping into my notebook, I see that a topic that came up early on and more than once was prayer, described as a form for the amorphous, a container for things that are hard to contain, a rhythm that helps us to make sense out of senselessness. I was particularly drawn to ideas about praying because a few days earlier a dear friend of mine had told me that she and her Bible study sisters are praying for me as I get ready to face my surgery next week. My friend is a believer, a deacon of her church, and a kind and caring fellow traveler, and although my own beliefs have grown shaky over the years, her kindness and certainty are comforting. She reminded me how Anne LaMott had distilled prayer into three basic types–help, thanks, and wow–and I get it. I’m feeling all three to the depths of my being; I may as well utter the words. Sometimes I think I have lost my voice entirely, muted by the onslaught of everything, but maybe I have been praying all along.

Come to think of it, I felt like I was praying during a lovingkindness meditation session I attended. And sometimes I pray when I walk, with each touch of my foot on good ground. Writing too can be a kind of praying, or am I letting myself off too easily? And love most certainly is…love, which Parker Palmer, one of my favorite of the presenters at the conference, said is a word we must bring back in a more robust and grounded way. Truth, he said, is an eternal conversation conducted with passion and discipline about things that matter, and love is not a quality of God, it is the unleashing of God. We live in what he called the “tragic gap” between harsh realities and what we know is possible. We walk in that gap knowing it will never be closed, but we keep trying.

There was a lot of discussion at the gathering about joining one’s inner life with one’s outer presence in the world, and I’m not at all sure what that means, but I’m pondering. And I don’t expect instant answers. I’m reminded here of something Naomi Shihab Nye said, quoting from one of her poems; it was something like this: “You’re not living the whole thing at once./That’s what a minute said to an hour./Without me, you’re nothing.”

And of course there was a mention of the late and beloved William Stafford, who said, “Your job is to find out what the world is trying to be.”

So that’s what I’m doing, trying to figure it out, still a pilgrim at a point in life when I probably should be a wise elder. I think it was Marilyn Nelson who described a dream she had in which reality was a dark space where the only light that enters comes through those who allow it to come through themselves. Unless we open ourselves up like that and in so doing become the light, we will continue to flounder in the dark. I’m trying to stay open, which is an ironic thing to say when I am about to have my ear opened like a door and my head cut into.

And all of these thoughts have been prompted by just the first  few pages of my “On Being” notebook, but yes, we’re not living the whole thing all at once, and now it’s time for a walk. I need to see what the wind and the trees in the canyon have to say.

In exactly one week, I will be in the ICU recovering from The Grand Opening, which has been so long pending, and it will be so good to have it behind me. But it has yielded unexpected gifts: a renewed appreciation for my circle of loving friends and family near and far, and a startling clarity and intensity in the way I am perceiving the sensations of being alive, as though everything has been amped up into high resolution. It’s a little like what ee cummings said, “be unto love/as rain is unto colour”… my world is saturated.

In the meantime, I think it’s important to remember that everyone is struggling, and we have all lost something dear. Naomi read this poem, “In Transit” at the gathering, and I want to share it here:

I mailed a package to myself, it never arrived.
Months later, wondering what it contained…
the package was oversized, I paid extra.
Mailed it from a place under trees. Surely shade
and sunlight was in the package. Mailed it
from a place compassionate to refugees.
Unopened envelopes inside the package,
poems from kind students hoping for response.
How do we answer without knowing
who they were or what they said?
This is why you must smile at everyone,
living and dead, everywhere you go.
You have no idea what has been lost
in transit.

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