Thursday, June 6, 2013

Existence in the Gentle Vastness of God's Mercy

I've been feeling off-centered most of this week.  My husband made an effort to comfort me, and as  he held me, my mind went off to a point of existential awareness regarding the profound aloneness that is being human.  We are born alone, and we die alone, as they say. In those moments I experienced that singularity in a profound way; the solitariness (if there is such a word) invaded my whole being and sorrow welled up within me.  I wept.  When I was able to speak some of this, David countered, saying "No, we're not alone.  We form communities and those communities are meaningful.  Even as we die we're surrounded by our loved ones." 

Yes, we connect with others in various ways throughout our lives -- some folks are able to connect more deeply than others, and I count myself fortunate that I've had mystical moments of connection, soul-to-soul, with several people.  There is paradox here...we do connect in ways that alleviate our aloneness, but what I'd meant was that our individuality cannot be shared with another person...our uniqueness, when we die, dies also.  Isn't that right? 

But as David spoke my mind moved into new territory, and I said, "So, DEATH is the great connector."  Yes, I felt the truth of how, at the moment of death we are moving into a vast web of relationships...the loved ones who've gone before, the people we've admired but never met, the children we never bore. . . . in that sense death does transport us --- hmmm, maybe not transport, -- death opens us into a greater awareness of this vast web of connections and relationships of which we've always been a part, but were closed to much attentiveness to it. 

And then yesterday I read a couple of things...     

John O'Donohue's words:
May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places where your life is domesticated and safe, and take you to the territories of true otherness, where all that is awkward in you can fall into its own rhythm.
Yikes.  That is scary.  Confronting the "true otherness" within, it takes a huge amount of trust to come face-to-face with what I've sensed was 'alien' and allowing it to fall into its own rhythm within me.  I'm not sure what that is, but I feel close to it.

Cynthia Bourgeault, writing about that stunning scene in Babette's Feast when General Lowenhielm touches the great truth of Mercy: 
This brings us to one of the most wondrous aspects of the Mercy that the General, with the eyes of his heart wide open, instinctively recognizes.  Theologians speaks of this as the apocatastasis, the final restoration of all things "at the end of time."  I first wrapped my mind around this concept by way of a strong visual image that came to me one Sunday many years ago when I was still living in Maine.  I'd put my daughter Lucy, by then a teenager, on a ferry from our island to the mainland four miles away to meet her boyfriend Scott.  Standing on a high bluff on an exceptionally clear afternoon, I could watch the whole little drama play out. I saw each of the sequences unfolding in turn:  the ferry approaching the dock, Scott's car winding down the landing road, Lucy moving to the front of the boat in eager expectation.  I could feel their excitement.  But from my vantage point, it was all present already, all contained in a huge, stately "now."  The dimension that for them was still being lived in time, for me had been converted to space, and the picture was complete.   
I grasped that day what apocatastasis really means.  I saw how time--all our times--are contained in something bigger:  a space that is none other than the Mercy itself.  The fullness of time becomes this space:  a vast, gentle wideness in which all possible outcomes--all our little histories, past, present, and future; all our hopes and dreams--are already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled.  The great mystics have named this as the heart of the Mercy of God: the intuition that the entire rainbow of times and colors, of past and future, of individual paths through history, is all contained--flows out of and back into--that great white light of the simply loving present of God.  Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.  And in that Mercy all our history--our possible pasts and possible futures, our lost loved ones and children never born--is contained and fulfilled in a wholeness of love from which nothing can every possibly be lost.   
The poet Dylan Thomas writes of this in "This Side of the Truth."  Dedicated to his son, the poem beautifully elucidates how all those apparently irreconcilable opposites of our lives--innocence and guilt, success and failure, triumph and loss--are somehow encompassed in a deeper, unifying forgiveness.  In the end. neither good nor bad has the final word, but "all your deeds and words, / Each truth, each lie, / Die in unjudging love."   
If only we could understand this more deeply!  If only we could see and trust that all our ways of getting there---our good deeds, our evil deeds, our regrets, our compulsive choosings and the fallout from those choosings, our things left undone and paths never actualized---are quietly held in an exquisite fullness that simply poises in itself, then pours itself out in a single glance of the heart.  If we could only glimpse that, even for an instant, then perhaps we would be able to sense the immensity of the love that seeks to meet us at the crossroads of the Now, when we yield ourselves entirely to it

Yes . . . . Yes . . . . and YES YES YES!!!

And then last night, during worship, the topic was "the courage to surrender," and, as the band played, I experienced an overwhelming sense of how FREE  I can be, am, when I let go of all to which I'm clinging, just let it go, give it up, and allow God to then fill me with every good gift.  I don't have to allow my off-centeredness to stop me from being anything I choose and am meant to be. 

OK.  And now I have a sermon to write. 


jo(e) said...

Ah, what a thought-provoking post. Thanks.

Jan said...

Thank you, Katherine. This reminds me of some of the talks we had during the Two Year Academy.