. . . we start to notice the dynamics of this welling up [of the longing for God] out of the most fundamental day-by-day realities of our life, in our daily intimacy or lack thereof, our physical health or lack thereof, our security or lack thereof, our direction in life or lack thereof. And in the midst of it, if we don’t panic, we can start to see kind of underlying continuity at the same rhythm of a deepening invitation to hand ourselves over to God’s care who is achieving this work in us that we don’t understand in ways that we don’t understand, and I think this is the purgative process, this kind of unraveling of ourselves on our own terms. —James Finley, Turning to the Mystics, Thomas Merton 6
What if the COVID numbers keep going up and the health authorities close the campgrounds? What if there aren’t enough registrations for Living from the Heart, and I don’t get to cofacilitate this fall? What if I get sick or injured and am unable to walk or bike?
Just thinking about the possibility of these losses makes me anxious. I was grateful to hear on April 22 that the campgrounds are still open, but new travel restrictions were put in place and Fred and I can’t go camping on Vancouver Island in May. I can take comfort in the possibility that we could camp locally (though it is strongly discouraged). I can tell myself that the registration deadline for Living from the Heart is months away and that my bones and body are fine. But the idea that I wouldn’t be fine if I couldn’t camp, cofacilitate, or be active lingers.
I was eleven years old when The Rolling Stones released “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” All I remember of the lyrics is that one line.
We can’t always get what we want, and if we don’t panic, Finley says, we can start to see God working in what is, “delivering us and carrying us beyond the boundaries of everything less than love and enfolding it in our heart in the midst of our situation.”
It’s what John of the Cross speaks of in the dark night of the soul and what Ignatius is getting at in his principle and foundation.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
When I don’t get what I want, I feel disappointed, uncared for, and restless. Getting what I want brings me pleasure, and I feel adrift without it.
I don’t like those feelings, and my first instinct is to regain what I’ve lost. But if I don’t panic, and befriend those feelings of disappointment and loss, I may begin to see a gift in not getting what I want. Sometimes, it’s simply the gift of seeing how much I was relying on someone or something to make me happy.
Noticing is freedom. If I were to get a tattoo, I would ink those words onto me. Because when we see our attachments, they begin to lose their power over us.
I listened to the Rolling Stones song again. The next line after “You can’t always get what you want” is “but if you try sometimes you find you’ll get what you need.”
I think of what I’ve had to let go of during COVID. I miss being physically close to people I love, seeing their whole faces and hugging them. I miss gathering as a faith community, passing the peace, and sharing the Eucharist. I miss the freedom of being able to cross borders or get on a plane to see my sister and brothers or vacation on the Oregon coast. I miss life without a pandemic and the fears it generates.
I think of what I’ve found during COVID that I’ve needed–a new relationship with my body and the earth, a boundary that keeps me from endlessly giving myself away, communication through technology with those farther away that I wouldn’t have considered, a bluer sky and greener earth.
I love to camp, cofacilitate, and move my body outside. I would be very sad and irritable if I lost those things. But if I don’t panic, I might remember that why these things are so important to me is that they are the places in my life where I meet God. That meeting doesn’t depend on any thing or any place to happen. What I need is God, and that’s what I always have and always will.
We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life. That is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace; and, therefore, in that sense, we have arrived in our dwelling in the light. But, oh, how far I have to go to find You in whom I have already arrived.
—Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain
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I have begun adding “Pronouns: she/her/hers” under my name in emails. The link takes those curious enough to click on it, to an article by Rachel Garrett called As A Cisgender Woman, Here’s Why I Share My Pronouns In My Email Signature. Being assumed to be one thing and having that one thing judged as more acceptable than the thing you actually are is an oppressive way to live. I don’t want to perpetuate that oppression. I hope my bit of love mischief makes it easier for you to add the pronoun that liberates you.
What love mischief are you and God doing for the world?
Let me know and I will include it in an upcoming post.
So good, Esther! I’m learning the same lesson. Thanks for the James Finley quote and the nudge to add my pronouns!