Tonight I slipped on some invisible ice and fell, flat on my back, in front of an empty house. My papers and meal went flying–the latter shattering a few feet from me. I’m okay, but maybe falling is the key to everything…
Sorry I’ve been “gone” for the past few months. I’ve been partying hard (had an awesome birthday weekend late October–thanks everyone who came out to Atlanta, especially those of you from North Carolina and New York!), traveling a ton (to Philly, West Virginia–twice–and Birmingham, twice), writing up a storm (if I told you I’d have to kill you) and–oh yes–planning a wedding. Which is in three weeks!
And now its December. I’ve come to a realization about me and this final, wintry month: We don’t mix well. Or maybe we do, just the way we should. But the end result is the same; this month is always my most “down.” I don’t know if I grow melancholy recounting the previous year, or if its related to “coming down” after the always-frantic Thanksgiving activity in my family. Maybe both. But at least since 2002, I always end up spending a good deal of time alone and reflecting in December. This isn’t a bad thing: in fact, its rather novel, feeling anything at all.
This year is no exception–twice I’ve been house/dog-sitting for the Thomases, some family friends of ours. Me, in this house, a veritable Solitary Man. So back to falling. It happens so quickly. You can’t think, evaluate, or even really be afraid–only react. There is no control; what happens, happens.
There is a kind of beauty in this.
For the past several years I’ve lived with a little buffet of anxieties and phobias, as many of you know. A sampling of fear-of-highway-driving here, a draught of generalized dread there. Lately I’ve been trying to stop running from this part of me, and embrace it. A wise Man once said “Agree with your adversary quickly.” I am in the process of integrating the various parts of me, and becoming whole. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”
Of course, we are more than the sum of our parts–our souls are where heaven and earth kiss! There is that spark of the ineffable, of divine life, that makes us long for eternity. We can never “solve” our problems in the reality that spawned them; we must delve deeper. I have been traversing two different ancient Christian paths in the past month, attempting to access this different level; one of them is kataphatic, the other apophatic. Like riding a bicycle, I think pushing down on these different emphases is moving me forward in fellowship in the Godhead as well as my integration and epiphany.
I feel like I’ve spent most of this week in an altered state of consciousness of one sort or another; most of it (sans Christmas day) has been alone and “quiet”–meaning no coversation (though I had Pandora). This in itself is pretty different from the norm, and makes me feel strange (and quiet) to be around people again. And as I said, I’ve been spending a relatively good portion of the rest of my time in heightened kataphatic and apophatic states of awareness.
For one–on the kataphatic side of things–I’ve started Theophostic counseling, which is a kind of guided meditation on your life, and visualization of Jesus’ healing presence. A great brother from an intentional home church community in Texas is doing this over the phone with me, free of charge. We are focusing on the anxiety at present. This brother had me imagine, and go into, feelings of anxiety that I’ve had in the past, to try to really feel them. Then, he asked me to sum up what I believed and thought about my highway driving experiences–most likely containing a “lie.” He asked me to tell God what I believed about them. Then, we entered into a time of “active listening,” where we anticipate Jesus speaking a truth, a healing word that will dispel the darkness. I’m not sure our first session yielded anything in this last regard, which is not unusual for the first session. Christ is at work whether I perceive it or not. We’re doing several more sessions…
Kataphatic is the prayer path that utilizes our God-given imaginations to engage the Lord, and the sacred quality of everyday life, in terms of concrete images…as such, Theophostic is a faithful contemporary adaptation. For some people, it becomes like a regular spiritual practice, bringing lies to the surface of consciousness, holding them to the truth Jesus sheds…hardly the worst thing that could happen.
As Philip put it when we were talking: “My mind’s on fire! My mind’s on fire with the light of Goooooooood!”
Precisely. Its helped lots of people, too. Kataphatic paths such as this have their own inner integrity and I appreciate them. However, I myself am more drawn to the sort of fellowship practiced in my church community, which is known as the apophatic, or the way of via negativa. This is about attempting to engage God beyond images, in the holy “darkness” of a cloud of unknowing: We exert a simple trust in the within/around dynamic of God’s presence, and simply seek to be lovingly open, consenting to the Spirit within. This is “centering prayer” in a nutshell.
I’ve taken up Centering Prayer again recently. I found my Timer CD, which has three minutes of cello music followed by twenty minutes of silence (followed three more minutes of cello…on three tracks). Its been missing for six months. And it sounds kind of silly, but at this neophyte stage of the game, its difficult for me to center without it…otherwise I think 20 minutes is up long before it actually is. So I’ve been centering again on a regular basis. Its an intriguing adventure of focused adoration, punctuated by thousands of tiny distractions…all opportunities to Return. Like Theophositc, I know that the Lord is getting what He wants, whether I can always sense it or not.
I will keep you appraised on my progress. One thing I know for sure: We can’t approach our problems at the same level we experience them on. Most of our difficulties originate on an ordinary level of consciousness; trying to solve them on this same level is like trying to drain an ocean by pouring water on it. I firmly believe that Jesus is the liberator, redeemer, restorer and reorienter. But so often we don’t access His Life, and His benefits…Jesus operates at a higher level of consciousness, to be accessed by our spirits.
I leave you with an apocryphal saying of our Lord:
Jesus said, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.” The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 108