Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bare Earth, Clean Paper

Does anyone write something where something has been already written?
Or plant a sapling where one already grows?
No: he looks for a blank piece of paper,
and sows the seed where none has yet been sown.
Brother, sister: be bare earth,
be clean paper, untouched by writing,
so that you may be ennobled by the pen of revelation—
so that the Gracious One may sow seed within you. --Jalaluddin Rumi, tr. Camille Helminski

"Freedom, O Freedom!" is the cry of the soul. --Vivekananda, "What is Religion?"

Dear God:

I have learned something in these past weeks. I have learned that philosopher Thomas Kuhn was on the right track when he said that paradigms change radically and quickly in response to some crisis. I have been more radically taken apart and put back together since classes ended last spring than at any other period. Yet, looking back, I can see clearly that these changes have been a long time coming--that I have been holding them back, in fact. I think Malcolm Gladwell's "tipping point" theory more precisely captures what has been happening with me: a slow buildup of pressure over so long a time as to render it unnoticeable, followed by an exponential acceleration and release precipitated by an event whose consequences were unforeseen. So now, something I have long toyed with wanting, played at wanting, considered the possibility of wanting some day: I actually want it now--intensely want it.

I want to die.

(No, not like that, friends--keep reading.)

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a grain, and nothing more--but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

God, help me to bear fruit; help me to die.

I am so heartily weary of myself. My every breath shouts, “I, I, I, I, I.” Let me disappear to myself; give me rest from the unremitting labor of self-assertion. Let me be a witness, an observer, a passerby.

All my life, I have asked You to help me, but what I have actually meant is, Do it for me. I have asked You for strength, but what I have wanted is ease. I would have every valley raised, every mountain made low—but without my having to die first. I do not ask You for this any longer. I ask to die.

I do not ask You to help me find the way You have set before me. I do not even know that You have set one, and such as there is to find, I understand now that I must find myself. Help me to look, to listen. Help me to quiet the roaring in my head that shouts down Your still, small voice. I have barricaded myself against You, and I do not ask You to storm the barricades; I ask only that I may persevere in dismantling them myself.

My world is a sealed room, arranged just the way I like it. Only it isn’t: the windows leak, the door doesn’t latch, and I am forever fighting to keep my room the way I want it. Help me open up my room to the whole noisy, untidy world; I am weary of defending it.[i]

My universe has been so narrow, and I have tried to confine You within its compass. (Forgive me; I did it in love.) You set the seas their boundaries which they may not cross, but Your children You have created for freedom. You have not received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Rather, you have received the spirit of God's adopted children by which we call out, "Abba! Father!"

Now, if any would say, “You must use these songs, these sacraments,” I will not listen; and if any would set themselves up between me and You, I will not heed them; and if any would deny the freedom of my soul, they shall be to me as a venomous serpent: a splendid creation of Yours, to be avoided for my own safety.

And surely Vivekananda discerned You;
And surely Lawrence of the Resurrection labored with You;
And surely Teresa built a castle for You;
And surely Black Elk saw visions from You;
And surely Rumi sang of You;
And surely Francis gave all for You;
And surely Socrates groped after You;
And surely Bach musicked Your creation;
And surely Elisha put on You like a garment;
And surely the Buddha served You even in denying You;
And surely in Jesus You lived our life and died our death;
And surely in Him, I will rise as He did.

And if any would chant Om to the Resplendent Lord, I would be a bhakta among them;
And if any would ponder the Impersonal Absolute, I would sit down, a yogi among them;
And if any would shout salvation’s story in concert with the blood-washed band, I would lift up my voice with theirs;
And if any would sing la illaha il Allah in the whirling dance, I would polish the mirror of my heart with them;
And if any would commune with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, I would receive Your Body and Blood with them.


Jesus, as my vision grows greater, You do not diminish within it—rather, You grow greater, too. My devotion to You increases as the universe around You expands, as the radiance of a jewel is increased by its setting.

Let me never try to force You back into that narrow space;
let me never begin a sentence with “God couldn’t;”
let me be bare earth, clean paper.

My little girl wants to walk along the top of a wall. “Hold my hand, Daddy,” she says. She is eager to walk, but unsteady and fearful. Steady my footsteps; bolster my willing but timorous spirit. At the right time, take away Your hand.

I am learning.

[i] I have borrowed this metaphor from Pema Chödrön.