It is one thing to look down at one’s life from a new perspective, it is quite another to walk the path into the possible future.
This idea is not mine wholly. It is a half remembered quote, so poorly remembered that even google can’t help me out. The image is of standing on a ridge looking out over the valley of peace or forgiveness, juxtaposed with the challenge of actually walking into that future.
The last few months have been incredibly useful to me. I have come to see myself from a new perspective. A single concept has seeded the crystal which has unlocked my understanding of much of what drives me.
It is a powerful force which has operated below the surface of my consciousness for so much of my life. Seeing it, casts a new light on unconscious presumptions which I never thought to question. It is tremendously liberating.
And yet, the liberation is only theoretical for the moment. I need to make a new path into my future. I need to examine the motivations in the choices I make. The liberation is useful, but ultimately empty until I begin to incorporate the insight into my daily reality.
In the last few days I have had a beautiful series of interactions with someone I knew from school. It began with her posting a comment on my blog. I knew that she followed my blog because had commented before, but this was the first time I realised that she had a blog herself (you can find it here).
Reading her blog and my vague memories of her from school (she was several years my senior) left me feeling a little nostalgic.
Not nostalgic in the sense of wanting to go back to that time, or as the definition suggests a sentimental view of that period. But rather a sense of longing for the potential of chance encounter.
Whilst we went to the same school, as is true of so many of my generation, our lives have entirely separated. She lives in Japan, and I in South Africa. The ‘home’ that we knew growing up, no longer exists. At least it doesn’t for me.
There is such a deep resonance for me in her writing. Not only do I recognise the sense of search, but I also recognise my memory of who I thought she was. It saddens me that we have never had the chance to know one another as adults. I would have liked to have a conversation over a cup of coffee.
So I feel a sense of longing. Longing for the potential of bumping into one another as we both headed home for a season. Alas, like far too many of our peers that potential evaporated over a decade ago. I deeply miss that sense of recognition from of old.
There is a very useful practice in Ignatian spirituality: each prayer period begins with praying for a particular grace. In the context of the Spiritual Exercises these graces are clearly defined, but as we go about living our daily lives beyond the Exercises it is helpful to try to articulate a grace which is directly relevant to where we are on any given day.
In recent years I have discovered that the idea of praying for the grace is incredibly powerful at those points in our lives where we find ourselves to be stuck in some way – that kind of interior ‘stuckness’ which we find difficult to shift. At those times we are usually stuck because although we may be able to see where we want to be, a part of us is unwilling to give up an aspect of where we are now. At these times being able to sit with ourselves in honesty before God, to hold both our desire to move and our desire to hold on and to pray first for the grace to desire to let go we will begin to notice the willingness to let go emerge. And as our willingness to let go grows, we can begin to pray for the grace to actually let go.
The amazing thing about this way of praying is that the end result never seems to look quite as we expected it to. There is always an element of surprise. The interior place beyond the stuckness is usually not quite what we thought it would be. Some elements which we thought we had to let go of are still there and other elements which didn’t seem to be a problem are either absent or have been rearranged. I have yet to meet anyone who can successfully will themselves through such places of stuckness, and I think this is, in part, precisely because whilst we usually have some inkling of the problem, we don’t have the full perspective.
Somehow praying for the grace frees us from trying to control the outcome. We can let God be God and allow ourselves to be surprised. It isn’t something magical, and it isn’t something that we can control. All we can do is to be willing to admit our stuckness; to hold it before God and ask God to show us what we need to see. Over time, it will become clear what grace we need to pray for. And as pray for that grace over time things begin to shift and freedom emerges.
The challenge and invitation is to be willing to admit our stuckness and to let go of trying to dictate the nature of the outcome.
Music holds a unique place in my life. I don’t listen to music much apart from the offerings of Fine Music Radio on my daily commute. But music and liturgical worship are somehow inextricably linked in my soul. Perhaps the best experience I have had of the integration of music and liturgy was in Taize. The music is easy to sing but there are layers of complexity which can be added. And I continue to yearn for the richness of the deeply meditative liturgy which was carved out by the combination of music and silence.
I continue to make my contributions on my flute to the church band with my thoroughly mediocre musical ability. I enjoy playing in the band, and I play well enough to make a positive contribution. But somehow music making is an area in which I am totally comfortable with my own level of performance. I am surrounded by much more talented musicians but I feel no need to try to raise my game. It is both a space of incredible freedom to simply be myself as I am, and yet the absence of the desire to improve means that my standard of playing will not improve.
I am tremendously grateful for the freedom that affords me. It means I can give my humble offering without shame, guilt, embarrassment or self-consciousness. It is probably the only space in my life where I have that degree of freedom. But at the same time, I am aware that I have no motivation to improve. I don’t practice on my own, and I have no desire to. It is a space in which I am also completely unambitious.
I find the juxtaposition of those two ideas interesting. It makes me realise that for me the will to improve or to expend further effort usually requires some kind of driver. When I was younger the main driver was the desire to prove myself. Now, I think the driver is shifting to something a little less fear based and a little more positive – the desire to make a meaningful contribution.
Maybe in the context of the church band I feel I don’t need to expend any more effort because it wouldn’t make all that much difference to the quality of my contribution, and so I can simply relish my contentment. Nonetheless I find it helpful to look at the things which motivate me and to recognise that there has to be a desire to do better for any change to occur. The question I will need to return to periodically is whether the desire to do better has its roots in fear (in my case trying to make myself acceptable) or love (in my case making my contribution).