Monday, October 10, 2011

The 2am Mystic

I fear that I am a failed mystic.

I have been listening to the Howard Thurman audio collection, and while I find myself quibbling with some of Thurman's theology, I delight in hearing the spoken words of a man who has loaded up his things and taken the perilous journey to the center of the heart--and who has returned, alive, to report back on how the journey to his own heart ended with the shocking discovery that within his heart was a long hallway with doors, including a door that leads directly to my heart.

On days when I feel as if I have eight million details of ministry with which to wrestle, Thurman calls me back into myself, so that I may discover that God has been there all along. This is not a selfish quest for God-in-self, but a profoundly humble one, such that I am called to recognize that I have caked layers of nonsense upon my heart in order to shield myself from the frightful glory of God's presence. It is as if I do not want anyone to see my face aglow, as if I would be embarrassed by such a clear statement of God, and so I do whatever I can to contain that which is within me.

Each time I try to pack up my things and go on that journey, I find myself taking some frivolous detour, and it is not long before I end up right where I started.

And this is why I find Thurman so profoundly helpful. Just as a missionary comes to the church to share with the congregation what God is doing in the Dominican Republic, or Russia, or Uganda, Thurman tells me what is happening in my own heart, at the level that connects all people to one another, and all people with God, during the moment in which God says, "You are all my children." In all of this, I am reminded that in Christ, God shared human flesh and being.

I want to go to that place, to that point of myself that is so basic that it is nothing but being, for I suspect that it is at this level that God most powerfully speaks to us. I also suspect that it is at this level that one can most clearly see the Imago Dei, the image of God. I want to go there, to spend some time in being, to share in that being with God and with the great cloud of witnesses.

Then the phone rings, or the email comes through, or I remember something in the middle of the night that I have neglected, and I find myself on a detour back to where I started. Being will have to wait for another day.

But sometimes, something slowly bubbles up from deep within me, and I remember whose I am and how I am connected to God.

I woke up this past weekend at 2 or 3 in the morning remembering an email I forgot to return. It was nothing important, but then again, it rarely is important when I wake suddenly in the middle of the night, remembering something or other. But at 2am, even the most trivial thing seems life-and-career threatening, and so I worried about it, for a time, until I noticed what Gordon Atkinson calls "the mysterious sound of footsteps crunching in the snow," the "body language of the soul."

It was, of course, the sound of my own heart, my temple pulsing against the fabric on my pillowcase, but it surprised me, that morning at 2am, as if I had forgotten I had a heart at all, as if I'd been thinking of myself as a heartless container full of "What's next?" rather than a child of God.

It will surprise you that way, the heart, for even in times that seem devoid of spirit, that seem to be all details and no Great Being: even in those times, the heart is at work. What is more, it is sometimes in retrospect that I can see the Great Being actually within those details, guiding and connecting and moving towards wholeness.

Perhaps retrospect is my greatest lens, as I reflect on those moments that seem so mundane as to be nearly Godless, or at least, not worth God's time. Perhaps I am only fit to see God in those details, because I am not yet ready to fully face God, to have God set my face aglow.

I do not know the reason.

I do know that despite my seemingly constant preoccupation with the crisis of the moment, God keeps working. In the midst of everything else--everything else--it sometimes takes the beating of my own heart to remind me that the spirit of God is at hand.

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